Despite the involvement of Clive Barker as executive producer and a screenplay by Hellbound: Hellraiser II screenwriter Peter Atkins, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth marks the franchise's transition into generic bullshit slasher-movie territory, with Pinhead as a lame Freddy Krueger-style villain instead of the mysterious, menacing enigma he was in the first two movies. Even with the bit of back story parceled out in Hellbound, Pinhead still stood outside and above humanity, only enforcing the ill-advised bargains made by the selfish, deviant human characters. Frank and Julia, not Pinhead, were the villains in the first two movies, and Pinhead's motivation was to possess their souls and delight in their flesh, not to go out and slaughter a bunch of people. But here his motives are as pedestrian as any psycho killer's: He just wants to kill people indiscriminately.
Hell on Earth also pretty much abandons the original characters; Ashley Laurence, credited with "special appearance by," shows up for a cameo in a video of Kirsty ranting about the puzzle box at the mental institution, but there's no indication of what has become of her since then. Instead the main character is bland TV reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell), who accidentally stumbles on Pinhead's plan to escape from hell and come to Earth for the aforementioned slaughter. Never mind that he's never wanted to do that before, or that the rules of his existence seem to have changed, or that all the other Cenobites have disappeared. It's just annoying Joey against Pinhead, aided by the Cenobite's alter ego Elliott Spencer (also played by Doug Bradley), who was revealed in the prologue to Hellbound.
Somehow Spencer and Pinhead have become separated, and Spencer needs to trap Pinhead in some limbo dimension in order to bring him back to hell. Whatever. The plot to Hellbound didn't make a lot of sense either, but it at least had striking visuals and creative set pieces and interesting characters. This movie has none of that. Pinhead gets way more lines, but he just turns into a hammy monster spouting stupid one-liners (he also gets called "Pinhead" for the first time, when Joey is taunting him). The movie is full of gimmicky kills reminiscent of cheesy horror B-movies, including a DJ killed by razor-sharp CDs. Some of the victims then become Pinhead's new Cenobites, with laughable powers derived from their silly deaths.
No matter how ridiculous it all gets, there's almost no sense of camp or fun, even from Bradley, who does seem to relish getting a bigger part. Farrell is terrible as the heroine, delivering her lines flatly and never once exhibiting the fortitude that would be required to take on the forces of hell. The movie's conception of underground nightclub culture is of course absurd (dig the young Paula Marshall as an uncomfortable-looking goth girl!), and the supporting characters are all broad stereotypes. Hell on Earth is a victim of the franchise's success, with a higher profile forcing the filmmakers to iron out the sexual kinks and cater to a more mainstream horror audience, thus losing what made the series interesting in the first place.