When ENCORE Suspense invited viewers & subscribers to experience “Hell on Earth” in the days leading up to Halloween, they were promoting a marathon of “All 8 Hellraiser movies”. Sweet! This was the first time I’d seen such a substantial Hellraiser fest on cable but, wait a minute… aren’t there 9 Hellraiser movies? Yes there are.
Encore might not have been accurate in their description of “Hell on Earth” but they didn’t make a mistake or accidental omission either. The reason is absolutely understandable: Everyone hates the most recent straight to DVD installment of the Hellraiser franchise, the 9th in the series: Revelations. And when I say everyone hates it, I mean almost every hardcore and casual fan on the planet despises that film like plague. A recent discussion of the film on the Official Hellraiser Facebook page elicited comments like, “This film is a slap in the face to all fans,” and “This is the worst movie ever made,” and even, “This piece of shit doesn’t have a single redeeming quality.”
And it’s not just fan-boys/girls giving Revelations the shred; critics had no mercy either. Most damning, the Mastermind behind it all, Clive Barker himself wanted to make his lack of affiliation crystal clear, tweeting: “I want to put on record that the flic out there using the word Hellraiser IS NO FUCKIN’ CHILD OF MINE! I have NOTHING to do with the fuckin’ thing. If they claim its from the mind of Clive Barker, it’s a lie. It’s not even from my butt-hole.” Poetic as always.
Oh Clive, do behave!
The script was so terrible, in fact, that Doug Bradley, the actor who portrays the iconic Pinhead in the eight previous Hellraiser films, decided not to participate. He mentioned the film’s micro budget and overall lack of organization as reasons for his pass, but is also quoted giving a deeper insight; of Revelations, he wrote: “[It] does not seem to me to represent a serious attempt to revive the Hellraiser franchise.”
The fact that Bradley deemed the film inferior may have doomed it from the start. But was Bradley’s assessment really fair? Ironically, the main fan complaint about Revelations is that Doug doesn’t play Pinhead. “If it’s not Doug Bradley, it’s not Pinhead,” one fan write, and, “Stephan Smith Collins [the guy who replaced Doug as the seminal Cenobite] is fucking awful!” scowls another. Which got me wondering: “Do people hate this film because it’s truly unredeemable—or is it only that people can’t stomache the idea of anyone besides Bradley playing Pinhead?” While this question is obviously rhetorical, the issue is actually much more complicated.
Before progressing further, I want to make a couple of things very clear: I’m not writing this article to promote Revelations as a great film, because it’s not. It really is sub-par (a point I’ll be repeating throughout). But when you put the film in a fair and proper context, it’s clear the extent to which it’s being maligned is excessive. I’m not here to rank the 9 Hellraiser sequels or start any kind of debate based on opinion and/or personal preference. I only want to stick to core issues in an attempt to make two important points: 1) Revelations is NOT the worst film in the Hellraiser Franchise, and 2). Other actors can and should be considered for the role of Pinhead.
At this point, I’m sure I’ve already pissed off The Legions. When I tried making these points with fans on Facebook, it was like stomping on a hornets nest. My suffering will be legendary.
It has been postulated (and hardly refuted) that The Weinstein Company produced Revelations on the quick and cheap in 2010 because they faced the prospect of losing the rights to the Hellraiser brand. This certainly adds credence to Doug Bradley’s assessment: That this chapter was not receiving the same treatment as other films in the series. The budget for the previous Hellraiser was $5M, but Revelations was given a pitiable $300K! No doubt folks regarded the assignment as more of a chore than a labor of love; the film was made without passion and the Weinsteins never intended on promoting it (or even acknowledging it).
An indignant Scott Weinberg (FEARnet producer/critic) called the film a “contractually-mandated piece of intentional garbage that exists for no other reason than pure, simple greed…This is amateur hour stuff all the way, and it’d be almost endearingly, stupidly enjoyable if this witless cinematic refuse wasn’t dancing on the grave of a true classic of the genre.”
Scott isn’t a man to mince words and I certainly don’t want to get on this guy’s bad side, but his pure vitriol proves to me it’s an emotional statement (most likely stemming from disappointment that the franchise was being kept from other interested parties). I seriously doubt that everyone involved in the creation of the film set out to intentionally create “garbage”. That’s not only insulting to the actors and FX artists, but the crew and location scouts, the caterers—everyone who got up before dawn and didn’t get to sleep until after midnight. Making statements like that is a sign of questionable credibility (like, perhaps he protests too much). And, seriously, it’s not like the Weinsteins did anything illegal—or even wrong. It’s business, son! Whatever you might think about Bob and Harvey, personally and professionally, holding on to the rights to Hellraiser, keeping it close and treating it like an asset was a smart, prudent business decision. Just sayin’…
The fact that I smell sour grapes doesn’t change the fact that criticism about Revelations is often well founded. But I believe, not just as a Hellraiser fan, but as an objective and analytical critic of cinema and literature, that Revelations is NOT the worst film in the franchise and should not be stigmatized as such. The true culprit: Part 8 in the franchise, Hellworld. And I’m not saying that Hellworld is just as bad as Revelations, I’m saying that Hellworld is actually much worse. Sure, Revelations is almost fatally flawed, suffering from poor acting, sloppy writing, and lackluster directing. But if you’re able to separate the story from the storytelling, a superior vision emerges.
