Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Hellraiser: Inferno

Previously on Hellraiser: Bloodline...

Studio executives meddled with Hellraiser so bad the director bowed out and left us with an Alan Smithee movie. That's really all there is to say about that one, because I've forgotten almost everything from it already due to it being so “memorable”. Oh right, Pinhead was in outer space on a space station. Hellraiser!

Fast forward to the year 2000, the dawn of a new millennium. What better way to celebrate than by releasing another Hellraiser film? This time the honours went to relative newcomer Scott Derrickson, who would go on to turn a career of mostly high quality horror films (including The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and Sinister) into a HUGE opportunity as he'll be bringing us Marvel Comics' Doctor Strange in 2016. In addition to directing Inferno, Derrickson co-wrote it with his longtime friend Paul Harris Boardman, who has worked with him on pretty much every movie he's ever done.

Despite getting burnt by being excited to see the last film, I'll admit to being somewhat excited here because it's always fun to see the early works of directors before they got big. Let's cue up some cautious optimism because it's now time for A Ghoul Versus Hellraiser: Inferno!

The film begins with a first for the series: the credits aren't simply shown against a black backdrop, but instead trippy images of the puzzle box which is a nice change. We open with a shot of the “hero” of this movie, Detective Joseph Thorne. He's played by Craig Sheffer, who is well known for starring in Clive Barker's Nightbreed, one of the craziest horror movies ever made and FAR superior to anything in this franchise. I find it rather ironic he joined the Hellraiser family AFTER Barker washed his hands of these movies, because I would have really loved to see them reunited on a film.

Joseph is playing chess with a friend... on a basketball court while a scrimmage is going on. I'm not sure WHY they're playing in such a dangerous environment other than the fact Derrickson must have thought it would make for a good shot. Joseph trumps the man so we can learn he's very intelligent, which is a nice touch of character development without blatantly TELLING us he's smart.

As he gets ready to go to work, we see Joseph snort some cocaine from a small vial he keeps with him. But then subtlety goes out the window as he begins to narrate, saying from an early age he's always been great a solving puzzles. Sigh... and things were going so good too. He heads to a crime scene in an expensive looking house, finding the insides full of occult looking artifacts. We learn the victim is a man named Jay Cho, Joseph commenting they went to school together. Jay has been torn apart by chains, Joseph finding the obligatory puzzle box near his remains after surreptitiously pocketing a vial of coke he finds hidden in a book. On top of the box is a candle, which Joseph examines and finds a child's finger inside the wax.

Back at the station Joseph goes through Jay's effects, stealing some of the money out of his wallet. I don't think Joseph is going to be playing “good cop” any time soon in this movie. He takes the box and heads home to his family, where we see his relationship with his wife is rather strained. I'm no expert or anything, but it COULD be because he has a habit of secretly sleeping with hookers he picks up on the street corner. He narrates this keeps his marriage stronger, which seems like flawed logic to me but then again, I'm no expert.

After banging his latest lady of the evening named Daphne in a motel bedroom, he goes into the bathroom and begins playing with the box. He unlocks it but no chains or Cenobites appear, which I call bullshit on. Rule one for a horror movie franchise: you're supposed to follow the pre-established rules. The lights do go out, so he returns to the bedroom only to find himself in a brightly lit child's bedroom. He hears screaming in the next room, opening the door to now find himself in a dark hallway.

A pair of fucked up looking female Cenobites that remind me a lot of Voldemort from Harry Potter leap out at him and begin to caress him, running their hands UNDER his flesh. Instead of screaming he seems to get off on it until he hears the screaming again, running off in pursuit of it. He goes down a staircase only to find the way blocked by our old friend Chatterer, who is once again eyeless but is now also bodiless.

Now a head with arms shooting out of his neck, he begins crawling up the steps towards Joseph which is an AWESOMELY disturbing visual. Joseph leaps off the side of the staircase and beelines for a door, opening it to find Pinhead standing in the frame. Pinhead reaches out to tear his face off but then Joseph awakens on the bathroom floor, his face fully intact. I now retract all the bitching I did about the consequences of opening the box being different, that entire scene RULED.

