Well, I didn’t see this one coming. Since Hellraiser made the straight-to-video jump in 2000, each entry in the series has featured a climactic twist to make up for tight budgetary constraints. These reversals have been easy to predict so far, owing to lack of imagination, like in Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002), or the demands of a thematically consistent narrative, as in Hellraiser: Deader (2005). Hellraiser: Hellworld caught me by surprise, though, because I’d never have expected Dimension Films to go there. Here is a Hellraiser flick for folk who don’t particularly care about Hellraiser. Do the producers not realise the only people who’d pick up the eighth instalment of a dying franchise are hardcore fanatics?
Hellraiser: Hellworld starts off with a daring premise: all the recent encounters with Pinhead (Doug Bradley) have resulted in LeMarchand’s myth becoming an MMORPG in which players solve virtual puzzle boxes on their computers. Once again, the story is adapted from a screenplay unrelated to Clive Barker’s creation (this time, rather awkwardly as Hellworld is clearly written as a made-up fantasy), but the notion of the Cenobites having found a new scheme to harvest souls does hold promise. After all, are there no more obsessive in this day and age than the online gamers?
To be clear, I don’t mean the casual video game enthusiasts or long-time Nintendo players but those who’d rather starve themselves to death than spend thirty seconds away from the screen to heat up a Pizza Pocket. To some degree, that pretty much describes Adam (Stelian Urian), who takes Hellworld so seriously he ends up building a mock Lament Configuration and setting himself on fire. One year later, his gaming partners are invited to a secret LARP party, where Pinhead and his horde pick them off one by one. If this strikes you as grossly out of character for the Order of the Gash, rest assured: that’s the point.
It occurs to me Hellraiser: Hellword constitutes the first entry in the series to follow the classic slasher formula (the producers at Miramax would have been pleased). You’ve got a secluded setting full of youthful debauchery, a creepy adult host (Lance Henriksen) for the kids to disrespect, a ninja-like killer with a predilection for shiny blades (yes, Pinhead actually uses a meat cleaver in this one), and, of course, five clichéd teens begging to be forever silenced, what with their smarmy attitudes and incessant pop culture references.
Not that it matters, but the walking stereotypes that make up our protagonists include Mike (Henry Cavill), the horny jock; Allison (Anna Tolputt), the sarcastic party girl; Derrick (Khary Payton), the token minority; Jake (Christopher Jacot), the rebellious do-gooder; and Chelsea (Kathryin Winnick), the virginal action heroine with the words “Final Girl” stamped on her forehead. I like the latter two, largely because they’re the only ones to stop playing Hellworld out of respect for their late friend. Not surprisingly, their respective portrayals prove the most convincing in Hellraiser: Hellworld. That is, aside from the host’s offbeat rendition by Lance Henriksen, who remains the most overqualified actor in B cinema.
These performances carry much of Hellraiser: Hellworld, which relies too heavily on its “everything you thought you knew is wrong” climax. My resistance to this gimmick is well documented, but I must admit that the reveal here had me smiling rather than cringing. Some will begrudge the film’s brazen approach to the Hellraiser mythology. However, none of the established lore is openly contradicted, and I, for one, appreciate how director Rick Bota uses familiar imagery to warp our expectations.
The problem, for me, lies in screenwriter Carl Dupré shoehorning extra references with little regard as to the flow of the story, forcing the characters into endless expository speeches that never pay off. Also consider Pinhead’s final appearance, which invalidates an otherwise disturbing closing scene. Joel Soisson’s original script deserved better to say the least. By trying to please both the few who might have shown interest in Hellworld and the rest who’d have rather the plot centered on the first half of the title, Hellraiser: Hellworld might well have alienated its only potential audiences. Then again, the flick turns out kind of a hoot if you keep an open mind.