*. In my notes on Resident Evil: Apocalypse I remarked on its strange ’80s vibe. With Resident Evil: Extinction we finally enter the twenty-first century with a much slicker production, one that eschews the cheap video-game levels of the dark and claustrophobic earlier films for the sun-drenched great outdoors and a post-apocalyptic spaghetti Western with slightly better CGI. At least I thought they were doing fine with the CGI until the tentacles of the “Tyrant” monster came into play.
*. According to producer-writer Paul W. S. Anderson the zombie genre had become so overrun since the first film that setting the action primarily in the desert was just a way to try and make it new. And I guess it does that. I can’t remember too many other desert zombie movies, aside from the Eurotrash Oasis of the Zombies. Oded Fehr might have felt some déjà vu though after being in those Mummy movies.
*. I liked the look of the film, but I felt it only played like an episode, and not a very inspired episode, of The Walking Dead. Apparently five years have passed, the zombies have taken over, and now we’re just wandering the waste lands, mixing up scenes involving a bit of talk and plot exposition with the usual splatter orgies (there was a conscious decision to make this the bloodiest Resident Evil movie).
*. And when I say “a bit of talk and plot exposition” I mean a very little bit. About half way through Extinction I was wondering when I’d last seen a movie with so little actual story. The intro gets us up to speed as to what’s happening with the Alice Project and then . . . nothing much happens. Sure there are action sequences. A lot of them. Firefights. Zombie violence. An attack by a murder of zombie crows (the one signature scene in the film). But for all this nothing much seems to be at stake. We realize by now that this is just another episode in the Alice saga and that there isn’t going to be any resolution but just another step up to fight more powerful bad guys.
*. Meanwhile, Alice’s powers are growing but she isn’t growing as a character. I like Milla Jovovich in this series but by this point it was clear she was just another superhero, and as uninteresting as that sounds.
*. Other movies continue to be drawn on. There’s a lot of The Road Warrior here, especially with the caravan. There’s The Matrix. We are also reminded at times of Day of the Dead, The Birds, The Andromeda Strain, and The Omega Man. More than most other franchises the Resident Evil movies go in for pastiche. They’re really not interested in doing anything new.
*. How is it possible no one understands LJ has been infected? Isn’t it kind of obvious? And didn’t they explain in the previous movie that Alice can sense infection automatically?
*. Three movies in and I still don’t understand what the Umbrella Corporation is up to. This does make it hard to care, since the nature of the conflict is murky. We can see Alice progressing through different stages and taking out level bad guys to finish each instalment, but any larger explanation of what’s going on keeps getting pushed back.
*. The point is to just let yourself be carried along, knowing that each movie is only going to provide more of the same. You enjoy the sight of Vegas reclaimed by the desert, and wonder at how only the hottest girls survived the zombie apocalypse and still manage to maintain their looks so well under such harsh conditions.
*. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this series though, and what stops it from growing on me or ever being particularly memorable, is the total absence of wit. You’d think the fact that Alice is wearing garters would at least be worth a mention at some point, but these movies are totally humourless and the scripts only functional. Dialogue serves simply to give the requisite amount of information we need to keep things moving along. Because moving along is all we’re doing here.
*. I began my notes on Resident Evil by remarking that I thought I’d seen it before but that I was mistaken. I’d actually seen this movie before. The only reason I know this is because I remembered the final battle at Toronto’s City Hall. Otherwise I had forgotten everything about this movie. The plot, the characters, the monsters, everything.
*. I don’t think it’s as good as Resident Evil. I thought Milla Jovovich was great in the previous film but there’s less of her here. Instead they decided to double-up on the Lara Croft figure, giving Alice (Jovovich) a partner in the figure of Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). The plot is even more fragmented than this implies, though with the same device of a countdown to a bomb going off as used in Resident Evil.
*. It’s more of a traditional zombie apocalypse movie, though again they’re not calling those infected with the T-virus zombies. But that’s what they are. The basic idea is the reverse siege, where the heroes are trapped inside with the monsters.
