Space, the final frontier as Star Trek so elegantly put it, is a location where some of the greatest horror movies have taken place. Think about Alien for instance. Sadly it’s also a location that has been used on many occasions when writers of long-running horror franchises couldn’t think of new ideas for their umpteenth sequel. In the past horror series like Leprechaun and Critters had a movie set entirely in Space, even Jason Voorhees would end up on a Space freighter in 2002’s Jason X. In most cases the change of venue hurts the movies more than it did them any good. Critters 4 was the nail in the coffin for that particular series while Leprechaun 4 is generally considered the worst installment in the long running series. In 1996 the fourth (I see a pattern here) Hellraiser movie was released with the bookends of the movie taking place in that one location that almost seems to never really work: Space. What better place to have a couple of demons from Hell tormenting and torturing people than the one place no one can hear you scream?
Granted the widest scope of all the Hellraiser movies covering three different time periods over the course of several hundreds of years, Hellraiser: Bloodline has a surprisingly short running time of only 85 minutes including both title and end credits. Strip those away and what is left is a 75-80 minute movie. As Roger Ebert once said “No good movie is too long, just as no bad movie is short enough”, but there is a distinct feeling here that the reason Hellraiser: Bloodline is as weak as it is, is partially due to the short running period. None of the segments seem to be complete, opting to jump in time to another period while not having properly finished the previous segment. Even the end credits come in rather abruptly as if there was no money for some sort of epilogue or even just a longer shot of the survivors traveling off into the horizon.
This all makes sense if you are a bit familiar with the background of the movie. Hellraiser: Bloodline was a troubled production where the studio constantly interfered with the product and there actually where many budget problems. The director, Kevin Yagher, left the production midway through and the studio hired somebody else to cut the material in such a way there would be at least some sort of coherent narrative. Additional shots were done whenever some money was available but rarely do they turn a bad movie into a good movie. Hellraiser: Bloodline is no exception.
At the core of Hellraiser: Bloodline is the story of the L’Merchant family throughout the centuries. The L’Merchant family has a direct link to the Lament configuration, or The Box as it is usually called. Young Phillip L’Merchant created the box for an aristocrat who is into dark magic in 17th century France. Unknowingly he creates the pathway to Hell which would go on to terrorize people for centuries.
John Merchant is living in the present day and the architect who created the Box-inspired office building we saw at the end of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.
Dr. Paul Merchant is responsible for designing a space station in 2217. A location that will play a big role in the final destruction of both The Box and the Cenobites.
There is also Angelique, a character who is dubbed “princess” by Pinhead in the present day scenes. She seems to be some sort of demon roaming the Earth for centuries and is responsible for opening the gate to Hell after retrieving The Box from the office building. Subsequently she starts some sort of scheme with Pinhead.
It’s pretty tough to some up what the segments are all about exactly because character motivations are never really clear. Add some inconsistencies with the rules set in the previous movies and what you have is a movie that is pretty vague and confusing from time to time. The creation of the Box is still a puzzle (pun intended), as it’s clear that Phillip L’Merchant never meant to create a pathway to Hell, but just a puzzle box for the aristocrat. So how could he make something that would be suitable for the customer to use as a pathway to Hell? The present day section plays with rules the Box set in the the previous movie and after the events of the previous movie Pinhead has returned to Hell in his former occupation as lead Cenobite coming to claim everybody who opens the box. He is summoned this way by Angelique through a hapless geezer just hoping he would score some pussy. After doing his regular shtick and seeing how the building is an enormous version of the box he doesn’t return to hell, yet decides to take up a residency in the building while he and Angelique both go after the architect. In the mean time he creates one of the more goofier Cenobites as he merges a pair of twins together to create a Siamese twin Cenobite.
While there are certainly some interesting elements in this movie, it feels like a two hour Hellraiser movie cut down to a mere 80 minutes. If the movie took its time to set all the pieces right in the first act, the second and third act would have felt much more coherent.
The character of Pinhead is both a curse and a blessing to the franchise. While only being a secondary character in the first two movies, the image of Pinhead and flawless delivery by Doug Bradley made him into a pop culture icon. This also means that at this point you can’t have a Hellraiser movie without him being in it, which is beginning to hold back the franchise. Hellraiser: Bloodline has less Pinhead than Hellraiser III, but he still becomes a dominating presence the moment he’s finally released again. As always there are the almost poetic sentences brought with much weight by Bradley, but they aren’t as memorable as the majority of his lines in the previous movies. Later movies would restore the character of Pinhead to that of a secondary character, the demon who comes out in the third act of the movie with the task of taking someone back to hell, much like he did in the first Hellraiser. Ironically, the biggest problem most people have with those direct to video sequels is the lack of Pinhead, while the problem most people have with the third movie is that it had too much Pinhead. I wonder if this series would have thrived more, if they replaced Pinhead with a different lead Cenobite or another type of villain earlier in the franchise.
Hellraiser: Bloodline has its moments and some interesting ideas, but they are surrounded by nonsensical elements and weak plotting. This could have been a worthy successor to Hellraiser III, which is not a difficult task when you realize that a lot of people already hated that one. Sadly Hellraiser: Bloodline was such a mess, it left a disappointing feeling and bad taste in the mouths of many resulting in one interesting thing: not only did it kill off the Box and Pinhead in the movie, it killed the franchise in such a way it took 4 years before somebody decided to make a cheap straight-to-video standalone Hellraiser movie kicking off a series of movies based upon scripts rewritten to fit the Hellraiser mold and which would have no ties to the original tetralogy.