Synopsis & Review: Revelations
Two families share a painful emotional bond: Months ago, their teenage sons disappeared together. A private detective traced their movements to Mexico and returned with disturbing video of an occult ritual & violent kidnapping. Tonight, the families gather for dinner at an isolated home to support each other and lick their wounds. Things take a shocking turn when one of the sons returns, bloodied and incoherent, babbling about being perused. His younger sister accidently opens an intricate puzzle-box, unleashing a tribe of inter-dimensional surgeons. What follows is a night of painful revelations and excruciating punishment as the young man bargains with ruthless demons, holding everyone’s life in the balance.
As opposed to the 3 sequels that proceeded it, Revelations is a return to some of the core themes and elements of the original Hellraiser. Parts 5-7 were actually adapted from non-Hellraiser scripts the studio had laying around, but Revelations is a fresh script that goes back to the beginning for inspiration. We’ve got dysfunctional family dynamics, including affairs and hints of incest; there’s an erotic (in this case homoerotic) codependant relationship based on sex and murder; there are tolling bells and blue lights announcing the Cenobite’s arrival (and when they appear, the outside world melts away); there’s the familiar jailbreak motif, with the Cenobites on the trail of an escapee; we see the return of the Manson-esque “Vagrant” as emissary of the Lament Configuration. The FX’s are absolutely reminiscent of the original and Part 2 (Hellbound) with displaced souls reaching through schisms, becoming flayed bodies—feasting on blood. And as for a creative innovation, the film offers a female “Chatterer” Cenobite: Sex and pain personified. Yes, the filmmaking is noticeably poor on many levels, but as far as I’m concerned, the story is sound and the script actually had a lot of potential.
Female “Chatterer” Cenobite
Synopsis & Review: Hellworld
A group of friends are obsessed with an online Hellraiser themed roleplaying game. One friend loses his mind and commits suicide. 2 years later, the rest of the group is invited to a Hellraiser themed rave/party in a converted mental asylum. The Host, an older gentlemen who is never named, brings the group into a den where he shows them his Hellraiser memorabilia and shares some drinks. At the party, the friends become separated and are killed off by the Cenobites (including Pinhead, played by Doug Bradley). In a ridiculous, laughable twist, the final 2 survivors discover that they have been drugged and are trapped in separate coffins, buried underground, and somehow experiencing a shared hallucination. The Host is revealed to be the father of the guy who committed suicide at the film’s onset. He orchestrated the entire event out of vengeance. None of it really happened, because… Hellraiser is only a movie—or is it?
Hellworld is an insultingly bad film. The entire premise is asinine. Its faults are so numerous, and so evident by the flaccid, under inspired synopsis above that I don’t even need to list them. So why isn’t it loathed like Revelations? I’m sure part of it is because The Host is played by horror icon Lance Henriksen. Listen, I love the guy too (Bishop!), but his presence alone does not make Hellworld a good film. Most likely, those who despise Revelations while asserting Hellworld is a superior film probably haven’t seen either. In all probability, even a large chunk of self-professed fans haven’t seen most of the straight to DVD Hellraiser sequels. And yet they proclaim with unwavering certainty that Revelations is the bottom of the barrel—unworthy of acknowledgment or even existence. Why? Because Doug Bradley didn’t play Pinhead? Ironically, this fact and the buzz it created means that more people know about Revelations than Inferno, Hellseeker, Deader, and that abomination Hellworld, allowing these sequels to fly below the radar, suddenly imune to any critisism, while Part 9 takes all the heat.
For some reason, Pinhead decides to decapitate a guy with a cleaver in Hellword–which makes no sense for the master of hooks and chains. Oh wait, it’s all just a hallucination!
The Doug Bradley Factor
I love you, so please don’t tear my soul apart—I just call it like I see it. And the way I see it, you kind of dropped the ball on this one. I don’t doubt that the entire situation was a sloppy affair, or that you’re compensation would have been but a pittance (I read you said you’d only be able to buy a refrigerator) but a creative opportunity was missed. You could have been the common thread, the single constant. Revelations would have been infinitely more appreciated had you reprised Pinhead. I know it wouldn’t have been a career highlight, but you would have at least been doing the fans a favor. An artist of your caliber could have breathed fresh life (and death) into any inspipid script, and your presence on set would have been inspirational. Because we love Pinhead, his soliloquies, his nuanced glances and, frankly—you denied us that joy. Did you even have anything better to do for those two weeks or were you just sick of it all? And I take issue with the assertion that Revelation wasn’t a serious attempt at maintaining the franchise—not because that’s a false statement, but because you didn’t take the same artistic stand with Hellworld. I have trouble believing that you read the script for that meta-disaster and thought, “Ah yes, this is worthy of the Hellraiser moniker”. And yet when handed Revelations, a return to the franchise’s roots with a really decent twist, you thought, “Oh no no, this will not do.” Critically, objectively, it just doesn’t make sense on an artistic level.
