Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hell Week: 'Hellraiser: Bloodline' (1996)

Setting a trend that would later be followed by horror-movie villains Jason Voorhees and the leprechaun, Hellraiser: Bloodline sends Pinhead to the final frontier, where no one can hear you scream. Yes, it takes place (partially) in outer space, about 130 years in the future aboard a dingy-looking space station. The future sequence is used mainly as a framing device, though, at least until the movie's climax, setting up an era-spanning tale with segments taking place in 18th-century France and modern-day New York City. While Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth expanded on Pinhead's back story, Bloodline is all about exploring the background of the puzzle box, created by a French master toymaker in the 1700s.

Bruce Ramsay plays three different generations of Lemarchands/Merchants, all without much impact. The scenes set in the past are the silliest, with florid period dialogue and actors who look uncomfortable in their old-fashioned costumes (future comedy star Adam Scott is especially awkward as a depraved nobleman). Once Lemarchand creates the box, it's used to conjure forth a demon from hell, but not Pinhead (surprisingly). Instead it's Angelique (Valentina Vargas), who inhabits the body of a beautiful young woman and is at first bonded to Scott's snotty aristocrat. In 1996, Angelique ditches her beau (after disemboweling him, of course) and sets out to find Lemarchand's descendant John Merchant, an architect who designed the puzzle box-themed building seen briefly in the stinger at the end of Hell on Earth.

The contemporary segment is the longest, with Pinhead showing up after being called forth by Angelique, and sort of taking over the proceedings. Although Bloodline ditches the slasher-movie template of Hell on Earth, Doug Bradley still chews plenty of scenery as the one-dimensionally evil Pinhead, and I honestly preferred the more insidious and seductive Angelique as the villain (she's more in line with Frank and Julia from the first two movies). Vargas is the best thing about the movie, and it's too bad that she gets sidelined and turned into another anonymous Cenobite to stand behind Pinhead in the final segment. John is kind of an ineffectual hero, although that's partially the point, as he has to leave Pinhead undefeated for his future descendant Paul Merchant to destroy in space.

The resolution of John's 1996 battle against Pinhead is unclear, but obviously the demon lived to fight another day, because he shows up in 2127 on the space station for Paul's realization of what I guess could be called the antidote to the original puzzle box, which sends Pinhead back to hell, or whatever. Once again written by Peter Atkins, Bloodline doesn't make any more sense than the last two movies, although it at least has much grander ambitions than Hell on Earth, and is consequently more enjoyable. Special-effects artist Kevin Yagher, in his directorial debut, clashed with producers and had his name taken off the film, and allegedly his version of the movie is much more coherent, although it holds back on Pinhead's debut much longer (presumably including more of the silly 18th-century stuff).

Joe Chappelle, who had his own disputes with producers on a horror sequel (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers) the year before, came on board for studio-mandated reshoots, and apparently much of the original script was never even filmed. Other than an extremely abrupt ending, though, the movie doesn't seem any more incoherent than the last installment, so I wonder if the fan-constructed versions of Yagher's director's cut are actually an improvement in any way. This is the only movie I've ever seen that's actually credited to Alan Smithee, a red flag right at the beginning that it's going to be a disaster. The surprise is that it's only a partial disaster, but that didn't matter; Bloodline was the final Hellraiser movie to be released in theaters.

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