I’ve only watched six of the nine available Hellraiser movies and I’ve only seen them all once, so I don’t consider myself any kind of expert. But after watching four of these movies in a three day period, I figure I’ve earned the right to vent a little bit.
The first Hellraiser movie was a great horror movie. It brought a new mythos to the table and broke free of the more standard horror movies that were being pumped out during the ’80s. It took its time and built up an atmosphere. And then knocked you down with gutwrenchingly creepy visuals. It’s an unsettling movie and reason #552 why I hope I’m never left alone in the same room with Clive Barker.
And then they started pumping out sequels. In the second movie, our wily heroine ends up in Hell itself and we find out Pinhead’s backstory.
By the fourth movie, we find out where the puzzle box (or the Lament Configuration if we want to be nerdy about it) comes from and also take a trip into space with Pinhead.
Really, there’s not much more ground to cover in the mythos, but the Hellraiser series falls into the same trap as other horror franchises and drive everything into the ground. What started off as a unique and creepy story has now been dragged so far into the light that any sense of mystery has been completely eradicated. And this series, more than most others, did best when the audience was kept in the dark.
At its best, Hellraiser was heavily driven by its atmosphere and the mythology. The characters were secondary to the backdrop behind them. The Cenobites were shadowy figures that were skincrawlingly creepy. Hell was a combination of Escher and Bosch and was probably the best representation of what the inside of Lovecraft’s brain looked like.
But as the series went on, they traded mystery for more gore and creepy for shocking. By the time you have a Cenobite who ejected CDs into his victims (Hellraiser III), the series had jumped the shark and then jumped it again for good measure.
This devolving of the series is more disappointing than, say, Friday the 13th because Friday the 13th was always a second-rate Halloween knock-off designed to make money and throw some blood on the screen. Jason X isn’t really that big of a fall of grace for the series. But Hellraiser started off striving for some much more and ended up being no better than any of its slasher brothers.