Hellraiser: Inferno


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Hellraiser Inferno
"The search for enlightenment has been replaced by the New Age quest to find oneself."

For all their flaws, the Hellraiser films have an important place in the history of horror cinema, with early installments in the series pushing boundaries both in terms of gore and in their openness about sadomasochistic desires. By the fifth film, however, they had little left to say. Cinema and society had moved on. In this post-Blue Velvet era, what had once been relegated to the shadows was an open part of critical discourse and the chains that had once hung in other-dimensional dungeons were on sale in Ann Summers, even available in pink. Clive Barker had progressed to projects new. The cenobites had nowhere to go - until some bright spark realised that pasting them in to other failed film projects would guarantee some fan interest and could still squeeze a little money out of the straight-to-VHS market.

So we get Hellraiser: Inferno, the one-time standard story of a cop hunting a serial killer reinvented to accommodate demonic action and lashings of extra gore. The hybrid nature of the film throws up some interesting moments. It's one of few horror films of the era presented largely in daylight, and the combination of cop movie clich├ęs and lurid dismemberment is often pleasingly absurd, even when pointing up the limitations of latex. It has a better understanding of masochism than some of its predecessors and a scene in which its anti-hero is seduced by two female cenobites has a guilty sensuality to it that might have been more dangerously edgy - if it weren't a decade too late.

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Enjoy these moments. There's not a lot else. Said anti-hero, Detective Thorne (played by a continually gurning Craig Sheffer), is a detective who, attending a crime scene which is gaudile decorated with the occult symbology developed in the earlier films, finds a candle containing a human finger. Forensics tell him it's from a child. Some less familiar science tells him that the child is still alive. When he later sleeps with a sex worker - in the literal as well as the metaphorical sense - and subsequently finds her brutally murdered with another severed finger nearby (which he automatically assumes is from the same child), things get personal. Unfortunately for him, he's also been playing around with a puzzle box he found at the original crime scene, and his adversary may not be human.

Thorne's subsequent behaviour, layered with standard bad cop violence, is presented as a tragic slide into corruption. The trouble is that he's a deeply unlikeable person to begin with and Sheffer's range as an actor is best measured on the nanoscale, so what we really see is just more of the same with increasingle dramatic music. Other actors flap around him in roles that are all about exposition and afford no room for developing character, with only James Remar escaping with any dignity. Pinhead, when he appears, is something of a relief. Doug Bradley is at ease with leaden dialogue and restores a bit of energy to proceedings. His role as a fountain of moral wisdom is unconvincing, however, and he doesn't get much opportunity to do what he's good at.

Woven into all this is some terribly Eighties stuff about time travel and a lot of running round the corridors. The search for enlightenment has been replaced by the New Age quest to find oneself, but Thorne's wife and child are still treated as chattel. The framework of cops trying to get justice for murder victims allows moralising about women's choices to sit side by side with lurid misogynistic violence, with no irony, poetry or even humour to redeem it. Meanwhile, occasional pretty bits of set design are marred by lighting techniques that look like they'be been borrowed from daytime TV talk shows and the supposedly surprising ending is shot like an advert for aftershave. Consider watching it again and suddenly the idea of having your flesh torn apart by meathooks for eternity won't sound so bad after all.

Reviewed on: 24 May 2017
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Hellraiser: Inferno packshot
A detective searching for a killer becomes entangled with the cenobites.
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Director: Scott Derrickson

Writer: Paul Harris Boardman

Starring: Craig Sheffer, Nicholas Turturro, James Remar, Doug Bradley, Noelle Evans, Lindsay Taylor

Year: 2000

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US


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