Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

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“An investigative reporter must send the newly unbound Pinhead and his legions back to Hell.” — IMDb

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth — the third installment of the Hellraiser franchise behind Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II — is a surprisingly cohesive follow up, though far from my personal favorite. Tony Randel, the director of Hellbound, was originally set to take on Hell on Earth but his direction for the film was deemed too bleak, so they brought on Anthony Hickox (Waxwork), who Barker didn’t think would be a great fit due to his history with horror comedy and the need for this material to be taken seriously. I think that mismatching paired with Barker not being involved until later on in post-production made this movie stick out like a sore thumb to me — luckily not in all ways, but some significant ones.

The film opens up with the Pillar of Souls that we saw at the end of Hellbound, now for sale in a city art gallery. When J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernharndt), the owner of a hugely popular nightclub, purchases it, it starts to draw in those who get near, and piques the interest of local television reporter, Joey (Terry Farrell)…

** SPOILERS! **

I guess I’ll start off by saying that I was impressed by how much they managed to capture the feel, the attitude, of Hellraiser in this installment. It looked and sounded like the real thing, bad acting and all (though the acting is particularly rough in this one), and the gritty, grimy aesthetics transitioned perfectly into the early 90s, but there was just something… off.

I made no effort to hide how much I didn’t like the twist of the original Cenobites reverting back to their human forms in the last movie, particularly Pinhead’s transformation. In this movie we get to see the repercussions of that, which are that Pinhead’s human form — Captain Elliot Spencer — remains separate (and ghostly because, ya know, he’s no longer of this world), while Pinhead — essentially his much more primal and evil Id — stays intact. It’s an odd splitting which leaves a bit more to be explained than they actually get around to, but it’s bizarre to have them basically battle it out. Like I said last time, Pinhead being this mysterious manifestation of evil was much more compelling to me than seeing too much of his backstory, and especially more than seeing him actually be tender with another human.

The war destroyed my generation. Those that didn’t die drank themselves to death. I went further. I was an explorer of forbidden pleasures. Opening the box, my final act of exploration. Of discovery. I found the monster within the box. It found the monster within me. For decades I served hell with no memory of my former life. Monster as I was, I was bound by laws. Hell has its commandments, too, you know.

They did an amazing job writing dialogue for Pinhead though… he has so many incredible bits of monologue and one-liners, and he’s as captivating on-screen as ever, absolutely stealing the show. Freed from his previous form has made him much more animated than in the past, which I both enjoyed and resisted. It’s almost as if his emotions are less in check, he’s more impulsive, more expressive, and it can be awesome at times, though in a way it brings him closer to being human than anything else.

I’m here to turn up the volume. To press the stinking face of humanity into the dark blood of its own secret heart.

It has the classic Hellraiser gore, that’s for sure, with some pretty excellent bloody scenes. The patient that’s wheeled by Joey at the beginning, chains whipping, is great, and his electrocution and explosion in the operating room is wild. J.P.’s one night stand — the first “meal” for the Pillar of Souls — getting skinned in one fell swoop was cool. The pillar coming alive, oozing goo and writhing, was a highlight. Pinhead just going nuts in the night club when he’s finally free is intense, the blood seeping underneath the closed doors with just the sounds of chains whipping, and Joey arriving to find the floor absolutely COVERED in slain club-goers is… wow. Even I was taken aback for that scene.

The cheesiness is always in the background of any Hellraiser movie, some more than others, but they went a little crazy with this one. Besides the bad acting — and again, there are times when it is painful — there’s some particularly memorable scenes. J.P. shooting at Pinhead’s face when he’s still one with the pillar and Pinhead spitting out the bullets one by one… whoa. During the club massacre, the patron’s cocktail turning into a Pinhead-shaped cloud and then jamming down the man’s throat in icicle form… yikes.

But the icing on the cake, the crown jewel of cheesiness, is those goddamn Cenobites. In the past two movies, the Cenobites are mostly seen and not heard. They have this air of mystery about them. They’re intimidating. They’re scary as hell. They’re these quiet henchmen, ready at Pinhead’s side. In Hell on Earth? They’re wandering the streets and spouting the cheesiest of catch phrases, like the one with the camera for an eye (cleverly named Camerahead Cenobite) zooming it through the random guy’s head, peeking at Joey through the hole, and saying “Ready for your closeup, Joey?”. “The DJ” Cenobite whizzing CDs through peoples’ bodies. Barbie Cenobite (apparently named both because he was the bar man and because he’s wrapped in barbed wire) was kind of cool, carrying with him a cocktail shaker of gasoline and spitting fire. But then after he kills the cops who arrive on scene, Camerahead says “that’s a wrap!” and it’s ruined again.

Probably my favorite scene was Pinhead finding Joey in the church, right after the priest gently laughed at her and told her that demons aren’t real, “they’re a parable, a metaphor”. His entrance was fantastic, as always, and then his whole scene up at the altar… AMAZING.

Dreamer Cenobite is probably the only one I really liked — she had previously been Terri, the young woman who had gone to the hospital with the first victim, and had stayed with Joey at her home. Her first line to Joey — “I can dream now, Joey” — was especially chilling since she had told her about how she was so jealous that everyone else had dreams and she never did. But that scene at the construction site again highlights the Cenobites being something different, something more vulgar, than they had been in the past. They always used to enjoy seeing people suffer, relished in it, but they weren’t the type to circle and taunt their victims, baiting them like a pack of wild animals.

Ultimately, still a pretty great watch, but this is the sequel where I know things are starting to go downhill.

Rating: 6.5/10 | Director: Anthony Hickox | Writer: Clive Barker (characters), Peter Atkins, Tony Randel | Music: Randy Miller | Cinematography: Gerry Lively | Starring: Terry Farrell, Doug Bradley, Kevin Bernhardt, Paula Marshall, Ken Carpenter

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