Tag Demons

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

Hellraiser - Bloodline (1996)

This year, the past, the present and the future will all meet at the crossroads of hell.

In 2127, Dr Merchant leads a team of scientists on board a space station in attempting to permanently close the gates of Hell for good, having been opened back in 18th century France by one of his ancestors. For centuries, his descendants have been trying to find a way to reverse the Lament Configuration Box and now he believes he has found a way. But Pinhead and the Cenobites do not want the gateway closing.

 

The last of the Hellraiser films to obtain a cinematic release, Hellraiser: Bloodline was a misguided attempt to revive the flagging fortunes of the series. Like many horror franchises (Leprechaun, Friday the 13th, even Critters), when all other potential storylines had been exhausted, there was always the opportunity to blast their villains into outer space. The third instalment wasn’t overly thrilling but that didn’t stop the money men from milking the cash cow. Director Kevin Yagher, going under the infamous Alan Smithee pseudonym to officially disown his film, was involved in many arguments with the studio over this sequel and it shows in the final product. Hellraiser: Bloodline isn’t perhaps the total dud that it’s made out to be.

The main problem with the Hellraiser sequels, save for the first one, is that they all progressively moved further away from the dark taboos that Clive Barker had dreamt up. The whole pleasure-pain and Heaven-Hell binaries, films full of sadism, torture and moral choices – these were exactly the sort of ingredients needed to make thought-provoking horror. With a greater focus on the ready-made horror icon Pinhead, the sequels shifted away from this, turning into little more than glorified supernatural slashers. Hellraiser: Bloodline is the perfect example of this – a film which is top heavy with Pinhead, features plenty of gruesome set pieces and a cast of undeveloped fodder to feed to the Cenobites when needed. There are still signs of Barker’s original visions but they’ve been papered over with generic horror clichés and turned into more of a fast food horror film than a thinking man’s.

The story on its own is decent. Seeing how the numerous generations of Merchants have tried to deal with the Lament Configuration Box sounds solid in theory but less so when it is all put together. The jumps from the past to the future are too frequent and the loose structure allows for little connection between the three separate stories. The two stories set in the past are much more interesting, particularly the one in France as its nice to see horror films set in period settings without the trappings of science, knowledge and a couple of bullets to deal with the monster. As the story moves forward in time, so the interest diminishes. The whole staging aboard on the space station in the final third just seems like a poor man’s retread of Alien, only with Cenobites stalking the soldiers in the dark. It’s hardly inspiring stuff and you’ll have seen it done before.

Though Pinhead was grossly overused in the sequels (he wasn’t even given a name in the original), turning into another Freddy Krueger-like talking villain, it’s still nice to see him in his prime before the following sequels turned him into a running cameo. Doug Bradley is comfortable in the role at this point, relishing the lines he has to deliver and speaking with gusto and malice. The character gets some of his best lines in this one like “I am pain” and “Do I look like someone who cares what God thinks?” He still gets too much screen time but as he’s the best thing on display by a mile here, it’s the lesser of two evils. The rest of the cast are pretty dire although Valentina Vargas acts with her body at times.

The gory set pieces have been given the focus in this one. Whilst the original featured its fair share of flesh ripping, the sequels tried to out-do it in terms of gratuitousness. There’s a scene in which a pair of cops are hideously mauled together and their heads and bodies twisted and contorted together to form a single Cenobite. Later on, the twins absorb another victim. In the final third where the soldiers are picked off one-by-one, there are the usual chains and hooks as well as a fancy mirror death. It’s all very imaginative stuff but the deaths are quick. There’s no suffering. There’s no drawn out agony. Pinhead preaches a lot about suffering and pain yet his goons decide to kill their victims within a heart beat rather than draw out a long, lingering death. Kevin Yagher was a make-up effects guy before he stepped into the hot seat and it shows, delivering a series of sterling gore moments.

