In my review for Hellbound: Hellraiser II I mentioned that that movie 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 a direct sequel to the Hellraiser series but is only remotely attached to the previous two movies. In terms of style and tone Hellraiser III is vastly different from the previous two movies. The setting is now New York, the protagonist is a reporter and Pinhead is no longer a servant of Hell. Instead of the cold blue color filter, this movies uses warmer colors. 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.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth starts off with a young nightclub owner buying a statue at a small art-store. A store which seems to be holding rather strange opening hours. This statue is the pillar that emerged from the bloody mattress in Channard’s mansion at the end of Hellbound. A statue that hosts the soul of the lead cenobite: Pinhead. The pillar also hosts the notorious puzzle box which functions as a pathway to Hell. When blood is accidentally spilled on the pillar Pinhead is brought 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 in the previous movies. While Pinhead is busy persuading people to offer him victims, young female reporter Joey Summerskill is working on a story. It’s 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. Almost all of theses lines are, in a dark way, pretty poetic. Together with his intimidating appearance and the excellent acting 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 of Pinhead even reaches into the realm of music. By the time Hellraiser III was released, there were Hellraiser themed houseparties in Europe. Most of them in The Netherlands. A lot of Pinhead’s lines from the movies where used in house music. Since he is the poster-boy of the series, it is only logical that Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth revolves around Pinhead. A choice not everybody agrees with. 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. Often by promising them their deepest desires. Because this is a movie, people apparently take orders coming from a talking statue very easy. 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 his release from the statue everything he does becomes exposition. In his quest for retrieving the puzzle box from Joey, he delivers 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 devise an escape. In Hellraiser III, Pinhead is monologuing the entire third act. It provides 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.
Now 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 all had designs that didn’t lean much on earthly attributes. They were grotesquely deformed with open wounds, sewed shut eyelids or not even eyes at all. After their deaths in Hellbound, Hellraiser III required a couple of new Cenobites. In this movie each Cenobite has its own gimmick.
Joey’s cameraman “Doc” becomes a Cenobite with a video camera planted in his head. The nightclub DJ has CD’s stuck in his face and is able to throw them just like the alien in Dark Angel. The bartender of the nightclub is able to breathe fire and carries around a cocktail shaker filled with gasoline. Terri has a smoking cigarette stuck in her open throat because she smokes so much in this movie. Nightclub owner J.P. Monroe gets some sort of mechanical device stuck in his head which thrusts constantly. A symbol for his sex addiction.
These Cenobites are less gothic than the previous ones and some of them quip a one liner or two as well, turning them into Freddy Krueger wannabees. I understand why people hate them. 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. Especially the ‘Butterball’ Cenobite. The Chattering 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. In this movie they chase Joey down the streets of New York and kill several innocent bystanders in creative ways. As much as people hate these Cenobites, at least they were more than just background props.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is a guilty pleasure of mine. It’s release came at the same time the house parties were becoming big here and Pinhead was the face of them. These movies have been sampled to death, and Hellraiser III has provided music producers with the most lines. The scenery chewing Pinhead, who basically dominates the entire final act, was right up my alley. This movie is much more accessible than the two more gothic previous installments. When I saw this movie back in 1994 for the first time I just loved it. The reaseon that I still have a soft spot for this movie is probably nostalgia. As harsh as a lot of people comment on this movie, I think its a really entertaining movie with a 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.
Out of the entire cast, only Doug Bradley seems to have a background in acting. As his third performance as Pinhead he owns this role much like Robert Englund does Freddy Krueger. His performance of Elliot, the human that before he became a Cenobite, is almost equally memorable. Sadly that can’t be said for the rest of the cast. The opening scene at the emergency room is a good example of the level of acting in this movie. Everybody has a wooden line delivery in this scene.
Lead actress Terry Farrell redeems herself halfway through the movie. But not before delivering 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. Especially Carpenter seems to be having trouble with conveying sincerity when he tries to comfort Joey in early scenes. I got the idea that all of his lines where dubbed by someone who just coming to pick up a pay-check. Strangely though, as Cenobites do these actors actually give a better performance. Apparently overacting and delivering a one-liner or two in the role of a Cenobite is a lot easier that portrayinga real human being.
Paula Marshall comes out rather unscathed. Her performance of Terri is decent all the way through the movie. But the rest of the cast is terrible. Even small parts like Sandy, the girl who becomes Pinhead’s first victim. Just hearing her uttering lines like “but you gave me a rose” makes my skin crawl. At least she’s responsible for performing in one of the more memorable movie sex-scenes of my youth. The choice to have the J.P. Monroe character squeeze her breasts was all her, because she felt uncomfortable showing them. The end-result is a scene that is more explicit despite showing less.
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 boogeyman hiding in the shadows as the previous two movies presented him. 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.