Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Hellraiser: Bloodline

Previously on Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth...

Director Anthony Hickox tried to put us to sleep for an hour, and then pushed the OVERDRIVE button as everything got more awesome than the Lego Movie. We had Cenobites shooting rockets out of their eyes, killer CDs out of their chests, and one of the best club scenes I've ever seen. Storywise, Pinhead got banished to Hell but that's never exactly stopped him before, has it?

Based off the last movie, I was already pumped for this one. But then my personal overdrive button got pressed when I saw it's an Alan Smithee movie! For those who don't know, Smithee isn't a real person but instead is a pseudonym used by a director when he or she does NOT want their name attached to a movie. This is usually because of a dispute with the studio or some such reason, bottom line is the director is ASHAMED to be associated with the film.

So what happened with Hellraiser: Bloodline? The film was directed by Kevin Yagher, who is one of the most famous special effects wizards alive. He created Freddy Krueger, Chucky, and the Crypt Keeper, as well as doing the effects for movies as varied as Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure to Face/Off to Adaption. Despite his pedigree of knowing his shit, the studio clashed with him constantly over the direction of the movie and what should happen in it. He finally had enough and walked off the set before it was even done, Dimension Films bringing in Joe Chappelle to salvage the whole thing. Chappelle was one year removed from helming the DISASTEROUS Halloween 6: The Curse Of Michael Myers, but that's a story and a review for another day.

Not only do we get an Alan Smithee scenario here, but this is also the infamous “Hellraiser In Space” movie. Oh yes, you read that right. Hellraiser was shoehorning outer space into a horror franchise a full six years before I can't believe a major studio released this into theaters Jason X made it cool. Also this was written by Peter Atkins (although it has several ghost rewrites credited to it), so you know the insanity is going to be of the “over the top” quality. Enough set up, let's jump face first into this thing because I'm dying to watch it!

We open with the usual credits, the notable credit here being Daniel Licht is doing music duties this time. A friend of Hellraiser music veteran Christopher Young, he would go on to become something of a superstar thanks to his sublime work on the hit TV show Dexter. I also give him a huge shout out for scoring the video game Silent Hill Downpour, which is one of my all time favourite soundtracks, and certainly couldn't have been easy considering he had huge shoes to fill by replacing the previous composer of the series, Akira Yamaoka.

The film fades in on the Space Station Minos in the year 2127... wow, I REALLY just had to type that. Freaking HELLRAISER begins on a space station in the year 2127. I don't even... A camera gives us a tour of the place, finally landing on a sealed room with a skeletal looking robot holding the famous puzzle box. Please God let this movie be about the robot and its battle against the Cenobites! A man sits at a console, watching the robot via a giant monitor. He has a pair of oversized gloves hooked up to the console, using them to control the robot's hands. Damn, looks like this robot doesn't have artificial intelligence of its own. Gyp!

A ship lands at the station, a platoon of armed soldiers getting out and running throughout the station. The man behind the console scrambles to open the box before they can find him, succeeding and causing the robot to blow up in the process. Aww, sad. Pinhead appears and is all “Why the FUCK am I in outer space?!”, glaring angrily at the man through the monitor. The soldiers, weapons drawn, find the man and inform him he's relieved of duty.

The movie skips ahead a bit, where the soldiers discuss what's going on. Minos is the biggest station in the fleet, and has been hijacked by the man who also built it. He's rerouted almost all the power to his personal quarters, shutting down pretty much the rest of the ship. The soldier in charge asks one of the other soldiers for her opinion, which serves as our introduction to Rimmer. Played by Christine Harnos of ER fame, she never gets a first name in the movie but that's alright because the significance of her last name is awesome enough. It's a reference to Arnold Rimmer, a character from the HILARIOUS BBC TV show Red Dwarf that featured the trials and tribulations of a man stranded in space. I give the show the highest recommendation possible if you've never seen it, as it's British humour at its finest.

Rimmer goes into the brig to interrogate the man, Dr. Paul Merchant. He's played by Canadian actor Bruce Ramsay and this is arguably his biggest role to date although one could make the case for 1993's brutally underrated Killing Zoe, which I hope to get to someday. He is very insistent that everyone leave NOW because he has some very big irons in the fire but Rimmer isn't hearing that. Merchant reveals he built the station to be a trap for Hell itself, which leads into a flashback. Oh, we're doing this are we? You might want to get comfortable, I have the feeling this movie's going to feel WAY longer than its 85 minute run time.