 

Hellraiser: Bloodline is nowhere near as bad as people would have you believe. There is enough gore, a quite high body count, plenty of flesh-ripping hooks and special effects to keep horror fans interested, and of course, there is always Pinhead. But messy editing, poor acting and a poor script spoil it. I would like to have seen Kevin Yagher’s original vision for the film as there was potential in here but the studios think they know best, not the guys who actually make the film.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002)

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002)

Leave no soul unturned

A young woman who has a boyfriend crippled in a motorcycle accident accidentally releases the evil Djinn from his prison. The Djinn takes on the appearance of the lawyer who was trying to settle the compensation case and who also has the hots for the young woman. Will she make 3 wishes and inadvertently release the Djinn and the rest of his kind? Will they stop churning out these sequels? Does anyone actually watch them bar me?

 

Though entertaining enough on its own, Wishmaster was not a classic horror film. It had some good ideas, plenty of gore and gruesome set pieces, a few in-references to the genre and was watchable enough without ever reaching the next level and becoming a must-see horror – and it was hardly sequel-worthy. But with the unique title character, the money men saw an iconic horror villain with whom they could churn out successive sequels and here we have the third sequel, Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled. The first sequel was rubbish but at least it still had Andrew Divoff as the title character as well as one or two novel death scenes amidst a mountain of twaddle. The second sequel gave us less thrills, some poor death sequences and tepid Jason Connery assuming the mantle of the evil genie in human form.

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled doesn’t deviate from the formula that the series has grasped onto like a lift raft – the Djinn is released, he grants backfiring wishes in the pursuit of whoever set him free and he attempts to bring about the end of the world before being imprisoned again at the end. Only whereas the original had a reasonable budget to be able to give adequate life to the backfiring wishes in the form of gory set pieces, the successive sequels have all been done on lower and lower budgets. This one looks like the bargain basement entry it is, shot back-to-back with the second sequel to save on costs. The wishes, at least the only worthwhile things to mention from the sequels, are toned down due to the lack of money. A couple of them had potential but the end results are worthless. The same goes for the grand finale and the ending – the film clearly has a bigger vision in mind for them but the results are underwhelming and distinctly dull. If you cut the cash, its time to cut the script and show what you can afford, not what you want to be able to afford.

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled evidently knows its target audience (i.e. adolescent males) and kicks off proceedings with a gratuitous sex scene. Talk about a cheap way to get the audience interested.  Tara Spencer-Nairn looks great in the lead role and has a habit of shedding her clothes for the camera throughout the rest of the film (not that I’m complaining). When a horror film has to rely on sex to sell itself, you know they’ve hit a totally new low. But there’s little else to get excited about, if you’ll pardon the pun. The Djinn assumes human form once again, taking over the body of a smarmy lawyer in order to get closer to the person who released him. There is also a sub-plot about a Djinn hunter being awakened once the third wish has been granted but it’s literally a padding device, designed to throw in another character and kill a bit more time (funny how it was never mentioned in the previous three films either!). The hunter doesn’t do much and is completely unnecessary to the eventual outcome of the story.

At its core, the film is more about human drama than outright horror and at least the actors manage to keep things ticking over the best they can. The already-mentioned Spencer-Nairn can back up her body with her acting ability and Michael Trucco makes for a decent human version of the Djinn. John Novak is a terrible Djinn when he’s in his creature form, overacting with the passion of a Shakesperian Thespian. But the film skimps on the creature version and instead has the Djinn assume the form of one of the human characters for the majority of the film, thus saving on expensive make-up effects.

 

Spare yourself the trouble and avoid this lame third-rate sequel to a ‘franchise’ that was already struggling to find the breath to make a wish, let alone put the wish into motion. Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled at least fulfils the cinematic prophecy that straight-to-DVD sequels are pale imitations of their big budget brothers.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)

Hellraiser - Hellworld (2005)

Evil Goes Online.

A group of friends, who log onto the Hellworld.com website, open a computerised version of the Lament Configuration box and are invited to a secret Hellworld party with other users. Here they are greeted by a creepy host who tells them that they can drink and indulge in pleasures of the flesh all they like. Their troubles have only just begun though when they begin to experience nightmarish hallucinations and begin to get picked off one-by-one.

