This is part of my Horrorathon for Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings (aka MASK). Is It Worth It? is where I talk about sequels a lot of people skip, and determine if they are worth a visit or better left in the bargain bin. Fair warning, there will be spoilers in my recap, so if you just want the verdict skip to the bottom.
From IMDb: In the 22nd century, a scientist attempts to right the wrong his ancestor created: the puzzle box that opens the gates of Hell and unleashes Pinhead and his Cenobite legions.
Hellraiser IV: Bloodline was the last film in the franchise to be given a theatrical release, as well as the last that would have Clive Barker directly involved (once again he served as an Executive Producer for this entry). The director of the film was so upset with how far it went away from his vision, he was granted permission to go under the catchall pseudonym Alan Smithee. Needless to say the movie suffered a troubled production.
“Oh no it starts with a shot of a SPACE STATION WHY?” is the first thing I have written in my notes for this film so buckle in.
We learn it is year 2127. Presumably, Trump has destroyed earth and now we all have to live in spaceships with sex demons. I’m shocked, but not too shocked at this point.
A man named Paul is using a Terminator robot to open the puzzle box in a sealed room, and it does not end well for the robot.
Pinhead is released, but he is trapped in the sealed room. Before Paul can confront Pinhead, a group of soldiers burst through his door and demand to know what he is doing. It turns out Paul hijacked the spaceship (one that he built) and made the rest of the crew leave.
One of the soldiers, Rimmer, is tasked with interrogating him. He explains he is trying to end a wrong that was started centuries ago by his bloodline. And although he insists time is of the essence, he also says to understand what he is doing,
they must go back to the beginning of time to 1796 France.
Paul’s ancestor Phillip has built a toy puzzle box by commission for a French aristocrat who is obsessed with the occult. Phillip thinks this box is the peak of his life’s work. His wife is happy for him but obviously not impressed.
He accuses her of not understanding how awesome it is, and goes to deliver the box to the aristocrat in the middle of the night.
The aristocrat has invited over a peasant woman who he quickly sacrifices in order to complete an occult ritual to give the box the power to open a passage to hell. There’s a bit of a Bob Ross energy to his preparation for the ritual.
The ritual resurrects Angelique (the dismembered peasant girl, please keep up!) as a demon. A proto-Cenobite basically.
The aristocrat states that “he who summons the magic, commands the magic” over and over. Which gets his servant (played by Adam Scott in his first feature role) thinking he is wanting to be commanding some Angelique magic himself if you catch my drift.
Phillip has witnessed this entire occult ritual through a window outside the aristocrat’s house. He seeks advice from his friend Auguste the next day. If only this was 2020, Auguste could just say “taking this nonsense story of yours seriously is too much emotional labor. You are on your own.” Instead they have this exchange where Auguste feels like he needs to treat this “my toy puzzle box (aka my life’s MASTERPIECE) opened a door to hell!” story seriously:
Phillip: The Box opens the doors of Hell!
Auguste: This is the eighteenth century, not the dark ages. The world is ruled by Reason. We’ve even got rid of God. And if there is no Heaven then it follows, reasonably, that there is no Hell. Suppose for the sake of argument that what you fear happened, happened. A Box that opens the doors of Hell must be able to close them. Then the solution lies – literally – in your hands. You designed a machine that you fear can bring forth demons. Then design a machine that can destroy them.Real dialogue from Hellraiser IV: Bloodline
Phillip sneaks into the aristocrat’s house that evening to steal the box back, but it is covered in sour gummy worms.
But he has bigger problems than that, because Angelique and Adam Scott (who has murdered his master to be with Angelique) kill Phillip before he can stop them.
At this point we are nearly a third of the way into this film, and I was half expecting the soldier interrogating Paul on the space station to have pulled an Airplane at this point.
But wait. There’s more. Now we have to travel to 1996 aka four years after Joey stabbed Pinhead with the puzzle box at the end of third film.
We meet John Merchant, who is played by Paul yet again. He is the architect who designed the puzzle box infused building we see at the very end of the third film.
Credit where credit is due, I appreciate the consistency here as well as the explanation for why that building was designed like a giant puzzle box.
Angelique realizes the toymaker’s bloodline has continued, and wants to go to America to check John out. Adam Scott (presumably kept alive by hell magic) is not a fan of this plan.
Angelique reminds him that the one condition to her staying with him was for him never to stand in the way of hell. So she kills him and leaves to America to meet John. Once she gets to the puzzle box building, she punches through what appears to be a support beam in the basement (!) and retrieves the puzzle box from inside. She gets a foolish security guard to open the box for her.
