Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 23rd: Hellraiser Revelations (2011)

Bored with life in Los Angeles, Nico Bradley (Jay Gillespie) and his best friend Steven Craven (Nick Eversman) decide to run away and travel to Mexico to drink, party and meet beautiful women. There, the two are approached by a mysterious vagrant (Daniel Buran), who gives them a mysterious puzzle box, telling Nico that the box provides experiences beyond the limits of his concepts of pain and pleasure.
A year later, Nico's parents (Sebastian Roberts and Sanny Van Heteren) meet with Steven's parents (Steven Brand and Devon Sorvari) and Emma (Tracey Fairaway), Steven's sister and Nico's girlfriend, for dinner. Despite Emma's urgings, the families are unwilling to talk about Nico and Steven, who disappeared in Mexico with no trace. Even a private investigator turned up nothing, other than found footage showing Nico and Steven being attacked by Pinhead (Stephan Smith Collins) and the box.
As the families eat in silence, Emma discovers Steven outside, covered in blood and barely alive, claiming that he escaped the Cenobites. But with their cars stolen and the phones dead, the Cravens and the Bradleys soon find themselves faced with Pinhead and his legions, as well as the truth of what really happened to Nico and Steven.
When it was released in 1987, Clive Barker's Hellraiser was a gruesome change of pace from the slasher films of the era, which had become increasingly campy and over-the-top by this point. Eschewing the overused "masked killer stalking horny teenagers" storyline, Hellraiser presented a more gothic, old-fashioned story of family tragedy, amplified by shocking gore scenes, implications of such taboo subjects as incest, love affairs and resurrection from beyond the grave and a frightening new icon in Pinhead, The Dark Prince of Pain.
Today, in 2011, Hellraiser remains a beloved classic of the genre. As for its sequels? Oh boy, here we go. Hellbound: Hellraiser II had many impressive moments, but lacked the tension and character development of its predecessor. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth turned Pinhead into a Freddy knockoff. Hellraiser Bloodline was a convoluted origin story. Hellraiser Inferno was surprisingly intriguing, but lacked atmosphere and likeable characters. Hellraiser Hellseeker was an abysmal waste of time. Fuck Hellraiser Deader. Hellraiser Hellworld was an insult to moviegoers everywhere. Suffice it to say, things haven't gone well for the Cenobites. So why in god's name do we have Hellraiser Revelations?
Having had tremendous commercial success with Rob Zombie's Halloween, Bob and Harvey Weinstein announced a remake of Hellraiser in 2007. Three years later, the project seemed dead; Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, the filmmakers behind Inside, and Pascal Laugier of Martyrs fame, abandoned the project over creative differences with Dimension. Though they secured the services of Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, the director/writer duo from My Bloody Valentine 3D and Drive Angry (who are now no longer involved), Dimension was at risk of losing the rights to the franchise unless they started production on a new film ASAP and with the remake still in development hell, the decision was made to quickly produce another sequel.
To say Hellraiser Revelations was rushed would be a ridiculously humongous understatement. Announced in late August 2010, the film was written, cast and in front of the cameras by early September and wrapped in October, on a budget of $300,000. Yes, I said $300,000. Let's put this in perspective; the original Halloween from 1978, 32 years earlier, cost $20,000 more. Though Rick Bota, director of the last three films, was nowhere to be seen (thank you God), his replacement Victor Garcia, the director of Return To House on Haunted Hill and Mirrors 2, didn't exactly give the fans much hope for something good. Far and away, the biggest sign of trouble came when Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley, announced he would not be returning to the series due to the rushed schedule and tiny budget. It didn't help that Clive Barker recently decried Hellraiser Revelations' claim to be from the mind of Clive Barker, stating it didn't even come from his ass.
Given these revelations, was there any chance this could be any good? Yes, for there's actually some genuinely good ideas floating around here. The filmmakers avoid tying their film into the convoluted mythology of the series in favor of a standalone film, meaning that they don't have to waste time explaining how their film connects to the original. Many of the visuals of Barker's film make a welcome return, particularly the blue lights and pillars of skin and bones. The basic setup is simple, but maintains the twisted character dynamics of Hellraiser missing in most of the sequels. Furthermore, Pinhead is finally back to his roots as an impartial executioner, giving those who open the box the ultimate experience of pleasure and pain.
