What I Learned from Watching 10 Hellraisers in a Row + A Ranking

For my Horrorathon for Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings (aka MASK) I watched all 10 Hellraiser movies in a row. Like the people who dare to open the Lament Configuration, I have gone beyond bounds to somewhere I shouldn’t have. These are my stories.

Biggest Surprise: Most of these were always Hellraiser scripts

I had it drilled into my head going into this franchise that most of the films were original scripts that were repurposed to be Hellraiser movies in order to retain the rights. This is actually a myth about most of them that begins with the fifth movie Hellraiser: Inferno. It is the first film in the series to not have series creator Clive Barker attached in at least a producer role, and it is a noticeable departure from the worldbuilding scope of the previous three sequels.

Rather than expanding on the mythology of Pinhead and the Cenobites, it has a tight focus on a crooked detective trying to hunt down a serial killer known as the Engineer. You will read a lot of articles stating this was not written as a Hellraiser film, but I choose to believe director/co-writer Scott Derrickson who wrote a spec script for this film while waiting for other projects to move forward because the Weinsteins (yes including that asshole) were hearing pitches for the film. I also don’t think it deviates as wildly from the core philosophy as people think.

The sixth movie, Hellraiser: Hellseeker, was written as a sequel after the success of Hellraiser: Inferno: “After the relative success of Hellraiser: Inferno in 2000, Dimension Films hired Carl V. Dupre and Tim Day to write a sequel, and Rick Bota direct.” (Wikipedia).

Hellraiser: Deader is the only script that definitively and arbitrarily inserted Hellraiser elements into a film about a journalist investigating a cult in Europe. Here are the details on the original spec script.

Hellraiser: Hellworld is ridiculous in its own ways but it does at least appear to be written as a Hellraiser movie as a condition of filming Hellraiser: Deader in Romania. It’s a whole thing.

And that brings us to the strange duo of Hellraiser: Revelations and Hellraiser: Judgment. Revelations was clearly written and created in a scramble to hit the deadline to retain the rights, but it is still a Hellraiser film from the jump. Judgment was originally written as a Hellraiser film before being rewritten to be an original non-Hellraiser film before ultimately getting made as a Hellraiser film to once again hit the deadline to retain the rights by making another franchise film.

So a lot of these may seem like they aren’t supposed to be Hellraiser movies, but only one was truly repurposed.

These films are a lot more cohesive than I thought

Another surprise is how cohesive the films feel as a series. The first four films really introduce and explain Pinhead, showing his ultimate demise in 2127. Rather than trying to undo that ending, most of the subsequent films focus on individual encounters with the puzzle box and Cenobites. The fifth and sixth films (Inferno and Hellseeker) show men caught up in their own personal hells orchestrated by the Cenobites.

We know. It’s called 2020 Pinhead. Ya got us all this time!

Hellraiser: Deader involves people trying to manipulate the system by taking a short trip to hell to enhance their earthly pleasures.

Hellraiser: Hellworld is confusing – establishing the Cenobites as a sort of urban legend with a cult following thanks to a multiplayer game based on the Hellraiser mythos. But like Friday the 13th Part Five: A New Beginning, it relies on a vengeful murderer using the Pinhead mythos to attack his victims.

Hellraiser: Revelations really is a return to roots. It might be a shitty return to roots but it brings back Face/Off, gathering up blood for a Cenobite escapee, and a triangle akin to the square of tensions present in the first film. Aside from the EGREGIOUS Pinhead Mini Me, it avoids explaining more villain backstory, choosing to make the titular revelations revolve around the people caught up in the Cenobites’ orbit.

Hellraiser: Judgment is…well it tries to add more to the mythos by introducing a different Cenobites faction in hell as well as heaven. But it is also the only film post Hellraiser IV: Bloodline to mess up the timeline by having Pinhead exiled to earth as a mortal. It is incredible to me that it took this franchise ten films before it “rewrote” the ending to one of its own films. I guess you could say he somehow gets transformed back to Pinhead at some point after this movie but I’m not comfortable doing that level of mental gymnastics.

So though the films change perspectives and scope after the fourth film, they really do adhere to the idea of the Cenobites punishing humans who open the puzzle boxes. And if I was a bigger fan, I’m sure I could explain away most plot holes in the series.

Aside from how many humans are extremely skilled at putting on other peoples’ flesh and pretending to be them. We just have to accept that part.

At the same time, the films seem to forgot the puzzle box is supposed to bring pleasure

The first two films establish that most people open the puzzle box in the hopes of finding extreme pleasure that is seamlessly intermixed with pain. The next two films establish more about Pinhead and the puzzle boxes. The next two use the puzzle boxes to punish bad people – there’s really no sense of pleasure derived from opening the boxes in these cases. The seventh through ninth return to pleasure seeking. And the tenth reverts right back to punishment.