*. Despite the table being set several times, the traditional zombie feast is eschewed and it’s not a gory film. Which makes the nudity surprising.
*. Directed by Alexander Witt, not Paul W. S. Anderson (who wrote the screenplay). I would defy anyone to be able to tell the difference.
*. Most fans consider it to be the worst of the series, though that’s not a universally held opinion. Roger Ebert (who was not a fan): “The movie is an utterly meaningless waste of time. There was no reason to produce it, except to make money, and there is no reason to see it, except to spend money. It is a dead zone, a film without interest, wit, imagination or even entertaining violence and special effects.” That’s pretty bad. But it still got half a star!
*. Personally, ranking the Resident Evil movies seems to me like an exercise even more pointless than ranking the films in the Saw franchise. I mean, they really are pretty much the same.
*. For a 2004 movie, the second instalment in a series that had several more episodes to run, perhaps the thing that strikes me the most about it is the curious ’80s vibe. Maybe it’s the way the Nemesis creature reminded me of the Toxic Avenger. Maybe it’s those triple spinning back kicks Alice does that look so much like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s finishing move. Maybe it’s the changes in film speed (which are irritating), or the shattered choreography of the fight scenes. I don’t know. But everything here seems like a throwback.
*. I can’t think of much else to say. I don’t think it’s aged well, but it’s cheesy and fun if you’re not too picky. The gang play better than the first time around, and the ending made it clear that the Alice Project was going to be a long haul. But who was counting the sequels? No matter their number, I’ll soon have forgotten all about this film, again.
*. I thought I’d seen this movie before. At least I had vague memories of somebody fighting a pack of mutant dogs. Well, Milla Jovovich does fight a pack of mutant dogs, but the doggies are also in the next instalment in the franchise, Resident Evil: Apocalypse. And it turns out Apocalypse is the movie I’d been thinking of. So I’m pretty sure this is my first (and likely only) viewing of Resident Evil. Though it’s possible I’d just forgotten it completely.
*. In subsequent films in the series it would become part of the formula to begin with a recap. I like what Frank Scheck had to say about this in his review of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter in the Hollywood Reporter: “As with the recent edition of the similar Underworld franchise, the film begins with a recap of what’s gone on before, which seems less designed for newcomers than viewers who’ve actually seen the previous entries but can’t remember a thing about them.” I might add, from recent personal experience, that this is true even if you’re binge-watching them back-to-back.
*. The reason this first movie is easy to forget is because it’s so much like a lot of other, better movies. Because it’s a zombie movie (though one that never describes the risen dead as zombies) George Romero was originally tabbed to write and direct. That fell through, but there’s still a lot of Romero here. Especially Day of the Dead, with the underground lab. The blowing newspaper with the headline “The Dead Walk!” is a direct reference. (For some reason Day of the Dead was in everyone’s head, as it’s also borrowed from extensively in Resident Evil: Extinction.)
*. The more obvious comparison, however, is to Aliens. There’s the same kick-ass heroine accompanying an elite team investigating a place where something seems to have mysteriously gone wrong. Even the members of the team are the same. The capable-but-doomed team leader. The tough-as-nails Latina. The wimp who keeps saying things like “We’re all gonna die!” The duplicitous corporate tool.
*. Throw in the video game features, because it is, after all, based on a video game, and you have a pretty generic adventure. I was surprised reading some reviews of it that the scene where the team gets sliced and diced by lasers was seen as an original element, since it had been done before in Cube. And done better. So in sum this is, to get back to where I started, a movie that’s easy to forget.
*. But for all that, it’s not a bad movie. Milla Jovovich is surprisingly good as the leggy Alice (a name that is never actually used in the film). The story moves along at a frantic pace. The CGI is terrible, but the extreme editing helps cover up just how cheap it all looks (and in fact was). A budget of $33 million isn’t that much given the product. These SF-action epics aren’t cheap.