 

The Hellraiser franchise has to have suffered one of the worst track records when it comes to horror sequels and general destruction of its own self from within. The series’ fall from grace from being a shocking journey into pain and pleasure in the superb original to being little more than a gimmick for seemingly stand alone horror films is rather pathetic and disheartening. Granted all horror franchises suffer from diminishing returns as their sequels progress – it can’t be helped because it’s the same thing over and over again. The trouble with Hellraiser is that the last couple of sequels were not written exclusively as sequels – some Einstein decided to slap a bit of Cenobite action into some generic horror scripts so that fans of the originals would shell out hard cash to see what Pinhead and co. were still up to in the 00s. It’s clear as day that this has been the case and it makes for uneven viewing. Hellraiser: Hellworld probably gets the worst rap out of the lot of the sequels (well until the abomination that was Hellraiser: Revelations) but I don’t mind it.

Marginally better than the previous couple of Hellraiser flicks, Hellraiser: Hellworld only scores points in that it moves slightly away from the standard mind warping plots of “is it real or isn’t it?” into something a little more modern. Hellraiser: Hellworld is infinitely more watchable than the last few sequels put together because it ditches the confusing nightmare and dream sequences and gets back to basics. The film has come in for a lot of negative pres and you have to ask why?

Maybe it’s the fact that this is the first Hellraiser film to become self-aware. Like Freddy Vs Jason added the Scream-style self-awareness to its respective franchises, this is the first time that the characters in a Hellraiser film actually know what is happening and what to expect. They expect to see Pinhead when they open the box. They question what is happening to them when they haven’t been impaled with chains. They understand the mythology surrounding the Lament Configuration Box. But they don’t believe it all. That’s the crucial point. They think that it’s only a stupid online RPG game that they’ve been playing even though the audience knows better. This is a more straightforward plot which doesn’t allow for a lot of scope but I was getting sick of the previous sequels attempts to confuse and contradict the viewer. It’s time to simplify this franchise and that’s what this instalment does, for better or for worse.

There’s some quick plot explanation at the start to set us up for the party and once the main characters arrive, it basically turns into a haunted house flick where they all separate and are killed off one-by-one. Cue your modern horror obsessions with rapid editing, plenty of strobe lights, rock music, smoke machines and all of the trimmings. It may all look fancy but there’s not a great deal of substance to it. We know what is coming from the set pieces. We know which characters are going to survive and which aren’t. Predictabilty is this film’s second biggest problem after the unnecessary addition of the Hellraiser label and forced inclusion of the Cenobites.

Whilst we’re at it, we might as well talk about them. Pinhead and the Cenobites are back here, although his screen time is once again limited to a few clichéd lines (he practically says the same thing in every film) and he’s nowhere near the demonic leader he was before. Though the Cenobites manage to get down-and-dirty for a change and actually do the killing themselves (since when did they become slashers?) The original two films had the Cenobites portrayed as sado-masochistic creatures from another dimension with some strange religious connotations and a desire to inflict pain upon people for their pleasure. Now they have become no better than Freddy Kruger or Michael Myers – simply gimmick figures who kill people in ludicrous ways. The loss of their aura and mystique is one of the main reasons why the series went rapidly downhill after the first two films. Any shred of integrity had long gone from the characters so I don’t see the problem in attempting to give them something new to do here. The Cenobites had already been sent into space, so why not send them into cyberspace?

I’ve been harsh on Lance Henriksen for starring in films like Mind Ripper before and most of his recent work has just been bit parts in tacky horror films like Mangler 2: Graduation Day but his presence here is most welcome and he gives the film a truly menacing tone as the creepy host of the party. The teen cast is your usual array of good-looking twentysomethings with no personalities whatsoever although Kathryn Winnick is amazing. I just love this woman. Beautiful and a talented actress t boot – just a pity she’s starred in a few of these low budget horror films (Amusement anyone?)

In fact it is probably this teen actor element that has turned many of the fans hostile towards this film – the Hellraiser series could always be relied upon for mature characters getting into bother with the Cenobites. So it’s somewhat refreshing to see Pinhead hook up with some teenagers for a change (instead of obnoxious adults) and show Jason and Freddy a thing or two. Doug Bradley makes his swansong as Pinhead and it’s a bit of a poor way to go out considering how good the character was in the first two films.

 

Hellraiser: Hellworld is a decent film on its own feet and it’s the only the addition of the Hellraiser tag and the presence of the Cenobites which is getting it so much hate. It’s a refreshing change of direction from the previous couple of instalments, arguably the most original sequel since Bloodline and is definitely a lot better than other critics are ranting about.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wishmaster (1997)

Wishmaster (1997)

Be careful what you wish for.