Pinhead is a fantastic character thanks to Doug Bradley’s performance

You have to love a villain who could have been named by a child (*points to Pinhead* “What’s his name?” “Pinhead?!” “Sold!”). I have never paid much mind to who voices or plays the villain in a horror film franchise, but Doug Bradley is incredible as Pinhead. It was truly a blow to the series when he didn’t return for nine and ten. Even with the increasingly cheesy lines (undoubtedly influenced by Freddy Krueger and Wishmaster), Doug Bradley delivers. Just watch this greatest hits reel:

Best of my wife’s background comments

  • “Bondage Monsters: The Horror Film Franchise!”
  • “Wow that’s bad writing”
  • During line deliveries in Hellraiser: Revelations, she would just burst into laughter
  • “Oh my God.” x100

Ranking the Films

After watching a series of films where more than half were released straight to home video, here is my ranking from worst to best.

But first a warning.

I know my ranking will be very controversial to the brave souls that have dared to watch all these films. There were two films that fell straight to the bottom, and three films that rose straight to the top. The rest are interchangable. Which makes it tough. Do I rate the ones that were fun to make fun of the highest? Or do I rank the ones that were at least trying to be decent Hellraiser movies the highest?

When in doubt, I am rating things higher if they amused me or led to personal enjoyment. After all, a movie like Hellraiser: Deader is pretty forgettable, but laughing about Henry Cavill saying “can I see your puzzle box?” in Hellraiser: Hellworld will give me chuckles for years to come.

TL;DR this isn’t a ranking of bad to good, but rather a ranking of personal torment to personal enjoyment. I’m also listing their order in the series and IMDb scores for context.

10. Hellraiser: Judgement (#10) – No one who read my recap should be surprised to see this one at the bottom. This film combined wasting my time with being derivative and misogynistic so the less said about it the better. I can’t believe the same man that wrote this wrote the far superior Hellraiser: Revelations. Yes I said it! I think Revelations was one of the better sequels. That’s how low the bar is! (IMDb 4.3)

9. Hellraiser: Hellseeker (#6) – This movie did not know what it wanted to be the entire time, and just functioned as a series of “it was all a dream? Or was it?” copouts featuring an absolutely detestable main character. Perhaps most upsetting was how it dumped Kirsty in. That woman earned herself a happy life after the first two movies. (IMDb 5.0)

8. Hellraiser: Deader (#7) – This one wasn’t outright frustrating, but it is also an obvious outlier and just not that good. Some big meh energy on this one. (IMDb 4.5)

7. Hellraiser: Bloodline (#4) – As much as I want to rank this higher because it at least tries to honor the first two films, I’m not a fan of period pieces or “horror sequel in space” scenarios. If this was meant to be a ranking of quality, I would rank this as fourth on the list. (IMDb 5.2)

6. Hellraiser: Hellworld (#8) – This is bad but it knows it is bad and that is why I love it. It is trying to be Saw and a meta slasher and a Hellraiser and it is hysterical at all three. (IMDb 4.2)

5. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (#3) – There are merits to this one including an obvious sexual tension between the two lead actresses. But between a Pinhead statue spitting bullets as a visual gag and a Cenobite who kills people by throwing CDs at them, it feels too cheesy too early for the franchise to rank it higher. Also the Vietnam flashbacks were so unnecessary and doing the most. Also no grown woman yells daddy! to her actual father. That is just a freebie protip for men who write horror movies. (IMDb 5.5)

4. Hellraiser: Revelations (#9) – I know people will hate this ranking, but the more I think about it the more I like it. It at least tries to merge 2000s horror tropes (namely found footage) with the original Hellraiser in a way that doesn’t seem as corny as a Cenobite with CDs sticking out his head or a massive online game inspired by Hellraiser. Like I said in my post on this one, it is like the terrible Hellraiser remake we never asked for and got anyway. And yes, it is the worst Pinhead incarnation, but I still rank it above the other films overall. (IMDb 2.7)

3. Hellraiser: Inferno (#5) – Easily the best of the sequels following only the second film. Yes, the main character is unlikeable. Yes, it is very different from the previous four films. But Scott Derrickson adds a polish and talent to this film that elevates it. (IMDb 5.5)

2. Hellraiser (#1) – I’ve never been a huge Hellraiser fan. But I’ve always appreciated its unique contribution to horror. Clive Barker is truly a visionary, and rewatching this made me appreciate the film itself a lot more. I love the creepy mystery of the Cenobites in this one. It is also nice to see a “Final Girl” character who bargains her way out of doom. I really loved Kirsty after rewatching this. (IMDb 7.0)

1. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (#2) – It is so hard to rank the first two Hellraiser films because they really are a cohesive story. Hellraiser can stand on its own, but Hellbound really shows what can happen when a sequel expands and enriches the mythos of the first without going off the rails. Why does it win out? I have to give the edge thanks to vampy performance and character development of one Julia Cotton. This has got to be my favorite exchange in the whole franchise:

It is so rare to see a rivalry quite like Julia and Kirsty in a horror film. Plus I love the way Kirsty ultimately defeats the Cenobites and helps Tiffany survive. Let alone the hell labyrinth. It just pops a bit more versus the more contained story of the first. (IMDb 6.5)

Conclusion

I can’t say that was a pleasant journey, but I’m glad I took it. I would easily rank the Hellraiser series about the Amityville series so there’s that. This officially concludes the first annual Horrorathon. Till next time.

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