In my review for Hellbound: Hellraiser II I mentioned that it is looked upon more favorably now than it was at the time of its release. It’s the only sequel to the original movie that has the same tone and atmosphere and respects the rules. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is another direct sequel to the Hellraiser series (after Hellraiser: Bloodline the entries would all become standalone movies) but is only remotely attached to the previous two movies. An attachment merely consisting of Ashley Laurence in a small cameo. In terms of style and tone Hellraiser III is vastly different from the previous two movies. The setting has been moved to New York, the main character is a reporter, Pinhead is no longer a servant of Hell and instead of the cold blue colors, now warmer colors have been used. The result is a movie that continues the story, but does so with its own unique voice. Not a particularly good voice, but unique nonetheless.
In Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth a young nightclub owner buys a statue/pillar at a small art-store which seems to be holding rather strange opening hours. Unaware that this is the pillar that emerged from the bloody mattress in Channard’s mansion at the end of Hellbound, which hosts the soul of the lead cenobite Pinhead, he puts it in his room at his nightclub. The pillar also hosts the notorious box which, as we now by now, functions as a pathway to Hell. When blood is accidentally spilled on the pillar it brings Pinhead back to life. Still stuck in the pillar he is dependent on flesh to make him strong enough again to break free from his confinement, much like Frank and Julia needed flesh to make them whole again. While Pinhead is busy persuading people to offer him victims, young reporter Joey Summerskill is working on a story about a young boy who was brought into the E.R. with chains hooked into him all over his body and the puzzle box in his possession. Her investigation will lead her straight to Pinhead…
In both Hellraiser and Hellbound the character of Pinhead was something of an extended cameo. He wouldn’t appear at least until halfway though the movie and even then he would have only a handful of lines, but almost all of the lines he had were, in a dark way, pretty poetic. Together with his appearance and the excellent delivery by Doug Bradley, these hyperbole filled sentences made a very charismatic persona out of a guy originally only credited as “Lead Cenobite”. When you look up “memorable quotes” on the IMDB pages of the Hellraiser movies, almost all of Pinhead’s lines are there. The legacy even reaches far outside of the music realm as, by the time Hellraiser III was released, there were Hellraiser themed house-parties in Europe (mostly in The Netherlands) and a lot of Pinhead’s lines from the movies where used in music. It was only logical that Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth revolved around Pinhead and made him the central character. A choice not everybody agrees with as this movie is generally regarded to be the one where they turned Pinhead into Freddy Krueger. Not the dark menacing original Elm Street Freddy Krueger, but rather annoyingly chatty Elm Street 5 Freddy Krueger.
And they’re not wrong.
Once blood is spilled bringing Pinhead back to life, he becomes the soul and main attraction of the movie. He uses his calm demeanor and powers of persuasion to talk people into doing his bidding for him by promising them their deepest desires. Because this is a movie, people apparently take orders pretty easy when coming from a talking statue. Then again, seeing all the stuff people do in the name of God in real life, doesn’t make that such a stretch, especially since the talking statue seemingly knows everything about you. After he’s released from the statue, free to release “Hell on Earth” (hence the subtitle), everything he does becomes exposition. In his quest for retrieving the puzzle box from Joey, he goes into lengthy monologues filled with deep sounding meaning like this one:
Unbearable, isn’t it? The suffering of strangers, the agony of friends. There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh. Oh come, you can hear its faint echo right now. I’m here to turn up the volume. To press the stinking face of humanity into the dark blood of its own secret heart.
If Pinhead would just get to the point this movie would have been over at the 50 minute mark, but where’s the fun in that? Pinhead in this movie brings the monologuing villain trope to a whole new level. In most cases villains monologue during the final minutes providing the protagonist just enough time to device an escape. In Hellraiser III, Pinhead is monologuing the entire third act providing the movie with a string of exposition scenes thinly disguised as a chase scene. Chase scenes in which his new Cenobites actually get to do something.
And about those Cenobites…
Fans of the Hellraiser franchise absolutely hate the Cenobites in Hellraiser III, the main reason being that they are too “gimmicky”. The original Cenobites were all designs that didn’t lean much on earthly attributes. They were grotesquely deformed with open wounds and things like sewed shut eyelids. After their deaths in Hellbound, Hellraiser III required a couple of new ones and each has their own gadget/gimmick: Joey’s cameraman Doc becomes a Cenobite with a video camera planted in his head, the DJ of the nightclub has CD’s stuck in his face and is able to throw them just like the alien in that one Dolph Lundgren movie called Dark Angel, the bartender of the nightclub is able to breathe fire and carries around a cocktail shaker filled with gasoline, Terry has a smoking cigarette stuck in her open throat because she likes to smoke and nightclub owner J.P. Monroe gets some sort of mechanical device stuck in his head which thrusts all the time; a symbol for his sex addiction. These Cenobites are less abstract than the previous ones and some of them quip a one liner or two as well, turning them into Freddy Krueger wannabees. I can understand why people hate them, and following installments would give us Cenobites without real gimmicks or even lines, but I got to give this movie credit for not only trying to create Cenobites that represent their previous lives, but also giving them actually something to do. In both Hellraiser and Hellbound Pinhead’s crew didn’t do much. The Chatterer Cenobite was the one to keep Kirsty still at one point and the female one uttered a few lines, but that is it. They were pretty useless, especially in Hellbound. This movie, even though they only have two scenes, has them actually do something as they chase Terry down the streets and kill several innocent bystanders in creative ways. As much us people hate these Cenobites, at least they were more than just background dressing.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is a guilty pleasure of mine. It was released at the same time the house parties were gaining ground here and the scenery chewing Pinhead who basically dominates the entire final act was right up my alley. This movie was much more accessible than the more Gothic previous installments and back in 1994 (it took a while before it got released here, right on video no less) I just loved it and probably due to nostalgia I still have a soft spot for this movie. As harsh as a lot of people comment on this movie, I think its a really entertaining movie with a whole final act full of cool Pinhead moments.
But nostalgic feelings or not, I’m not blind to the obvious shortcomings, most notably the acting qualities of the cast.
Of the entire cast only Doug Bradley seems to have paid attention during acting classes. As his third time as Pinhead he owns this role much like Robert Englund does Freddy Krueger. His scenes as Elliot are acted with the same conviction. Sadly that can’t be said for the rest of the cast. As the protagonist Joey, Terry Farrell redeems herself halfway through the movie, but not before bringing lines like “What is the Boiler room, where is the Boiler room?” as if she’s reading it from a teleprompter. Kevin Bernhardt and Ken Carpenter are the worst offenders, the latter having trouble with acting sincere when he tries to comfort Joey in early scenes. Only when all of the actors are turned into Cenobites do they give a better performance. Apparently overacting in the role of a Cenobite is a lot easier.
I’ve put Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth on a higher pedestal than I probably should have, but I just can’t help but like this movie. It turned Pinhead into a slasher icon instead of the rarely seen boogeyman the previous two movies presented him as, but I actually liked it. I can quote almost all of Pinhead’s lines whenever he’s on screen and as the conclusion of the “Hellraiser Trilogy” it was a suitable finale in my book. Too bad they had to destroy it by releasing another six sequels… Then again, each of those sequels make this movie look like Citizen Kane.