The next morning at work Joseph learns the finger was removed from the child while he or she was still alive, the lab tech is unable to tell due to the state of digit. He gets a call from Daphne, who is screaming hysterically until she is silenced with a bloody gurgle. He rushes over to the motel but is too late, her ravaged corpse is hanging from the shower. Don't fret though, we'll be seeing Daphne's beautiful actress Sasha Barrese soon enough when I get to reviewing the Hangover trilogy.

Joseph confesses his previous night's activities to his partner Tony, asking for his help to cover up all evidence of him being there before they call in the homicide. Tony is played by Nicholas Turturro, who is always good and delivers a performance full of effort. Tony reluctantly agrees, finally deciding to help because they're good friends.

Or not THAT great of friends, as we see Joseph plant a pack of Tony's cigarettes under the bed while Tony calls the precinct. Wow, what else can they do to turn us against Joseph any harder? Have him beat up some orphans on his lunch break? Write and direct Hellraiser 6? Before they leave they take one last look at the body, Joseph finding another of the child's fingers sitting on the soap tray.

The lab tech is able to pull a fingerprint he found on the box, which leads Joseph to the Stigmata Body Piercing parlor. He tells one of the artists there Jay told him to ask about the box, which causes the artist to go off and pin him against the wall. He says the box is the property of the Engineer, who wants it back... or else. Joseph tries to question him further but the artist clams up, more afraid of the Engineer than the police.

Joseph hits the streets to learn more about this mysterious Engineer, but comes up goose eggs. Things only get worse when Tony's conscious strikes and he wants to confess their coverup to the police chief, but Joseph warns him to keep silent or he'll execute his plan to pin the whole murder on him. Damn! I think Joseph is officially a bigger villain than Frank Cotton or even Pinhead could ever HOPE to be at this point. Things pick up as a young boy brings Joseph a box with a VCR tape in it that shows a man beating another man to death with some chains and placing a finger nearby.

The camera pans up to show the assailant's face, and we see he's a Cenobite with no eyes and a horrifically long tongue. However when Joseph brings the tape to the police station for analysis it shows nothing but static, no one believing his story about what he saw. The police chief thinks he's finally beginning to crack, so he orders him to see the station psychologist Dr. Paul Gregory. This is a completely pointless scene that serves only to introduce the doctor, but at least he's played by awesome actor James Remar so I can't be mad at it. It is HIGHLY surreal seeing Remar in a full beard and not counseling Dexter on his next kill.

Not long after this the police find the dead body of the man from the video, which turns out to be a snitch Joseph was using to try to find information about the Engineer. He finds a voice mail on the snitch's phone, leading him and Tony to an out of the way bar called the Crossing where he meets with a Mr. Parmagi. Parmagi is played by Michael Shamus “I've Been In Every Movie And TV Show Ever” Wiles, probably one of the finest character actors working in the business today. Joseph asks if he's the Engineer, but Parmagi just laughs at him and says he flatters him.

Parmagi tells Joseph he has everything about the Engineer wrong, but before we can learn more the detective spots the Eyeless Cenobite running out of the bar. Chasing him into the woods, Joseph quickly loses him and finds himself on the end of an ass kicking from two of Parmagi's men. Well, that went nowhere. Tony finds him and takes him back to the station, where he meets with Dr. Gregory again. Gregory tells him about a previous detective that encountered the Engineer years ago, eventually going insane and killing himself.

Gregory shows Joseph the detective's file, which contains a photo of the puzzle box he had on him at the time of his death. Gregory says he went looking for it in the evidence room but it had vanished, coming to the conclusion it was lost. Joseph pulls the box out of his pocket and slams it down on the table, Gregory telling him he did some research about it.

FIVE freaking movies in, we finally learn the box's name: the Lament Configuration. Gregory goes over the box's history, name dropping the Cenobites and the consequences of opening the box. Joseph points out he wasn't taken to Hell, recounting his time with it. Gregory concludes the fact they've left him alive must mean... something. Either that, or this was NEVER a Hellraiser movie to begin with. Seriously, doesn't ALL of this Cenobite stuff feel completely shoehorned in? Pinhead isn't even the one tormenting Joseph, which really makes me think this was a repurposed script they sprinkled some Hellraiser mythos in for some extra rental dollars.