In ancient Persia, an evil creature called the Djinn is encased inside an opal which is hidden inside in a statue so that it is imprisoned for all eternity. Centuries later, the gem stone breaks loose during a transportation accident. A young gemologist finds the stone but unwittingly releases the Djinn. Now loose on the streets, the Djinn must find the person who released him and offer them three wishes, releasing the rest of his kind from their imprisonment.

 

Wishmaster gets a lot of bad press and most of it is quite undeserved. Made for a reasonable sum of around $5m and grossing over $15m in the box office in the US alone, it was a modest hit and has deservedly found a bit more appreciation over it’s course on video and now DVD. Former special effects man Robert Kurtzman stepped up to the director’s chair for this one and assembled a whole host of horror talent both in front of and behind the camera. Wes Craven even “presents” the film, although the guy was pimping himself out to loads of low budget rubbish at this point in his career. Throw in a cool villain, plenty of creative and gory effects and you get Wishmaster, sort of a bigger and better version of Leprechaun.

Granted it isn’t the greatest horror film ever made but coming in the midst of the teeny bop horror fad brought on by Scream, Wishmaster was like a breath of fresh air. No annoying teenagers running around thinking they know everything about horror films. This is back-to-basics 80s-style gore and creativity. Wishmaster is, in its simplest form, a new spin on the Nightmare on Elm Street series. It contains a devilish, nightmarish villain who uses creative and novel ways to kill his victims, usually following up with some wisecrack. The Djinn is a pretty safe pair of hands to base a series around and the character has appeared in four films so far. In his original form, he’s a cool-looking devil with a nasty set of teeth and red, glowing eyes. The make-up department did a pretty good job on him.

In his human form, he’s played by the actor Andrew Divoff. With the Djinn being a speaking character, the right man was needed and they certainly chose him here. Divoff is smarmy as hell. You just want to slap the guy every time you see him because he’s always grinning. It’s such a dangerous grin because you know he’s thinking of some nasty way to turn your wish into something it isn’t. Divoff’s mannerisms are perfect, always talking to people with his head lowered but his eyes up. He makes the Djinn an intriguing character – he has the power to destroy and devastate but only if someone wishes it. Without the wish, he has no power so it’s great to see him try and tease and trick wishes out of his victims.

A lot has been made about the horror icons that are on board for this film and it’s a pity because it really does detract from the film quite a bit. It’s not simply a novelty flick, put together to simply see the likes of Robert Englund (Freddy Kruger), Kane Hodder (Jason Vorhees) and Tony Todd (The Candyman) on screen in the same film. Why? Because, barring Englund, they have only small cameos and even Englund’s role isn’t that big. There are also appearances from a whole host of other genre favourites but this review is too short to list them all.

Like the annoying Leprechaun, the Djinn has got the ability to grant wishes to people and this is the whole novelty value of the film. You see he doesn’t just grant the wishes that people want: he manages to twist them in any way possible so that the person ends up on the receiving end of a very nasty death. Each wish backfires in the most horrible way possible and this is where the effects team comes into play. There’s some impressive set pieces on display here, from the opening scene in Ancient Persia (where people turn into snakes and an unlucky victim even has his own skeleton rip itself from his body and go on a rampage of it’s own), to people being shattered like glass, right down to the finale involving stone statues that come to life. It’s clear where most of the budget went and it’s good to see Kurtzman playing to his strengths. The film was never going to be remembered for its acting or story so why not go a little overboard with the special effects?

There are standard problems with films of this type and Wishmaster is no exception to the rule.  It’s all a little style over substance and the film is basically a conveyor belt of set pieces. Every fifteen minutes or so there’s another backfiring wish and another excuse for mayhem. Feeling a little bogged down with the heroine’s attempts to piece everything together? Fear not because someone is about to get ripped apart! At under ninety minutes, the film is fast-paced and always entertaining, if somewhat unsatisfying at the end. There a few a lapses in logic and common sense and there’s too many random characters who are given a few minutes of time, simply to end up the victim of a wish (Ricco Ross’ cop for instance). And given that Kurtzman is an effects man at heart, he shows little ability to actually create anything resembling scares or atmosphere.