I get it people: There’s no one I’d rather see playing Pinhead than Doug. I also agree with all who maintain that Collins was a piss-poor Pinhead by comparison. But Hellraiser is bigger than a single actor or a single Cenobite; the Hellraiser mythology is deep. In the novella that spawned it all, The Hellbound Heart, Pinhead isn’t even the leader of the Cenobites—the Female is. More recently, in the graphic novels released by Boom! (with the participation of Clive Barker, it’s important to note) we learn that Pinhead is really less of a name and more of a rank: The High Priest of Hell. Elliot Spenser (Bradley in film) is the Pinhead we all know and love, but there was a High Priest before him, as well as predecessors. When Spenser bargains his way out of Hell, a new Priest is anointed: Kristy Cotton. When she defects, the post is filled by Harry D’Amour from Lord of Illusions. Each endures the agonizing process of having their faces and scalps sliced, bisected, and punctured, donning the familiar nails like a halo-crown that indicates a specific regal/religious status. Really good stuff!
Kristy Cotton as Pinhead
Harry D’Amour as Pinhead
My point is, fans shouldn’t be so closed-minded that we refuse to accept any Pinhead besides Bradley/Spenser. The actor can’t live forever! True fans should be willing to venture into bold creative directions, finding fresh twists in the Labyrinth. And a reinterpretation of Pinhead isn’t exactly a new idea either: From the famous Fangoria concept shoot in the 1990’s to the fan made trailer for the non-existent prequel Hellraiser: Origins, we’ve seen some bizarre and unsettling variations on our classic icon. When it comes to Hellraiser and the Cenobites, I’m all in favor of meeting new characters, and being surprised by reinterpretations of others.
Pinhead from Fangoria Magazine concept shoot in the 90’s.
Pinhead in the fan-made trailer for Hellraiser: Origins
Revelations was released after several years of heated yet fruitless efforts to reboot Hellraiser, with Clive Barker participating in some sort of creative capacity and a slew of directors attached and then detached. A major sticking point was that the Weinsteins seemed determined to dilute Hellraiser into some PG-13 atrocity to court the Twilight crowd. So I can understand why he was so underwhelmed with Revelations popping up out of nowhere, confusing and frustrating fans who wanted something more. But let’s be real: Clive Barker’s contributions to the Hellraiser franchise are mostly limited to the first two films; he was peripherally attached to Parts 3 & 4, but had nothing at all to do with 5 thru 8. So when he disavowed Revelations as “No Child of Mine,” he neglects to mention that it’s not the only Hellraiser orphan.
We may never know exactly why Doug Bradley passed on Revelations or the root of Clive’s seething animosity, but things may actually work out for the best. The success of Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut has reinvigorated talks of a Hellraiser Reboot and rumor has it that, this time, both Clive and Doug Bradley are on board. But just to be safe, don’t hold your breath! In any case, the clock is always ticking on that copyright and I doubt the Weinsteins plan on parting with it anytime soon. So, one way or another, the next Hellraiser film is an inevitability.
Over 25 years later, the original Cenobites are still iconic; Brutal and somehow beautiful.
This is not a piece in praise of Hellraiser: Revelations. It’s a 2 out of 5 Bloody Knife film (if I’m generous) and extremely problematic throughout. But when ENCORE denied its existence, I felt compelled to set the record straight. And it’s still better than Hellworld—way better! And I’m not trying to piss off Hellraiser fans. I’m one of you! I’m such a huge fan, in fact, that I’m willing to check out just about anything that connects with this rich mythology, including art and comics and, yes, even Revelations. There’s no need to deny the past or revel in it, rather: Let’s just enjoy the ride (the peaks and valleys) as we look forward to the future of Hellraiser. Because we can all agree: It’s one of the most compelling horror franchises ever; bloody, beautiful, and brutal yet somehow, devastatingly universal.
Open the box!
Pictured above: The writer’s personal Lament Configuration signed by original Cenobites Doug Bradley (Pinhead), Barbie Wilde (FC-H2), Simon Bamford (Butterball), and Nicholas Vince (Chatterer), and Ashley Laurence (Kristy Cotton).
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Oh, where to begin?! Lol.
I don’t think Hellraiser Revelations was the worst film. I liked it. The worst Hellraiser movie in my opiniion was Hellraiser 8 Hellworld. This was a rancid dog turd of a movie. Pinhead and the cenobites are never seen throughout the whole movie until the end where the kill the owner of Hellworld. This was just a crappy murder movie with about 5 minutes of actual cenobite action at the very end of the movie. Hellraiser Revelations was by far superior to this abortion of a movie.
You will burn for all eternity for this. Go solve your puzzle and I’ll show you.
I’m already in perpetual torment piv mate. Nothing new there for me.
Relevations is better than Hellworld, it’s also better than Deader.
But none of them are worth seeing.
1-3, 5 & 6 are the solid entries in the franchise. The rest are just, either bad or abysmal.
No love for Bloodline (#4)? I liked it better than Part 3 personally.