Hellbound and Down: A Hellraiser Fan Responds to the Hellraiser: Judgement Trailer

Today it is my pleasure to present a special guest post from my buddy Brendan Carrion. He’s one of the blokes behind the excellent Full Metal RPG podcast and my go to guy when it comes to the world of roleplaying games. Brendan posted an abridged version of this rant about Hellraiser on his Facebook page and I thought it to be so eloquent and informed whilst still remaining visceral and pissed off that I begged him to let me to share it here. Brendan graciously agreed so please enjoy this dose of his scorn then go check out the mighty Full Metal RPG podcast.

The Road to Hell

So the other night I get home from work and my girlfriend is sitting on the couch and she’s really anxious to show me a trailer on YouTube for the new direct to DVD Hellraiser sequel called Hellraiser: Judgement. She plays it for me, sitting there, watching my face, and when it’s over she says,

“So. What do you think?”

I think she was expecting me to fall off the couch and start rolling around on the the floor, my mouth all afroth, as I cursed the heavens for inflicting on us another goddamn subpar Hellraiser sequel that no one was asking for. I think she was expecting me to start pacing around  the apartment, flailing my hands over my head and shrieking about continuity in a high-pitched voice.

I’m a nerd about this type of shit and this is what we do.

But neither of these things happened. It was just another trailer that shows us too much of another crummy movie. It wasn’t an assault on my personal past as a human being or a cultural hate crime against the beloved legacy of a finely crafted story woven over generations.

So despite the fact that I have: A.)  the movie poster to the first Hellraiser film hanging in my living room. B.) Beloved pictures of me mugging with Doug Bradley and Ashley Lawrence at Monsterpalooza in 2014. C.) The poster for Hellraiser: Bloodline tattooed to my flesh, my reaction to the trailer was pretty blase.

Over the next couple of pages I’ll attempt to explain why. 

It’s Just a Movie, People

You see a lot of people from my generation fall into a very simple trap. Culture is a force that moves all around us, it attempts to give us context for who we are and easy answers for the types of questions that will keep you up late at night if you spend too much time thinking about them. Just like the number of midichlorians in our bloodstream, culture has an effect on who we are, or at the very least, who we think we are. From the early 1980’s all the way through the late 1990’s the cultural Prime Mover was found at the movie theater.

For the sake of simplicity let’s put it like this,

if: Culture = Identity,

and: Movies = Culture,

then: Movies = Identity.

You can see this all around you, all of the time.

Are you a Star Wars type person, or a Star Trek type person? What are your deeply held feelings on the works of Jeffrey Combs? Name your favorite Nightmare on Elm Street film and give a detailed analysis as to why.

These questions are important and have right and wrong answers.

This is a test and you will be judged accordingly.

All of this having been said: for the last 25 years the process of filmmaking has been sinking into a risk-averse corporate morass that is completely unconcerned with ideas like character and storytelling while being hyper-concerned with ideas like marketing and profitability. I think sometimes people just forget this context. The long and short of it is, movies just aren’t very good any more, and they have significant incentives not to be.

Introduced into that environment we have a trailer for another Hellraiser movie.

 

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

So what can we take from this? Well, there is no chance that Dimension Films is going to suddenly start caring about the storytelling and the characters. This is yet another blatant cash grab of the variety that they’ve been doing with the Hellraiser franchise since the early 2000’s when I worked in a video store that had actual video cassettes. It’s a well traveled “fact” in horror circles that the limits of Dimension’s ownership of the characters are up if they don’t keep grinding out these movies. So we can expect to see them keep doing this sort of thing for years to come.

 

“But,” I hear you say, “if they’re going to keep making Hellraiser movies, we want a big budget reboot!”

Do we? Do we?

The big budget reboot craze did no favours for other 80’s genre classics such as Robocop, Halloween and a Nightmare on Elm Street to name just a few. In fact, those remakes, excuse me, re-boots, revealed that their makers didn’t really know or understand what made the original movies good or appealing in the first place.

I saw the Robocop reboot in the theater for fuck’s sake and the nicest thing I can say about it is that the people that were responsible for making it at least sort of tried to have it vaguely connected to the zeitgeist of the original. But it’s not fucking 1987 anymore.