*. Of course there are plenty of issues with the plot, but in movies like this you probably just have to let them go. It bothered me, however, that the basic set-up seemed so off. For such an advanced lab the spread of the T-virus through the air system seemed kind of easy. And given that the Red Queen (the Hive’s AI) had a valid reason for wanting to shut the facility down and, yes, kill everyone in it, why couldn’t she just have explained that to everyone? Why the need to inject the team into the Hive to find out what went wrong?
*. So Jovovich is really good. The action is silly, but there’s a lot of it. Paul W. S. Anderson’s direction is, as usual, just barely competent. Many more films were on their way.
*. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, didn’t have a story credit for the first Hellboy movie but it was loosely based on some of his comics. He does share a story credit for this film, but overall I get the sense that The Golden Army is a lot more del Toro than it is Mignola.
*. This sense was pretty much confirmed by del Toro’s commentary, where he calls Hellboy II a more personal film than the first one, in which he could indulge his “fetish” for gears and underground places. He also explicitly drew on Pan’s Labyrinth for things like the Troll Market and quotes from the same Tennyson poem as was used in The Devil’s Backbone.
*. This is del Toro’s franchise now. Mignola’s horror cult has been replaced with something lighter, even referencing the classic creatures of Ray Harryhausen and the cartoon style of Tex Avery. Which is good or bad depending on your tastes. Del Toro apparently thought of the film as a “fairy tale for adults” but for kids too. Or maybe primarily for kids. If there is a difference anymore. Kidult is a label that defines a lot of our culture.
*. The Golden Army is also more of a CGI extravaganza, though Hellboy himself maintains his rugged durability and I was stunned to hear that Mr. Wink was actually a real guy in a monster suit. As I’ve said before, many times now, what CGI is really good at is destroying cities and showing armies in battle. So the technology does determine the plot at least somewhat.
*. As with the first film the plot is pretty much formula. Hellboy is “out” in public now and soon becomes the Misunderstood Hero. The villain has bad designs, but is somewhat sympathetic. There’s lots of self-sacrifice because love is what really counts.
*. They couldn’t get Marco Beltram back and replaced him with Danny Elfman, who wanted to stay true to the original score. Why didn’t they just keep the original score? Didn’t they have the rights?
*. Of course you could tell they were setting everything up for a sequel, which I believe was meant to be the final part of a trilogy. This didn’t happen because it was going to cost too much and the Hellboy movies, while they made money, weren’t the guaranteed box office of Marvel Studios output. Apparently the Hellboy movies made back most of their money on the back end and DVD and video income had basically disappeared by this time. Something to keep in mind when considering the homogenization of so much of this kind of filmmaking. Only a sure thing, meaning a totally predictable thing, is going to be attempted at this price point.
*. So, at least as of this writing, Hellboy III, or del Toro’s franchise, remains a what-may-have been. Instead of a sequel, ten years later they went for a full reboot. One couldn’t be hopeful.
*. I’m not a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro, but I find it hard not to respond to his own fandom. He genuinely loves movies and comic books. The obvious affection and enthusiasm he has for his various projects, which all seem to be labours of love, is a big part of what sets them apart from the usual run-of-the-mill, superhero/fantasy, CGI epics.
*. It also, I think, allows him a certain creative latitude. Having Hellboy’s creator, Mike Mignola, on board for this movie probably also helped in this regard. While I think del Toro’s Hellboy is true to the spirit of Mignola’s comic book, it also takes a lot of liberties that another director might not have gotten away with.
*. Another thing that really helps this production is the cast. John Hurt is great as Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced “Broom”). Selma Blair is perfect playing a low-energy Liz Sherman, someone withdrawn without being emo. I didn’t see the point of the Jeffrey Tambor character but he’s always fun to watch. Rupert Evans is Myers, a regular guy not in the comic who serves as a friend to the audience.
*. It’s Ron Perlman though who really makes the movie work. He’s laid-back and low-key as well, but it’s his physicality that sells the role. When he charges into action you don’t get the feeling you’re just watching a CGI cartoon fight but someone really getting knocked around. This is important because Hellboy gets knocked around a lot. It’s one of his defining characteristics, so you have to buy into that.
