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  • Rev Horror

Hellraiser IV: Bloodline

Dir. Kevin Yagher (1996)

The descendent of the Lament Configuration's creator tries to find a way to destroy the box, and with it the Cenobites, in the faraway future of 2127.


Oh boy. You know this one is going to be good when the director has removed his name from the credits, replacing it with the DGA's Alan Smithee placeholder. (On a sidenote: I've always thought it would really suck to actually be named Alan Smithee and want to be a director. People would just naturally assume that you suck at your job.) Regardless of his attempts to distance himself, Kevin Yagher is responsible for the bulk of the film, despite the producer's reconfiguration of much of the action within the film. As I'm not entirely sure what should and should not be credited to Yagher, however, I'll leave him out of the review for the most part.

Where Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth devoted a good portion of its runtime to the history of the series' demonic antagonist, Bloodline does the same for the mysterious puzzle box that summons him. The Lament Configuration, for the first time in the series attributed to the novella's Lemarchand, is traced back through its history by the distant ancestor of the original toymaker who crafted its labyrinthine structure. Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) has holed himself up in the space station that he has designed, dedicating its colossal halls to right the family wrong and destory the Lament Configuration once and for all. The story cuts back and forth between 1796, when Phillip Merchant/Lemarchand (also Bruce Ramsay), Paul's great-great-however-many-greats-grandfather initially built the hellish contraption and created an evil entity named Angelique (Valentina Vargas), 1996, where the modern-day John Merchant (ALSO Bruce Ramsay) is haunted by dreams of the mysterious Angelique, and 2127, where Paul is telling the story of his family's sins to the commando in charge of recovering the ship from its designer.

There is a bit more devotion to the eroticism of the first two films, with Angelique serving as the diabolically sexualized villain seeking to end the Lemarchand bloodline. Her Igor-ish lackey Jacques (Adam Scott in an early role) initially tries to seize control of Angelique for his own sexual gratification, but her evil quickly overpowers him and shows him who's really in charge. The attempt to create a female Pinhead falls flat, however, through no fault of Vargas: the character is too human to be as sinister as would be necessary, and too reliant on Pinhead's already-enormous influence to be entirely her own being. Angelique is the Frank of the film despite the attempts to make her into another Pinhead, but the character lacks the disgusting origin, which occurs mostly in the shadows of a bacchanalian French estate, to carry the import and impact of the earlier films' sadomasochistic adversaries. Pinhead doesn't make his appearance until almost halfway through the movie. Unlike in the first film, Bloodline lacks the malicious gruesomeness of Frank's character and the conniving malevolence of Julia to carry the audience through to his iconic reveal.

There are enough gnarly kills to please the less discerning horror fan, and the effects are generally well done. It's difficult to criticize the film too deeply for it's bizarre and disjointed plot due to the issues behind the scenes, but the decision to take the series into outer space in just the fourth installment was a... bold decision, shall we say. Thankfully, the timeline jumps do prevent it from going too far in that direction (other than the typical "late 90's so we have to use robotic technology to show that its the future" thing), which salvages the film to a certain extent, but it's not quite enough to save it from being mediocre at best.

Hellraiser's decision to continually add new Cenobites ups the ante over a lot of other horror franchises. Each of the original Cenobites were cool in their own way, with Pinhead obviously taking the lead and becoming the iconic villain that spans the entire series. However, there is also a reason that horror franchises tend to stick with one villain, largely for fear that adding random other baddies along the way will water down the impact of the evil that haunts the protagonists. The Hellraiser franchise dips its toe in expanding the villain pool with varied effect: Angelique, as a Cenobite, looks outstanding, regardless of her human insufficiencies, while the melded-together policeman Cenobite is a pretty spectacular look as well. The insistence in including other demonic entities, in this case a Cerberus dog that easily could've been the inspiration for the bear in Annihilation, feels like more filler at this point. It didn't make sense even in the original film and makes even less as the series progresses.

While Bloodline avoids the characterization of being bad, it also sidesteps any particular success as well. Bradley is good, of course, despite the comparatively poor script, maintaining the dangerously threatening characterization of the Hell Priest that he had previously established. The other characters are lackluster, barely serving their purpose to advance the plot without garnering any sort of sympathy or intrigue along the way. There's a transphobic scene in the film that strikes as a bit ironic considering the eventual direction chosen for the Hulu reboot from last year as well. But despite the film's narrow dodging of receiving the designation of being a bad movie, it fails to sidestep the criminal designation of boring. Little happens through most of the runtime, and when it does it fails to live up to either the psychosexual sadism of the original or the absurd action of the third film. There's a little something for everyone within the Hellraiser series. Unfortunately, there's not in this entry.

Who this movie is for: Scifi-horror fans, Hellraiser lovers, Space&M fetishists

Bottom line: The most boring of the Hellraiser series so far, Bloodline is a sci-fi version of the Hellworld story that was absolutely not needed at this point in the series. The fact that this was the last Hellraiser film to see the inside of a theater is disappointing, though I will perhaps feel differently as we progress through the series. Regardless of the film's shortcomings, Bloodline sees a return to a more menacing (and less joking) Pinhead and Bradley does enough to make the film worth watching for fans of the series. There's some decent gore and some interesting entries into the Cenobite line. Just don't expect anything groundbreaking.

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