But alas, good ideas don't make a good movie and, though a slight stepup from Hellseeker, Deader and Hellworld, Revelations still ranks as one of the most wretched horror sequels in recent memory. A lot of people share the blame here; Victor Garcia's directing is pretty uninspired and stale, jumping back and forth between the present events and flashbacks at random, even utilizing the popular found footage technique in a few scenes. The film shows its budget with dull lighting, minimal sets and a brief 75-minute running time. The acting? Dear god. I don't say this often, but I hope everyone in this cast either starts taking acting lessons or just stop acting and go do something else with their lives, because they don't even know how to read lines properly.
That being said, the guiltiest of all is Gary J. Tunnicliffe, who is handling screenwriting duties after doing the special effects for the last five films, including Revelations. It's always a troublesome sign when someone on the technical side of filmmaking gets involved with the creative side and while I can't question Tunnicliffe's love for Hellraiser, I'm sure as hell going to call out his shitty writing. For such a simple premise, Tunnicliffe has way over complicated this by bringing the families of Nico and Steven into the story; he would have served the film much better if it was about Nico and Steven in Mexico, unleashing Pinhead and dealing with the consequences; their families add nothing but baggage to the story. Sure it creates some mystery, but c'mon; I know going into a ninth Hellraiser exactly what happened to Nico and Steven long before Tunnicliffe tells me, not to mention there's no resolution to the tense relationship between hardass Nico and wimpy Steven.
There's also many frustrating loose ends, probably a combination of Tunnicliffe's bad writing and the rushed schedule. Why would Nico and Steven hang out? Nico's a hothead jerk and Steven's a nice guy who Nico uses all the time; while this relationship could work in a movie, the script never explains their friendship. It's awfully coincidental that Emma is Steven's sister AND Nico's girlfriend, to the point that it feels like two characters were combined into one to save money. Why would these families have dinner when they don't even appear to get along? In addition, they never follow up on the private investigator's investigation; in fact, Sarah Craven never tells the Bradleys about the box, the found footage or Pinhead's appearance in the footage; you think she'd take that shit to the FBI instead of leaving it in a duffel bag in Steven's room. In the climax, when it's finally revealed why Nico and Steven left Los Angeles, it was painfully uninspired and cliched, as if Hellraiser was now a soap opera.
As for the Cenobites, the Hellraiser sequels have tried their best to create supporting villains as impressive as Butterball, Chatterer and Female Cenobite without much success. Hellraiser Revelations continues that trend; a female Chatterer pops up and while it was nice to see the filmmakers use Chatterer again, this incarnation is barely used. Then there's Pseudo Pinhead. The name and the above picture say it all; in this case, Pseudo Pinhead is a Cenobite who covers his skinned face with pieces of flesh, bit by bit, and allows Pinhead to manually drive pins into his head to hold these pieces of flesh in place. If there was ever a better piece of evidence that Hellraiser has run out of creativity, I'd like to see it and will vehemently challenge it.
Then there's Pinhead. Much like Freddy Krueger in the remake of A Nighmare on Elm Street, our beloved Black Pope of Death has been recast to disastrous results. Inspired by Christopher Lee's Dracula, Doug Bradley gave Pinhead a commanding presence, a sinister intelligence and a creepy, iconic voice. Stephan Smith Collins, in addition to falling way short of Doug Bradley, doesn't even do anything new with the character; he's mimicking his predecessor, but lacks any menace or presence. It doesn't help that his facial expressions look goofy and his voice is instantly forgettable. From a script perspective, Pinhead seems more in tone with the original interpretation, yet he breaks the rules in the climax by gleefully slaughtering innocent people for no reason. Pinhead also talks way too much, mindlessly commenting on Emma's dark sexuality and replacing such iconic lines as "we'll tear your soul apart" with "we have a deficit of flesh." Why?
I feel bad for Clive Barker; it's got to hurt to see his creation fall so incredibly low with such dreck as Hellseeker and Hellworld; don't even get me started on Deader. Given how many strikes were against it, the fact that Hellraiser Revelations isn't the worst of the series is a relief, only because I no longer have to deal with clumsy slow-motion, quick editing and the third act "it was a dream" twist that made me curse the day Rick Bota picked up a camera. Unfortunately, there's not to much to cheer about when you're sixth place in a nine-part franchise that can only boast one good movie. 1 out of 5 Stars.

Next Up: October 24th: The Return of Dracula (1958)

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