It’s a guilty pleasure, one of the weakest of any of the theatrical Hellraiser films, but I feel I have to step up and defend this one. In fact, Hellraiser in general will be getting a lot of my attention in this column over the next year.
First and foremost, please don’t tell me that this one sucks because it’s the one in space. I’ll likely slap you in the face. Yes, a part of it does take place in space, but it’s less than a third of the film and was planned as even less.
This is possibly the single most meddled with of all the Hellraiser films. I’ve read no less than four scripts for it and own not only the theatrical, but also an strange workprint that surfaced over at The Hellbound Web. You can see a great deal more emphasis placed on modern day and the past sequences, making it a great deal better in fact. There’s more terror, more threat. Less….dog.
Of course by this time, Dimension wanted more slasher material, less of the haunting villain. In the late 80’s and 90’s Peter Atkins was really the custodian of Hellraiser. He was the scriptwriter and one of the guiding forces of the story. You can see where the studio tinkered to get more kills, or came up with bizarre ideas like making the chatterer in this film a chatterbeast…. The litany of how much Dimeinsion interfered with this is legend but let’s hit a few key points
Adding the space wraparound to get to Pinhead sooner, despite every version of the script up until then having him appear around the 40-minute mark.
More kills, less plot. Huge chunks of the script were excised. Scenes that were filmed were left of the cutting room floor – in general you edit seconds, minuets out, not scenes…certainly not ones that explain dialogue and plot points.
We know Kevin Yagher quit. I’ve read in more than one place that his replacement did as well, and in other places I’ve heard of as many as four different directors for this film.
For all of this, there are great moments. LeMerchant is portrayed a little more heroically than he was in the comics, but one could chalk that up to it being told from a family history point of view which makes him more heroic, less of a sadistic serial killer. We really do get an interesting history of the box and the scene of the Merchant building (which pretty much picks up straight off from the end of Hellraiser three) is perfect. It’s a lot of what I wanted from the end of that film. There’s a scene with Pinhead and John Merchant’s child that still disturbs me. It’s not like a jump scare, it’s not terror…it’s horror. He has the kid and you just don’t know what he’s going to do with him. He’s invaded your very ordinary domestic world and you’re just human. Powerless. The design of the cenobite Angelique is nothing short of stunning. Extremely Hellraiser.
I’ve actually got no complaints about the “in space”. The ship is gloomy, dirty, camped. There’s dust and chains and cold metal all around. They play it straight, and really, it heightens the feeling of isolation. It’s like a haunted house with monsters romancing the halls…only there’s no hope of escape. You either defeat the monsters or they YOU WILL DIE. It’s pretty horrifying in of itself. of course the idea of Cenobites roaming the station looking for people to kill is not exactly Hellraiser, instead it’s what the studio thought would be an easier sell.
If you haven’t seen it in a while, this movie is worth a second look. This is a film that improves on subsequent watching, perhaps because you know what to expect. I’ve always viewed Hellraiser as episodic and this movie is really three different episodes of that series, adding just a slight bit more to the mythos. If you can find the original workprint, it’s worth watching (avoid the “reconstruction” one floating around Youtube. It’s got some of the missing scenes, but then adds some weird CG ones of it’s own as well).