We go back to the 1700s as we're introduced to Merchant's ancestor, Philip Lemarchand (also played by Ramsay), being commissioned by a black arts obsessed French aristocrat named Duc de L'Isle to build the very first puzzle box. De L'Isle has his assistant Jacques fetch him a peasant woman with no family and- holy shit Jacques is Adam Scott! Scott has made quite the name for himself thanks to playing Ben Wyatt on NBC's hit show Parks And Recreation, but back in 1996 this was his first big break in Hollywood.

At de L'Isle's bequest, Jacques strangles Angelique to death in preparation for their ceremony. They skin her body and prepare it, de L'Isle casting a spell that turns the simple puzzle box into the gateway to Hell that we all recognize it as today. Angelique's body is brought back to life as a Cenobite named Angelique, although she looks exactly like she did as a human. De L'Isle has full control of her thanks to his spell, which means life is about to get pretty miserable in dear old France.

Philip, who was secretly spying on the men the entire time, tries to tell his doctor friend Auguste de L'Moure about what he witnessed but is dismissed. Fans of Babylon 5 will easily recognize Auguste as actor Louise Turenne, who played the elderly version of Draal in the first season. Auguste finally says that if he believes his work has summoned demons to this world, then create something else that will destroy them.

This sounds good to Philip, who gets to work drafting a new device. To complete it he needs to steal the original box, which goes about as well as you'd guess. Jacques, who has turned on his master and killed him, catches the toymaker and orders Angelique to give him the same treatment de L'Isle got. The flashback doesn't end here though, as Philip's pregnant wife Genevieve comes to de L'Isle's home looking for her missing husband. Genevieve is played by Charlotte Chatton, an actress and screenwriter that is most famous for portraying Madeleine Astor, a survivor of the doomed ocean liner Titanic, in a little known indie film by James Cameron whose name escapes me right now. You've probably never heard of it.

Genevieve finds her husband, who dies in her arms because this is a movie and that's required by law. Back in the present, er... future, Merchant tells Rimmer all of Philip's descendants dreamt of puzzle boxes thanks to a curse Angelique placed on his... wait for it... BLOODLINE. This transitions to 1996 as we meet John and Bobbi Merchant, John played by Ramsay again who is working his ass off in this thing! Bobbi is played by early Scream Queen Kim Myers, who earned Hall of Fame status as Lisa Webber from A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.

John has been having the nightmares his entire life, only they're really starting to get bad. He's a world famous architect, his appearance on a magazine cover catching the attention of Angelique over in Paris. She asks Jacques, who wasn't aged a day since we last saw him, for permission to visit America. He denies her so she savagely kills him, thanks to a loophole in the power he has over her. Rather, HAD over her. Thanks for stopping by Scott, I'm really looking forward to seeing you in Step Brothers in twelve years!

Later in New York City John is giving a speech at a banquet in a VERY familiar looking skyscraper when he notices Angelique watching him from the crowd, recognizing her from his nightmares where she has a habit of ripping his heart out. Angelique is played by Valentina Vargas who has mostly starred in French films, but damn if she doesn't look EXACTLY like Noomi Rapace. I seriously keep expecting her to start battling a giant squid baby or get a crazy ass C-section every time she steps into the frame. Her appearance startles him, so he ends his speech and makes a hasty exit.

Watching him leave, Angelique lures some poor schlub into the basement and makes him close his eyes. She walks over to a stone column and punches a hole through it, removing the puzzle box that Joey hid in the construction site from the last movie. NICE. I love they actually followed through something a previous movie set up for once! She hands the box to him and makes him solve it, which brings on the hooks we all know and love. Pinhead appears and picks up the box, recognizing Angelique who is standing in the corner of the room watching him. He addresses her as “princess” and they exchange pleasantries, beginning to plot some good ol' fashioned chaos.

The next day at work John gets a visit from Angelique, who takes great interest of a picture John has framed on his wall. The picture is the design Philip was working on before he was killed, John explaining he's trying to turn it into a device involving light and mirrors but is missing a key component he can't figure out. Angelique touches him, which gives him all the memories of his ancestors in a flash. This is very Assassin's Creed right here, let's just hope this doesn't end with aliens and solar flares and whatever the fuck else is going on in that series.

The demon leaves, saying she'll be in touch. That night John dreams of having sex with Angelique until he's awoken by a phone call from her, the two making plans to meet up the next day. He tries to pass this off as a call from a Japanese client to Bobbi, but you can tell she's not buying ANY of that. I really wish she was the star of this thing, we could all do with more Kim Myers kicking supernatural ass in our lives.