This reawakens Pinhead. And somebody has a lil crush!
Pinhead tells Angelique that hell is much more ordered and much less amusing since her time. He believes the puzzle box building can be used to permanently open the doors to hell, and wants to use John to open it.
Angelique visits John at work and he acknowledges that they seem to be magnetically drawn together.
We have also seen that he has dreamed about her. But he still rejects her advances, even as he continues to dream about her.
A pair of brothers who are also security guards who are also way too similar to one another are patrolling John’s building when they hear Pinhead and Angelique in the distance and decide to investigate.
The brothers have a conversation about how the one was recently asked by a date if he would sleep with a woman that used to be a man. The other brother asks “like a guy that had it cut off?” And he replies “yes, with hormones. The whole bit.” The other brother asks what he said to the date, and the other simply says “I mean I guess so. If she was cut and all.” And the other brother nods in appreciation at this answer. I was a bit thrown by this dialogue. On one hand, for 1996 it seems more open-minded than I would assume. This was a time period where most depictions of trans characters were extremely negative, almost always making them the sources of excessive disgust and hatred. On the other hand,it is obviously still narrow-minded especially to modern ears. But I felt like I should mention it. The original script featured a single mom security officer, so at some point the brothers and this dialogue was added.
Angelique and Pinhead bicker about the merits of temptation vs. pain, and Pinhead probably took some edibles because he decides to make the security guard brothers into a conjoined Cenobite. But we don’t see the results of this experiment till later.
He also has a dog Cenobite that is never explained in any capacity.
Pinhead decides to hold John’s wife and son hostage in order to get him to activate the building as a giant open passage to hell so all the hellions can pour through onto earth. John says “For God sake!” to which Pinhead replies
Angelique just starts referring to John as toymaker since his ancestor was a toymaker.
The giant puzzle box building doesn’t work, and Pinhead decapitates Jack in frustration. But John’s wife manages to use the puzzle box to send Angelique and Pinhead back to hell.
Back at the space station, Rimmer has once again endured another round of unnecessary backstory from Paul. Just as she becomes convinced there might be something to Paul’s story, her commanding officer decides it is time to open the vault. We get to see the BroBite and AngeliqueBite.
The Cenobites pick off the soldiers one by one, including the twins pulling a human centipede type maneuver on one unlucky soldier.
Pinhead monologues that Paul’s bloodline is about to finally end.
Paul tells Rimmer to go to the escape pod and wait for him while he goes to confront Pinhead. Paul asks if Pinhead has any faith, to which Pinhead replies with a whole ass Millennial 2020 mood:
But John has tricked Pinhead – he sent a hologram to talk to Pinhead while sneaking into the escape pod with Rimmer. Pinhead is shook by this newfangled technology. John flies away after activating the light configuration that will close the passage to hell forever, saying “endgame demon” which might make this the most epic endgame ever. Move over MCU!
Don’t be too distressed by this shocking finale though. This is afterall in 2127, meaning Pinhead had at least another century to cause a ruckus on earth in the meantime.
- This movie has some interesting themes and ideas, even if they aren’t always executed well. Notably, the idea of taking responsibility for one’s impact vs. intent (with Phillip trying to destroy the box he created without knowing how it would be used). It also shows how earnest, good people like John can fail in their battle against evil, but the overall war can be won with perseverance over the course of generations. Although the time jumps seem grandiose, they really do add to the epic scale of the Hellraiser story. In general, I admire the way these first four films built on one another.
- In the 1996 segment, Pinhead keeps referring to Angelique as “princess”, presumably of hell. Apparently they were meant to be much more antagonistic, but reshoots and edits changed it to more of a sexual tension.
- What is the criteria to be a Cenobite? It seems like the first two films pointed towards thrill-seeking humans who somehow proved themselves, or at least someone who journeys far enough in hell. But in this one it just seems like Pinhead keeps making them as jokes.
- Also why is Pinhead so intent on destroying the world? Isn’t he just supposed to simply torture people that summon him? In the third film they explain he was extra evil because he got split from his human side. But he also recombines with his human side at the end of that movie. So what gives?
- On that note, what is up with Angelique? Why does she get to be hot and the other Cenobites look so demonic? How do her and Pinhead know each other? Was she part of his work orientation to hell?
While I found Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth to be more entertaining, this felt truer to the tone of the first two films to me. If someone is really interested in the mythology of the puzzle box, I would suggest this. If someone just wants to laugh at the audacity of the fourth Hellraiser movie being both a period piece and space opera, I would also recommend this. Otherwise, I think this one can be skipped.