Nine entries in, you might think now would be a good time to retire the original Hellraiser series. From a creative standpoint, Doug Bradley calling it quits as Pinhead, leader of the demonic Cenobites, pretty much says it all. From an industry perspective, however, producers run the risk of losing their rights to a franchise if they stop developing it, so one might forgive Dimension Films for rushing out a few sequels in wait for the big-budget remake. Enter Hellraiser: Revelations, not so much a cynical cash grab as a cynical seat filler for the aforementioned cynical cash grab.
Shot in two weeks with a budget of $300,000, the movie displays all the care and artistry of a Cinemax production: soapy acting, static cinematography, and sets that look suspiciously like a Californian basement. Take, for example, the size of the hell dimension, which couldn’t fit my college bed set even with the dollar-store Halloween decorations taken down. Better yet, consider how many Cenobites share the same design, forgoing the twisted individuality that made Hellraiser a household name. I appreciate director Víctor García’s financial restrictions here, but creativity ought to be the last thing he tries to save on.
The screenplay by diehard fan Gary J. Tunnicliffe could also use some polish, featuring placeholder lines like, “He didn’t want to leave; he wanted to stay,” and the always helpful, “Okay, I’ll go this way!” Even the plot evokes less a feature-length thriller than a clip-show framing device for a DVD bonus feature: one year after disappearing with his best friend Nico (Jay Gillespie), Steven (Nick Eversman) returns to his family drenched in blood, unleashing a series of flashbacks that reveal his brush with eternal damnation by way of LeMarchand’s deadly puzzle box.
Breaking straight-to-video convention, the flashbacks don’t consist of cut scenes from other flicks. Instead, García tries his hand at the found footage subgenre, depicting the teenagers’ hellish ordeal as filmed by Steven. Though I’ve never been a fan of the gimmick, I wonder how a first-person perspective would’ve affected the series’ core concepts had the director not given up halfway into the narrative. Mind you, I’m grateful he doesn’t have the character stupidly hold a camera while the gates of hell crack open and try to swallow him whole.
On a related note, I suppose any review of Hellraiser: Revelations should include a dissection of the new Pinhead as portrayed by Stephan Smith Collins. Overall, the performance strikes me as competent if a bit melodramatic. Collins’ mannerisms denote a man trying to come off as a menacing devil, whereas Bradley understood that the most perturbing aspect of the character lies in his indifference to good and evil. This is a minor qualm though. None of the cast members succeed in appropriating Tunnicliffe’s awkward mishmash of call-backs and exposition, but their screen presence far exceeds what one would expect from such a modest production.
That’s the thing. After reading the words “budget of $300,000”, you should already have decided whether you can forgive the low production values, limited special effects, and community theatre staging. I personally have more trouble with the film’s conclusion, by which I mean the Cenobites’ final kill, not the predictable twist regarding Steven’s return. The scene means to present a more cerebral sort of comeuppance for one of the male characters, but it requires us to ignore the female victim as a full-fledged entity. No one could accuse the Hellraiser series of lacking in strong heroines, but feminists ought to have a field day with this one.
Otherwise, Hellraiser: Revelations explores the established tropes reasonably well, toying with notions of adultery, incest, and spring break debauchery. For all its technical deficiencies, the perfunctory sequel proves one of the few to grasp the true heart of the source material: uncontrollable lust. In a way, that makes it a more faithful sequel than over half the entries in the franchise, be it Hellraiser: Hell on Earth (1992), Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), Hellraiser: Inferno (2000), Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002), or Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005). I’m not suggesting Clive Barker would be proud, but, hey, not bad for a $300,000 production.