 

Wishmaster is an imaginative, entertaining and pacey horror flick made by guys who’ve worked in the industry for a long time and now what the fans want to see. It’s certainly the most creative time you’ll have spent with a horror film for some time and as I said earlier, it sticks one middle finger up to the teen horrors that are now swamping the market. However there is one thing I must add. “I wish there were no sequels.”

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hellraiser: Deader (2005)

Hellraiser: Deader (2005)

The Latest. Most Terrifying Evil.

A journalist is sent to Romania to investigate a group that call themselves the Deadites, led by a charismatic leader who convinces people to kill themselves and states he can then bring them back to life afterwards. One of her clues is the Lament Configuration box, which she happens to open and her journey to hell and the world of the Cenobites begins.

 

Another instalment of the long-suffering Hellraiser franchise comes along which again seems to simply cash in on the Hellraiser name by offering us a stand-alone horror flick with a brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-cameo by Pinhead and the Cenobites. It’s no surprise to find out that this didn’t start off as a Hellraiser film and serves to only further the insult made towards the original (and to a lesser extent the first sequel). I applaud the attempts to take the franchise out of the gutter and restore some dignity to the character of Pinhead but this isn’t going to be the film to do so. It’s funny to think that the Hellraiser series has more or less gone in the direction that John Carpenter wanted to take the Halloween series – each film playing as a different entity with only one connection to make between them, in this case being Pinhead. I’m not knocking that idea – I’m knocking the execution of it.

The “is it real or isn’t it?” approach of the last few sequels continues with yet another weird and twisting film that attempts to misdirect your attention numerous times in an valid ploy to confuse and play with your mind. These films have progressively moved away from Clive Barker’s original vision and now focus more on the ‘real or not’ plot which is more in line with A Nightmare on Elm Street and it’s ‘is it a dream or isn’t it?’ stories. The nonsense factor has increased and now these films are more about flashy effects and seeing how confusing they can make the viewer feel. Far too many red herrings are thrown around to get the viewer to question what they are witnessing. At times there’s so many flying around that it’s like a fish farm. The script tries to make itself sound important and give itself some direction but I bet creative had no idea where the film was heading and just went with it. After all, who needs a story when you’ve got dark rooms, dank back alleys and dim corridors – sensing a theme here?

Director Rick Bota has a decent visual style, I’m not knocking that. The film is packed with plenty of grisly imagery and there’s lots of effective lighting and strobes. It’s your typical modern horror with lots of flashing, lots of quick cuts and a frenetic visual style. He’s not afraid to splash the blood around either and there’s a copious amount of naked flesh during the train scenes. But they’re not a substitute for scares. Or cohesive story or script for that matter.

It’s clear that this was made as a separate horror flick but some producer must have come along and thought they could make some extra money out of it if they put in a few minutes of Pinhead and the Cenobites. Their inclusion seems forced, unnecessary and at odds to the rest of the story. They’re an afterthought and a bad one at that. People knocked the first few sequels for focusing on Pinhead as a central character. Whilst I’m not for the guy getting oodles of screen time and being turned into some cheesy Freddy Kruger wannabe, I still want to get my fair share of the guy. After all, he’s arguably the main reason why the original has spawned so many sequels. He’s such a cool, kick ass horror icon that he deserves better. But once again the money men call the shots and Pinhead’s cameo role here is cheap bait to fans of the series like me who will continually be suckered in watching them in the promise that we’ll get more of him.

Kari Wuhrer wastes her obvious talents in the clichéd role of the journalist who will do anything for a story but she’s still arguably the best bit of the film. Even poor Doug Bradley looks fed up as Pinhead. His voice just doesn’t have the same gravitas as it once did and the dialogue he’s given is meaningless drivel. I want him to fire off some of his immortal lines like “We’ll tear your soul apart” and “No tears please, it’s a waste of good suffering.” He has sounded more like a preachy old drunkard in the last couple of films and it just damages his once-awesome character.

 

It’s hard to see what crowd Hellraiser: Deader is supposed to appeal to. There’s little Pinhead in it for die-hard fans. The same ‘screw with your mind’ spiel for the third time in a row will surely send other fans to sleep. And it’s not that spooky or scary, just plenty of glossy visuals instead of scares. Hellraiser: Deader does exactly what it says in the title. Unfortunately this film was Deader than the others.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