Joseph goes home to get some rest, but doesn't get a chance as he gets a call from his mother. It seems she's had a visit from “some kind of engineer”, which gives him a second wind. He gives his wife a gun to protect herself and their daughter with and he takes off to the retirement home his parents are being kept in. One FREAKING AWESOME trip through a hallucinogenic hallway later, Joseph finds himself in his parents' room where his mother keeps asking why he never comes to visit. NOW things are starting to pick up!

A young girl screaming outside the door draws Joseph's attention, who opens the door right into the child's bedroom we saw at the beginning of the movie. The door slams shut behind him and won't open, as we hear his parents being savagely murdered on the other side. As blood begins to pool under the door Joseph wakes up back in the previous scene, with his wife getting a call from his mother. Oh alright, take two!

This time when he arrives at the home Joseph learns his parents have been missing for an hour. He searches their room where he finds a present the Engineer left him: a box containing TWO fingers along with an address of a rundown apartment complex. Driving there, Joseph enters the apartment indicated in the note where he finds an empty room save a telescope looking out the window and a phone. After clearing the room Joseph looks through the telescope at a window across the street, where he sees Eyeless beating Tony to death and placing a finger in his mouth. The phone rings, the Engineer on the other line. He says there's a finger for every murder and that time is running short as there's only four fingers left. Joseph screams what he wants from him, the answer simply to “go home” before the line goes dead.

Joseph does just that, taking a shotgun with him because it's time for shit to get real. And boy is that an understatement, as inside his house are his wife and daughter chained to the infamous Pillar of Souls. The room is snowing and covered in hanging chains, mirroring some of the scenes from Joseph's first trip into the outerworld. Gregory into the room to welcome him home, and there's a VERY nice little detail here. Earlier when they first met Gregory told him he was also a priest, and now the cross pin he wears on his lapel is inverted.

Ignoring this plot twist, Joseph goes to save his family but they shatter into glass like they're Twilight vampires when he touches them. Gregory tells him the police were able to get a fingerprint off the finger in Tony's mouth, learning it... belongs to a young Joseph? Gregory goes on to say Joseph misunderstood his instructions to “go home”, he meant the childhood home he grew up in and not the one he lives now.

For his next trick Gregory transforms into Pinhead, and okay what the fuck is going on here?! I can totally buy Gregory being the Engineer, they set it up pretty brilliantly because if you go back to the scene where he tells Joseph about the Lament Configuration there's all kinds of little clues there, but this?! Has Pinhead ALWAYS been Gregory? Or did he just kill him and take his identity? If so, why? Why is Pinhead spending so much damn time on such an intricate mindfuck when he's never bothered with this level of detail before? BAH!

So here's Pinhead, whom I almost forgot was even IN this thing. But we're not done getting hit with final act plot twists yet, because he tells Joseph HE'S not the killer. Uh oh, that is not what I wanted to hear. Things are about to get REALLY dumb, aren't they? Pinhead drops the “go home” mantra again, promising Joseph he'll find all the answers there. The Cenobite walks out of the room and Joseph follows, back into the child's bedroom for the third time. Since third time is always the charm, we learn this was Joseph's room as a kid like that's ANY kind of surprise. He sees his younger self on the floor putting a puzzle together until his mother calls him from downstairs.

The idyllic images of his childhood are quickly ruined by the entire house beginning to violently shake, everything turning old and decrepit. He gets attacked by eyeless versions of his parents, blowing them away with his shotgun. He goes on to get attacked by all of the Engineer's victims one by one, fighting them off and making his way to a door. He kicks it open and steps inside, where he sees his childhood self tied to a chair and missing all of his fingers but two.

Eyeless is standing next to him, Joseph drawing his pistol and preparing to shoot him in the face until he begins peeling said face off. If you can't guess who is revealed to be underneath, what's it like watching your first movie ever? Enjoying the experience, I hope, although I don't really see how that's possible. I hope you at least had some tasty snacks, good snacks can make up for a lot of shortcomings.

