Today I’d like to take the opportunity to share with you what is simultaneously one of the best and one of the worst horror franchises in Hollywood history. It is Hellraiser, a story originally conceived and written by horror wordsmith Clive Barker as his novel The Hellbound Heart. These films became wildly popular at first, not just because of Barker’s story, but because of the amazing imagery that the bad guys presented. These sadistic creatures from hell were both horrifically beautiful and deeply disturbing to behold. And the level of pain and suffering in the Hellraiser movies puts today’s shock-horror films to shame. Nine films in total were made in the franchise and I’ll be giving a brief rundown of the first six. As you read on, you’ll understand why the last three are left out.
Hellraiser (1987) - This is the first in franchise, bases almost entirely off of The Hellbound Heart. It also happens to be the only Hellraiser film directed and written by Clive Barker. This flick is filled with blood, guts and shocking imagery and introduces us to some of the coolest monsters in the history of cinema, the Cenobites. The story is a simple one: man finds evil puzzle box, man solves box, man gets pulled into hell, man tries to escape from hell. All this is seen mainly through the eyes of a girl unwittingly caught in this, Kirsty, the niece of the man in question. This is arguably the best in the series being that it holds true to Barker’s original vision. The next movie, however, is the other that people like to consider the best.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) - This one brings back our heroine Kirsty, leading her to a mental institution where an evil doctor is trying to get one of his patients to solve the puzzle box and open the door to hell for him. After the gate finally opens, the cast take a journey into hell, flee from and negotiate with cenobites and face some of their worst fears. This one, although not Barker’s vision, was executed well and doesn’t step too far over the line as to make it a different thing entirely. The notion of the franchise hasn’t devoured the film and so it still comes across as original and disturbing. It also presents a stronger story, or at least one that is more immediately understandable than the first.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) - This is where the franchise begins to stink bad. This movie is little more than an excuse to show off some new cenobite designs and demonstrate the nifty ways in which they can kill people. You could honestly skip this chapter entirely and never notice a thing. If you like super-predictable B-movies, however, it might be your thing.
Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) - As was a popular trend during the 90s, this time the cenobites go… into space! Well, for some of the film anyways. The rest, and best, of the movie takes place in the past, detailing the origins of the Lament Configuration (the puzzle box) and its creator. Most of the flick is crap, but it at least conveys some of the back story behind the box.
Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) - It is at this point that the studio stopped releasing any more of the films in theaters. It was all straight-to-video. Inferno is not the typical Hellraiser premise but seems more like something that would come out of the short-lived Hellraiser comic book series. It is a noir-esque film with less horror and more mystery and, although many rave that it was horrible, I have a soft spot in my heart for it.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002) - This flick tries to imitate the “what the hell is going on?” feel of Inferno but falls short. It ends up coming across as boring in plot and doesn’t even contain enough horror to make it visually appealing. Hellseeker is almost completely uninteresting and may actually put you to sleep.
After the disaster of Hellseeker, I gave up on the Hellraiser franchise despite my love of it. There were two more released that I refused to see:
Hellraiser: Deader (2005) - Descendant of the maker of the box tries to join cenobites
Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005) - Hellraiser plus MMO, kill-by-numbers rubbish.
And another that I discovered while fact-checking on this post:
Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) - Cenobites vs. teenagers cliché.
Apparently, the reviews on this last one were almost universally bad. That leads me to believe that anyone interested in checking out Hellraiser should probably watch just the first two and then decide from there whether they want to sit through the rest. If you like the visuals of the cenobites and don’t mind slowly deteriorating stories, you might even be able to make it through all nine!