We next get a scene of twin security guards in the skyscraper discussing having sex with a transsexual... for some reason until they hear a strange noise and go to investigate. Hey, how does Dr. Merchant know about all of this? How is ANY of this relevant to his story whatsoever? The idiots run afoul of the Cenobites, Pinhead torturing them and turning them into a conjoined creature that looks a LOT like when Pinhead and Spencer merged in the last film. Pinhead rants about suffering, telling Angelique he's going to go after John's young son Jack to teach the toymaker a lesson.

Cut to the next scene, where Bobbi hears her son screaming for help. She runs into the room to see Pinhead holding him by the arm, and once again Pinhead in a brightly lit environment does him NO favours whatsoever. Why is it so hard for directors to understand this? He takes the two back to the skyscraper, leaving them alone in a room guarded by a Cenobite dog. John shows up looking for them, finding the hallways of the building have now been graciously redecorated by Pinhead.

He finds his family quite easily, but any chance for a happy reunion is squashed as Pinhead walks out of the darkness. The next few scenes are borderline incomprehensible and definitely feel like ones that Yagher never finished, so I'll just summarize the long and short of it is Pinhead wants him to create a new device that'll turn the basement of the building into a permanently open portal to Hell. However, Angelique has gotten quite accustomed to life on Earth and wants no part of this, so she makes John finish the anti-Hell device Philip invented.

Pinhead kills John just as he completes it, beams of light bouncing everywhere in the room that... do absolutely nothing. Then Bobbi shows up and opens the box, which explodes but not before sending both Cenobites back to Hell. I really can't put into words how confusing and badly edited all of this was, this movie is A HOT MESS.

Dr. Merchant concludes his movie padding tale, trying to get Rimmer to believe he has summoned the Cenobites and has to be set free to take care of them. We jump to the room the robot was sealed in, where a soldier hears children crying inside it to be let free. Oh snap, he is black. In a horror movie. A SCI-FI horror movie. This is NOT going to end well. He blasts the door open to save them, but instead becomes another entry in the “Black Guy Dies First” trope list. Pinhead leaves the room, flanked by the Conjoined Twins Cenobite and Angelique, who has also turned into a twisted version of her past self.

Since Hellraiser has been ripping off other movies for awhile now, the rest of the movie turns into Aliens as we get crew members getting picked off on a dark and creepy ship one by one. Yawn, seen it. This is enough to fully convince Rimmer, who lets Merchant go to complete his plan. More horribly cobbled together scenes follow, Merchant ultimately using a hologram of himself to distract Pinhead while he and Rimmer escape the station via shuttle craft. Merchant activates his anti-Hell device, which transforms the entire station into a gigantic puzzle box that explodes, “killing” Pinhead. Uh huh. I totally believe he's gone forever, movie. The final shot is of Merchant and Rimmer flying towards Earth as the film abruptly starts rolling the credits.

That'll show me to be excited for a movie.  Here's another textbook example of how NOT to do a sequel, especially a sequel to a horror movie. This would be the last Hellraiser movie to be released theatrically (until the upcoming reboot, that is), as everyone jumped ship after this and relegated the series to straight-to-video hell. Oddly enough this was the highest grossing film of the series (again, until the upcoming reboot because that'll have the power of BRANDING behind it), but I can almost guarantee that was due to the “What the fuck? Hellraiser in space?!” factor brought in a lot of dollars.

This was also the film with the highest budget of the series, which is ironic because it looked like complete shit. Nothing looked good, and there wasn't even a single scene that was even remotely interesting or compelling. Hell, this was barely even a horror movie but instead played more like a low end thriller. The cast was also bland as hell, with the exception of Ramsay who showed great range in playing three completely different characters. It's just a shame all of them were woefully underutilized, as the film abandoned any attempt to make its outlandish premise work in lieu of... well, nothing really. Even the usually good Doug Bradley was on full auto-pilot here.

I think the biggest missed opportunity here was not making Myers the star of this thing. Seriously, it's like the film makers were handed this huge gift and completely squandered it. One of the most ass kicking Scream Queens of the 80s facing off against Pinhead damn near writes itself, but she was in this thing for all of five minutes and barely did anything. That's really Hellraiser: Bloodline in a nutshell I suppose: half-assing everything.

I guess it was nice to finally get some answers about the puzzle box that have been lingering since the first movie, but by this point it really didn't matter. Things are way too established for any kind or origin story for them to be meaningful anymore. This was a terribly underwhelming movie that is by far the worst one... so far. I get a funny feeling with FIVE movies remaining in this review retrospective that I'm going to be pining for the days of Noomi Rapace's clone killing people very soon.

MUCH sooner than I'm happy with...