Hellraiser was released on May 13th 1987 and the original Robocop was released on July 17th of the same year. Because in the 80’s movies stuck around in the theater for a lot longer, and due to their general proximity to one another, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that those two movies were screening concurrently in many areas over that summer. Let your mind knosh on that for a hot minute as you survey the contemporary cinematic wasteland. The world has changed in many ways and the manner and motivation for making movies is only one of them.

So, returning to the Hellraiser: Judgement trailer,  what are we left with? The visuals showcased here look okay. The original Hellraiser was made mostly on limited sets and with a very small budget, and we can see that here as well. So there is nothing out of the ordinary about that. I would even entertain a case that says the Hellraiser movies actually got worse the more money that got poured into them.

Again we’ve got the noir detective formula shellacked over the Hellraiser concept. This is literally the third time they’ve done this for straight to video. And you can see why. Hellraiser and noir cops are two great ideas that go great together. Once, twice maybe. But at this point the writer’s are exposing their laziness, and the thing that has been torpedoing the Hellraiser franchise for literally decades which is that no one, not even Clive Barker, knows what it’s about anymore.

The first movie functioned so well because it was basically a ghost story. I think people often overlook this. The central antagonists weren’t the cenobites, it was Uncle Frank and Julia. Uncle Frank is basically a ghost haunting a creepy, old, run-down, decaying house. He seizes on the darkness in Julia’s heart and her dissatisfaction with her lame marriage. The horror comes from the actions that those two characters take, not from Doug Bradley pulling people apart in ironic ways with chains. The cenobites at this point were essentially a storytelling twist from the fevered imagination of a New York street hustler. They were 1980’s splatterpunk aesthetic and  lent a new wave of grit and surreality to what is essentially a classic English ghost story. And that’s the core of what makes Hellraiser Hellraiser. The further you get from that, the less sense the whole thing makes.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II functions as the strongest of the sequels because it follows the formula laid out by its predecessor. This time though, instead of a creepy rotting ghost house, we have medical horror that takes place inside of an insane asylum.

The insane asylum is an established set piece for gothic horror which as a genre is concerned with secrets, corruption and decay. These themes play well against those set out in this burgeoning Hellraiser mythos, and so the sequel mostly works. Julia is back and so is Uncle Frank, the two primary antagonists of the original film, only now they are joined by Doctor Channard, who seems right away like he would rather be hanging around Auschwitz. Which is to say that he’s disgusting and overtly evil and we hate him immediately.

However, a problem is beginning to emerge, one that will go on to both define and haunt the series in subsequent iterations. The problem is this: the Cenobites get continually moved to the foreground, and rather than being alien observers with a stake in the horrifying deeds of the central villains. With Hellraiser II, we start getting back story for them and context and shit already starts not making sense.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is by my reckoning the weakest of the theatrical releases. A lot of people will call me names and roll their eyes and reference Hellraiser: Bloodlines, you know, the one in space. I mean, sue me or whatever but at least they were trying for something a little different. Maybe I’m just a big fan of Adam Scott.

Hellraiser III is when the franchise bottoms out and becomes Just Another Slasher Flick. Pinhead (as he is now known) runs around New York City of the mid ‘90’s killing people with hooks and chains because I guess that’s what he’s supposed to do. He also has a bunch of quips about Hell and turns people into ironic cenobites like  DJ-Who-Throws-CDs-At-You-To-Kill- You and Tracheotomy Girl. You know, really mind-bending horror type shit. It’s as though the movie was written by a pair of coked out metalheads who take everything SUPER LITERALLY.

In the previous films the Cenobites come from some sort of strange parallel dimension that is so grotesque and weird, that in order to wrap our minds around it, we as humans think of it as being Hell, or at the very least very, very Hell-like. With each subsequent film the connection to the concept of literal, Christian Hell, God, Satan and all that shit gets stronger and stronger. By the time Hellraiser III rolls around, Pinhead actually takes time out of his busy killing people schedule to fuck with a vaguely Catholic priest in a boring and tropey church. This scene adds nothing to the story and reveals nothing about any of the characters, it’s shoehorned in there JUST TO MAKE SURE WE GET IT MAN. It’s Hellraiser after all! HELL. RAISER. Pinhead then proceeds to go outside and blow up some cars.