*. Of course the visuals are great. Del Toro is a natural fit with Mignolo’s mythos, which is all ruined castles and monasteries and strange mechanical creatures. The end looks a bit too much like Tomb Raider for my tastes, but by this time that had become a generic look. It’s all part of the fantasy world we (or at least our movies) live in now.
*. But it’s precisely del Toro’s reliance on visuals that puts me off him as well. Frankly, the story here, which is loosely based on Mignolo’s early Hellboy titles, is just the usual superhero stuff. Hellboy is more of a Marvel type, being the adolescent rebel with special powers that make it hard for him to have a girlfriend and just be a regular guy (something that is emphasized even more here by making the B.P.R.D. into a secret society). There are Nazis to fight. There is a supervillain (Rasputin) who is looking to, you know, destroy the world. He’s going to do this by, you know, opening a portal in the sky to another dimension. How many times has that portal been opened in superhero movies? Avengers: Age of Ultron and Fantastic Four are a couple of others that come immediately to mind. Hell, they even used it in The LEGO Batman Movie.
*. The moral lesson is also familiar and simple. Learn to like yourself. Resist labels, since you create yourself through the choices you make. That might almost qualify as sub-Marvel, if I thought there were such a thing.
*. I would still, however, rate Hellboy an above-average superhero movie. The cast is good and del Toro gives the film a warmth I rarely find in the video game aesthetic of other comic book/video game adventures. The groovy score by Marco Beltrami is also a big plus. But it’s still a movie where all such praise has to be qualified by acknowleding what kind of movie this is. Shouldn’t “generic fantasy” be an oxymoron? It’s a bit upsetting that it isn’t.
*. A big budget found-footage (or shaky-cam) horror movie seems almost like a contradiction in terms. The whole point of taking this approach was to save money because these movies were supposed to look cheap and amateurish. So applying the intimate, shaky-cam aesthetic to a movie about a giant monster (and a lot of smaller monsters) destroying Manhattan is definitely throwing us a curve ball.
*. An aside. When I say “big budget” that’s being relative. On the DVD commentary track director Matt Reeves talks a lot about budget constraints and shooting on a tight schedule, but my understanding is that the budget was $25 million and he says the shooting schedule was 36 days. We’re not talking about The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity here.
*. Budget aside, this part of Cloverfield actually works pretty well. I liked the epic action sequences playing out guerilla style. I also didn’t mind how little we see of the actual monsters. The big boy isn’t shown in his entirety until the very end; in the rest of the movie he’s just a giant tail or foot, or a path of destruction. And I have no problem with that.
*. My problem with Cloverfield, and it’s a big problem since this is a movie I don’t like, has to do with everything else. As I’ve said, the juxtaposition of kaiju and shaky-cam is effectively done. But while the monsters are adequate (albeit not to my taste), the humans are terrible.
*. Going over my initial notes on this movie, made a few years ago, I found I’d written this: “About fifteen minutes into this movie I wanted to see everyone — and I mean every single face on screen — die a horrible, painful death. All these pretty young people so insufferably into themselves that they have to throw fabulous parties for themselves just because one of them is leaving town for a while.”
*. Watching the movie again my feelings toward these characters had not softened. With their “bros” and “dudes” and evidently vast inherited wealth it’s a hipster scene that has not aged well. But there’s more to it than this. These kids are also idiots. Anthony Lane: “our hip young folk are . . . not merely the prettiest and bravest members of the population; they are also the most stupid. The result is that our prevailing emotion, as they are picked off one by one, veers away from grief toward a sniggering delight.”
*. Bad enough that they decide they have to go back to ground zero to rescue Beth, but the speech Rob makes to the army officers is a sin. “The girl I love more than anything [anything?] is dying [how does he know this?] and it’s my fault [why?]. She should have been with me tonight [says who?] and I let her go [she left with another guy, get over it] . . . but we’re gonna go after her, and if you wanna stop me then you’re gonna have to shoot me.” Would that the officer had taken him up on the offer.