Yes, Joseph is underneath the Eyeless mask. Before Joseph One Of Three can even process that, we FINALLY get the fucking hooked chains we should have gotten thirteen minutes into this thing. Joseph gets strung up, and right on cue here's Pinhead to try to connect the dots on this shit. He fails! Eyeless Joseph kills Young Joseph, Pinhead welcomes Main Joseph to hell as the chains rip him apart... and then he wakes up on the motel bathroom's floor next to the box. Oh my God, this movie... is falling apart HARD. Like every second they don't put it out of its misery and cut to the credits things only get stupider.

He leaves the bathroom, Daphne still alive in the bed. He goes back to the station and things are all shiny happy... until he gets the call from the dying hooker again. FUCK YOU MOVIE! Joseph, reading my very own thoughts, pulls out his gun and shoots himself in the head. AND THEN WAKES UP ON THE FUCKING BATHROOM FLOOR. Whatever, I'm done. The film's final shot is of Joe narrating how he's going to have to live with his demons forever and then does his best Darth Vader impersonation with a pretty epic “Nooooooooooooooooo!” as the credits roll.

That's right folks, you just saw a “It was all a dream” movie. The biggest and cheapest copout in the entire fucking world, and they just inflicted it upon us. I'd like to think this was some kind of meta statement on the neverending hell of the franchise now that it's in the straight-to-video realm but somehow I doubt it. There's no point in even trying to analyze the story as none of it happened after Joseph opened the box, the whole mystery about the Engineer was just time killing bullshit.

From a continuity aspect, it works. We never get to see what happens to people after the chains rip them apart and their torment goes from physical to mental, so I GUESS it was nice getting a glimpse at that finally. However, WHY was it the entire movie?! Everything about this is just so, SO wrong. I would have been okay with the last five minutes or so being an endless loop of Joseph dying over and over again, but we desperately needed an ACTUAL story leading up to that.

Which is another thing very wrong with all of this: was Joseph THAT bad of a guy? Yes, he was a lying cheating scumbag who was neglecting his family and stealing from his job, but he genuinely cared about trying to rescue the kid he thought needing rescuing. Again, I have to draw comparisons to the Saw movies where Jigsaw's victim list started getting EXTREMELY nitpicky, going from serial killer to serial smoker.

A lot of this is due to Derrickson's beliefs, as he is a practicing Christian and always tries to infuse his movies with a little more subtext about morality than you get in most movies. Which I want to make clear that there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong with, I have no problem with anyone being upfront about their beliefs and how it affects their stories. But here in a Hellraiser movie it just feels very out of place in a series that always has dealt with the worst of the worst kind of people. I get what he was going for here: a sin is a sin, an unforgivable act that is irrelevant whether you lied and cheated on your wife or killed someone in cold blood. It makes for some very thought provoking reflection, and would have worked infinitely better if this had been an original story that I still highly suspect it was originally written as.

Other than all of this, there was a lot to like here. All of the actors did a great job, especially Sheffer who NAILED this freaking thing. He was a complete and total unlikeable scumbag, but that was the point because his eventful comeuppance drove the entire film and kept me vested the entire time. Even more importantly this felt and LOOKED like a movie. Derrickson certainly knows his craft as a filmmaker, and it's obvious he had an eye for creating interesting worlds from day one. It's amusing that this had almost the same budget as the last movie but whereas that looked like a cheap SyFy Original Movie, Inferno looked REAL. Every set was meticulously crafted with tons of little details that made everything look lived in, which is a first for this series.

There was a lot of sweet imagery here that is still sticking with me hours after having watched it, and is definitely a movie I'll sit through again to see them. Next time though I won't be paying that much attention to the story, because FUCK “It was all a dream” movies. They're more insulting than the worst Michael Bay movie, and every time I see one my blood just BOILS. In closing Hellraiser: Inferno is a great morality tale but a pretty freaking lousy Hellraiser movie. Depending on what you're looking for coming into it, you'll either enjoy it or hate it and WILL get pissed off at the ending.

But you ain't see nothing yet...