So here we are now it looks like the guys in charge have glommed on to the Eli Roth torture porn thing. Like, 10 years after that genre reached its zenith of popularity, so go figure. Torture porn is another thing that seems like it would go well with Hellraiser which shares some of its central themes with that genre. However, this could be just another excuse for the Pinhead character to make quips while killing people with chains. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

 

No One’s Going to Save You

My final point is that the images that we’ve seen from the trailer look about right all things considered. Because the studio literally doesn’t give a fuck about these movies as long as they keep making money, aesthetic considerations are always preeminent on their minds. So the aesthetics look right, and (aside from the aging actors involved) everyone knows that’s the first thing the fanboys will go after. Whew.

Now, people keep talking about what Clive Barker needs to do to “save” Hellraiser and I think that’s kinda nuts. Bloody Disgusting and Hellraiser Official have both posted links to the trailer on their respective fan pages and if you read the comments you’ll be treated to deep thoughts from fanboys like:

“NO DOUG, NO CLIVE, NO THANX!!!!”

Or,

“What they really need to do is bring back Clive Barker and Doug Bradley for one last awesome movie and then call it quits on Hellraiser forever.”

There are at least two reasons why this line of thinking is intrinsically wrong:

First, when Clive Barker made Hellraiser it was his big shot. He was a young man who could remember a recent past where he had been sucking dicks (literally) to make rent while writing.  It was a dark time in Thatcherite England, and Reagan era New York was no better. Barker was burdened by an intense feeling of imposter syndrome and was deeply ashamed of his work as a prostitute. AIDS was new, fresh and ravaging the gay community, a community that was disenfranchised at best and under siege at worst. He had a lot of angst is what i’m trying to say, and a lot to prove. Inside this context, Barker took a lot of risks to make a masterpiece.

Today Barker is an openly gay man in a world that is generally accepting of that idea once again. He lives in a mansion in sunny Beverly Hills and surrounds himself with his only okay paintings. What this guy has left to say about the voyage into darkness is beyond me. I think if you’ve tried reading his comic book take on the Hellraiser sequels, it’s beyond him too.

 

Second, is that the movie you guys all want to see so fucking bad was already made. It was written and directed by Clive Barker and stars his good buddy Doug Bradley all dolled up in latex appliance so we can’t see his face. It had a big budget because Hellraiser was such a hot commodity and the studios wanted to see lightning to strike twice (which as we all know, always happens). The movie is called Nightbreed you twits and it’s been an unmitigated disaster for decades. Even after being recut and re released very recently, it’s still panned as being an unwatchable, jumbled, confusing piece of shit.

What’s crazy is that this is Barker working in what should have been his element. Nightbreed is based off of his novella “Cabal,” like Hellraiser, which is based on his novella “The Hellbound Heart.” Nightbreed is pretty much a shot for shot translation of the book into a movie, in pretty much exactly the same way that Hellraiser is a page by page faithful representation of “The Hellbound Heart.”

 

And yet Nightbreed still manages to fail. And I’m not even saying I don’t like it. I consider myself to be a pretty big Nightbreed fan. David Cronenberg alone makes the movie worth watching in my opinion. He steps away from his usual role as director and instead plays Decker, the psychiatrist/masked serial killer who leads a vigilante committee of right-wing militia men, priests and cops against a graveyard sanctuary of monsters (goths) and the protagonist Boone (Barker’s alter-ego stand in). But all that having been said I can acknowledge that it’s just not a very good movie, or even a good movie at all.

 

All of this is a long winded way of saying that by no means should Barker be considered some kind of guardian of the Hellraiser legacy. And Doug Bradley does not make a film great simply by showing up and schlocking on a bunch of make up. If there are going to be new Hellraiser films folks, and it looks like there will, they are only gonna be good if they are composed of new ideas, not lame retreads of old ones.

 

In closing, I didn’t hate the trailer for Hellraiser: Judgement and I will see this movie. If for no other reason then to say that I did. I don’t expect anything from it, and neither should you. That way, if by some brilliant twist, the low level director who is using this as a resume builder to move on to bigger work manages to do something special, you’ve left room in your blackened heart to be both surprised and delighted.

 

I’m not saying I’d bet on it.

 

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