*. They wanted a romantic, life-affirming story intertwined with the monster mash stuff; I get that part even if I don’t agree with it. But something this schmaltzy? I am grateful the business of running the taped-over trip to Coney Island didn’t get any more play as a parallel narrative.
*. Then you have the cameraman Hud, who is so downright annoying in his play-by-play that he becomes agonizing before the end of the opening act. I guess he was supposed to inject some comic relief but if that was the aim they might have at least written him some funny lines. And what are we to think of his playing the gossip game at the loft party, telling all the guests that Rob and Beth have been sleeping together? He even records himself acting like this! And the people he tells this to are amazed! Are they all twelve years old?
*. As soon as Cloverfield came out it was discussed as a 9/11 film. Reeves went along with this, calling the monster “a metaphor for our times and the terror we all face,” and saying the movie “felt like it was a way of dealing with the anxieties of our time.” He also makes the perfectly valid point that this was what Godzilla did as well in the 1950s. Deborah Ross, however, writing in the Independent, asked “Is this, then, how America sees its aggressors, as unprovoked monsters suddenly appearing from nowhere for no apparent reason? Now, that is very frightening.”
*. Kim Newman: “It seems every age is an age of anxiety, and each wave of paranoia — whether triggered by terrorist attacks, new diseases, eco-doom, frightening ideologies or financial crisis — needs its own spin on Godzilla, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and War of the Worlds.”
*. The concept, to give it as vague a name as possible, would play out further in such tenuously related films as 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox. Cloverfield, if not quite a franchise, became a brand. But at least the kids were dead.
*. There was a time, it didn’t last long or produce much, when movies thought they could “do” video games. This was before movies became video games, meaning their visual and narrative style (as well as some of their plot lines and characters) were imported from the video game form. The Resident Evil franchise, for example, is based on a series of video games, but more than that it’s a series of video game movies. Video games provide their aesthetic.
*. Hellworld seems like it’s going to be one of these early video game movies because the conceit is that the characters we meet are all players of an online game called Hellworld which draws on the Hellraiser franchise. I’m not sure if the game is based on the movies or if, in this world, there are any movies. But the basic Hellraiser mythology is part of the game, so everyone knows about Lemarchand’s Configuration (the box) and who Pinhead is. One of them even wears a Pinhead t-shirt.
*. I only say it seems like it’s going to be a video game movie because the game itself doesn’t play any role in the film aside from being an excuse to bring this bunch of characters together at a Hellword party held in some creepy mansion and hosted by Lance Henriksen. “There’s something really strange going on in this house,” says the last girl long after she should have figured that out.
*. The tag line was “Evil Goes Online” but in fact nobody goes online. We barely see anyone playing the Hellworld game and none of the people we meet seem remotely like gamers. They’re basically just franchise fans. In other words, Hellworld is set up to be something new to the Hellraiser franchise: a dead teenager movie. We see the young people (Henry Cavill plays one of them) being separated and dispatched individually. As per the usual idiot plot they behave like total imbeciles (my favourite is the girl who sprays herself in the face with perfume). In addition to his chains and hooks Pinhead grabs a meat cleaver and other weapons and turns into a Jasonesque slasher. There are lots of boobies, plenty of simulated sex, and a little blood. The name of the last girl is Chelsea. I don’t think any of this signals an advance.
*. The book Henriksen (credited only as the Host) has on top of his desk is A Dictionary of Conservative and Libertarian Thought by Nigel Ashford and Stephen Davies (Routledge, 1991). I tried to think of something to make out of that but couldn’t come up with anything.
*. The most remarkable thing about Hellworld is that it might actually be worse than Deader, the previous movie in the series. Though to be honest we’re only talking about different flavours of shit. Director Rick Bota has a very small bag of tricks and techniques, and if you hadn’t seen enough of them after the last two Hellraiser movies you will after five minutes of this one.
