Movie Review – Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) were fantastical landmarks in horror. Together they created a dark, unique atmosphere weaved around a hellish mythos that explored mature, complex themes. They gave us new horror icons in the form of leather-wrapped Cenobites, most notably the frightening figure of Pinhead, who were summoned and controlled by a mysterious puzzle-box, giving the illusion of a nightmarish, macabre fairytale. They are admittedly large footprints in which to follow, and unfortunately 1992’s Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, directed by Anthony Hickox, stumbles with nearly every step.

Instead of a script in which the Cenobites are a supporting cast, the film unfolds as a lackluster showcase for the popular Pinhead, and the mortals that fill the space around him are flat and uninteresting. Had Pinhead been well-written, this could have been forgiven, but his extensive dialogue (compared to the first two films) amounts to one-liners in the ilk of Freddy Krueger, in the end making Pinhead less of an ominous presence and more of a farcical showman. This becomes apparent in an unnecessary church scene in which Pinhead drags out a blasphemous passion parody that feels too gratuitous to be effective.

Instead of an unsettling atmosphere and macabre wit this production seeks to please a younger audience with gratuitous violence (some well-done, most not so much), a high body count, attractive women, as little thinking as possible, and some shallow displays of heavy metal culture. This may be acceptable fare for your middling horror entertainment, but the Hellraiser franchise already established higher standards. The storyline awkwardly attempts to connect to the other films, however, in doing so it manages to change their rules and precedents, and even the puzzle-box seems like an afterthought. Tension and dread are lost to mindless spectacle, especially as we are given no reason to care about the underdeveloped protagonists (particularly Terri, who had the most potential for depth).

Perhaps the biggest crime, though, is Pinhead’s new Cenobites, which include one that shoots seemingly razor-sharp CDs and a former camera man that has a deadly punching lens protruding from his eye-socket. While I understand these are supposed to be minions Pinhead has haphazardly assembled, the result is beyond ridiculous and the audience will be too busy laughing at these wisecracking Borg knock-offs to care about what happens next. (Speaking of Borgs, this film marks the second time a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actor has appeared in a prominent role in a Hellraiser film, the first being Andrew J. Robinson and now Terry Farrell.)

Even without the weight of its predecessors, Hellraiser III cannot stand. It’s too heavily saddled with poor dialogue, weak plotting, thin characterizations, and some conspicuously bad performances. It’s all thoughtless spectacle directed toward what it believed the MTV crowd wanted, which is a shame when one considers the mature ambitions of the first two. Doug Bradley’s obvious joy at playing Pinhead is reason enough that the franchise deserves better.

Grade: D-

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