Hellraiser: Bloodline


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Hellraiser: Bloodlines
"The good stuff is fairly evenly distributed which helps to keep the film watchable, but Yagher's work in building up atmosphere is repeatedly squandered."

Cenobites in space. The third sequel in a franchise that started flagging after the first part. An Allan Smithee film. Nothing looks promising about Hellraiser IV. The result is that viewers may enjoy it much more than they expected to.

Let's deal with the space angle first. It looks curious now, badly aged, with a 22nd Century scenario whose tech is primitive; but it is, mercifully, only a framing device, with most of the narrative set in the past. If you can ignore the shots of starfields and spaceships which, despite a £4m budget, look far inferior to what Babylon 5 achieved two years earlier on an eighth of that, the interior scenes offer little that differs from the Asylum approach of having character run around a warehouse. This means that only so much can go wrong.

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The earlier part of the story, told in flashback, plunges us into a world of 18th Century French aristocrats with too much time on their hands, and concerns itself with the crafting of the original puzzle box by a toymaker who subsequently sees the error of his ways. The eras are linked by the line of his descendants, all cursed by his sin and, naturally, played by the same actor (Bruce Ramsay); and by a demon bound into the body of an unfortunate peasant (Valentina Vargas). The latter is hunting for the former, who has regained possession of the box. Also on the trail is Pinhead (Doug Bradley), a late arrival who immediately insists that he's the one who should be in charge, telling the demon that Hell isn't what it used to be.

There's a lot of cheese here but also a fair amount of storytelling potential. It's well shot by director Kevin Yagher, who also gets the best performance so far out of Bradley despite the silliness of much of the dialogue. Sadly the producers did a bit of a Caligula on him, and not so fortuitously. After he had finished working, extra scenes were added and the film was cut into something so different that he disowned it. One can only imagine that the original was more coherent. It's not hard to see the joins, with some scenes beautifully framed and lit, others looking like telenovela cast-offs. The good stuff is fairly evenly distributed which helps to keep the film watchable, but Yagher's work in building up atmosphere is repeatedly squandered.

In the lead, Ramsey is a passable actor but not a particularly charismatic one. The more capable Vargas faces the indignity of being sidelined in every scene with Bradley, and a subplot involving an abducted wife and child emphasises the sexism which the series intermittently mistakes for eroticism. There is some genuine eroticism in this film, however, with Yagher making the mos of his libertines and Vargas - in pre-demon form - reintroducing the submissive element that balanced the original. There's also a later scene with blond twin security guards which is rather more cheap and cheerful but doubtless appeals strongly to some. The inevitable flesh-hooks are much better presented than in previous installments and will look believable to those not familiar with the real thing.

In sum, this curious hybrid film scores more successes than most would anticipate, but it still has a lot of flaws. It's the last film in the franchise to date that Clive Barker was directly involved with, and the last to develop it story around the original premise rather than simply tacking Hellraiser elements onto a pre-existing script. As such it's one which, for all its problems, fans will want to seek out.

Reviewed on: 30 Apr 2017
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A descendant of the toymaker who made the original Hellraiser puzzle box sets out to close the gates to Hell forever. In space.

Director: Alan Smithee

Writer: Peter Atkins

Starring: Bruce Ramsay, Valentina Vargas, Doug Bradley, Charlotte Chatton, Adam Scott, Kim Myers

Year: 1996

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


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