*. It might have been a bit of fun. There was potential in the premise, which winds up with a twist so far-fetched it almost made me laugh. Really, if you try to work it out it makes no sense at all. I think if I hadn’t been so angry at that point I might have got a chuckle out of it. But this isn’t even a good bad movie. It’s just a piece of garbage that must have seemed at the time to have put the final nail in the franchise coffin. I mean, could things get any worse?
*. Well, they did get worse. Maybe some day I’ll pick up on the series (still ongoing as of this writing) and do some more commentary. But for now this is my stop and I’m getting off.
*. Yes, the title of this instalment is Deader. Which is either the best Hellraiser title ever or the worst. It sounds sort of like Dead and Deader.
*. Could it be the series was developing a sense of humour? The much maligned Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth had a jokey quality, what with its CD-playing Cenobites, but Deader? That’s funny stuff. I mean Hellseeker was a stupid title, but Deader is worser.
*. Alas, getting a laugh was not the intention. Deader is a typically gloomy late-Hellraiser movie, full of squalor and angst. The title refers to a suicide cult of punks who are brought back to life by the power of the cube. They call themselves “deaders,” you see.
*. The plot is actually quite confusing. I was never sure what the deaders were up to, or who their leader, a guy named Winter (Paul Rhys) was. I think he was supposed to be a descendant of Lemarchand, but I might have missed something. In any event, he was very irritating and I was looking forward to his being eviscerated.
*. Also confusing was the back story of the reporter, Amy (Kari Wuhrer) sent to investigate the cult. Apparently she was abused as a child, which led her to kill her father. Or maybe that was all a dream. I wasn’t sure.
*. The connection to the Hellraiser mythology is again tenuous. This is another movie, like the two previous films, that began as a spec script unrelated to the Hellraiser franchise which was later rejigged to include the character of Pinhead and the magic box.
*. Filmed on location in a Romania where everyone speaks English with a British accent. It has the same sort of look as the other Hellraiser movies of this period, which is not surprising as Hellseeker, Deader, and Inferno were all directed by Rick Bota. It’s a made-for-TV look that, since these were all direct-to-video releases, is fitting. But there’s no spirit or energy behind it this time out. Even Pinhead seems bored.
*. Also the same as the other late Hellraisers is the way all of the scary scenes are presented as visions. So they show you something that makes you jump, which causes Wuhrer to scream (which, I have to say, she doesn’t do well), and then we cut back to reality. This happens so many times you get sick of it.
*. I’m not going to bother trying to defend Deader. It’s garbage. Instead of being creepy it’s just sort of depressing. Kari Wuhrer looks good. I’ll give it that much. But really she looks too good to be in such an ugly, stupid movie.
*. I think of this movie as forming the second part of a triptych with the previous film Hellraiser: Inferno and the next one up, Hellraiser: Deader. All three were made out of scripts that weren’t written as Hellraiser movies but instead were adapted to include cameo appearances by Pinhead. All three are psychological horror stories, with protagonists wrestling personal demons while on a nightmarish quest of self-discovery. This one and Inferno are more like Jacob’s Ladder and Angel Heart than anything in the Hellraiser mythology.
*. That said, I did sort of enjoy Inferno. At least the first half was pretty interesting. But Hellseeker is a total waste.
*. I wish it weren’t so. I like Dean Winters and have found him quite watchable in everything I’ve seen him in. But there is absolutely nothing interesting going on here. In Inferno the main character was a police detective tracking what seemed to be a serial killer (I’m still not sure what was really going on, and perhaps it was all a dream). In this film Winters plays a cubicle monkey who gets in a car accident and loses his wife and his memory. As the film proceeds things start coming back to him. But not fast enough. I was praying for Pinhead to show up just to break the tedium.
*. Everything here is a letdown from Inferno. Pinhead’s back-up band of Cenobites have nothing to do and have an uninspired look. They’re nothing like the tongue twins in the previous movie. Meanwhile, Pinhead himself seems even more awkwardly shoehorned into the plot than usual. Though there’s a surprising connection to the first two films with the return of Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence, who I didn’t even recognize at first). It turns out the plot hinges on her making yet another deal with Pinhead, which doesn’t work out so well for her sleazy husband.
*. It looks, and indeed was, very cheaply made, but doesn’t have any of the creepy, Lynchian chills of Inferno. What it has instead is that bane of 1980s VHS thrillers: girls in sexy underwear having simulated sex. Incredibly, low-level employee Trevor (Winters) is a babe magnet. So off come the clothes for some of the most unerotic lovemaking ever seen.
*. There’s no point spending more time on this one. It’s crap. Basically Winters wanders around having a bunch of (supposedly) scary visions that he snaps out of whenever they’re about to reach a climax. This happens so many times you stop paying attention and only want the nightmares to come to an end. Which, by my reckoning, wasn’t nearly soon enough.
*. And now for something completely different.
*. Hellraiser: Inferno is the fifth film in the Hellraiser franchise and, as an indication of the series’ fortunes, the first to be released direct to video. But, and I say this in its defence, it is not just more of the same.
*. In my notes on the previous instalment, Hellraiser: Bloodline, I said that the character of Pinhead had become a kind of albatross for the series. His hooked chains had become stale and he was growing less interesting every time he opened his mouth. It’s a relief then that he’s hardly in Inferno at all, just basically appearing at the end to deliver a surprisingly moralistic homily to the film’s protagonist.
*. This is probably because the original script was not written to be a Hellraiser movie but was adapted for the franchise. Instead it’s a psychodrama about a “bad lieutenant” police detective (Craig Sheffer) who goes off the rails (cocaine, prostitutes, stealing and forging evidence). He feels guilty that he’s cheating on his wife and neglecting his parents and his daughter. It’s not even clear if the Cenobites are real or if they’re just delusionary manifestations of personal demons.
*. Even allusions to previous films in the series don’t seem right. For some reason the Lemarchand Configuration (the name of the puzzle box) has been dumbed down to the Lament Configuration. The Engineer — the name of the chief demon in the source material (Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart) and turned into a ridiculous monster in the first film — is a name adopted here by Pinhead. It’s like we’re in a kind of alternate-Hellraiser universe.
*. The visual texture of the film is also different. Yes, it’s still a bargain-basement production, but gone are the fake-looking sets and tunnels (well, there’s one tunnel/hallway scene, but it’s actually pretty good). It’s not a picture that tries to look as big as the previous sequels, and I think it’s better for that.
*. A lot of people write Inferno off, but I think the first half at least is very good. The new Cenobites are actually quite disturbing, and (as many before me have noted) there’s a real David Lynch vibe to the proceedings. The second half of the movie tends to get stuck chasing its own tail down a rabbit hole (to mix my metaphors), but up till roughly the hour mark it’s quite enjoyable. Directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister) it’s also the scariest film in the franchise since the first.
*. There are a few unforced errors. It’s fine that Joe steals the first victim’s money from his wallet, but why does he change the evidence form? Isn’t that a giveaway? And sure, it’s neat that he sees a videotape of the murder of the ice cream guy Bernie, but does he have to watch it in a bar?
*. Would it have been a better movie without Pinhead? That is, without being part of the Hellraiser franchise? I don’t know. Pinhead is certainly an odd fit for this material. He’s always been more about the passions of the flesh than tortures of the mind. At the end he seems almost to be trying to help Joe by playing Clarence Odbody to his George Bailey.
*. But is that a bad thing? As I started off by saying, Pinhead’s usual shtick was getting old. And even if it came about through the economy of recycling scripts, Inferno at least came up with an interesting new direction to explore. I think you could take a one or two-line synopsis of each of the Hellraiser films and say “Well, that sounds interesting,” or “That might be a bit different.” Inferno is no different. It’s not a great movie, but for the fifth film in a series that usually only rates around the same level as the Children of the Corn or Leprechaun franchises it’s actually a lot better than I expected.