Dir. Scott Derrickson (2000)
A troubled cop runs afoul of the Lament Configuration when investigating a serial killer dubbed "The Engineer."
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Joseph (Craig Sheffer) is a good cop but not a particularly good guy: he's cheating on his wife with prostitutes, doing drugs, and, um, playing chess with a professor at the local youth gymnasium. He is called to the scene of a bizarre ritualistic murder where someone was skinned and diced into several pieces in a room with strange occult artifacts that more than likely had something to do with his killing. Joseph, who has had a lifelong obsession with puzzles (that is referenced repeatedly throughout the movie even when it doesn't particularly make sense to the narrative) finds the Lament Configuration amongst the detritus in the murder scene, and his natural predilection for brainteasers leads him into an infatuation with the ancient mystical harbinger of the Hellworld. When his favorite prostitute is the victim of another grisly murder, Joseph is led into a cat and mouse game that is more than a little inspired by Se7en, finding himself part of the ever-growing franchise that becomes less and less like the preceding films.
Director Scott Derrickson (who has gone on to considerable horror success with movies like Sinister and The Black Phone) insists that this movie was always intended to be a Hellraiser flick. I don't know if I buy it. It could just as easily have been a neo-noir with a sadistic body modification focus, as the vast majority of the runtime is just that. The extent to which that bothers you as a viewer will depend on your love for the franchise, or at least the idea of the franchise, and whether or not you'd much rather be watching a detective movie than a Hellraiser movie. Considering that the film has Hellraiser in the title, I'm just going to assume that you were probably checking this one out to see more Pinhead. He's in this one for roughly two and a half minutes, so... maybe sit this one out if that was your reason for watching.
That's the heart of why Inferno just doesn't work: the film never seems quite sure of what it wants to be. The detective Joseph is continually possessed by visions and bizarre dreams of the Cenobites but never seems to be too bothered by them. The scenes could be cut entirely with very little impact to the plot of the film. It's almost as if the filmmakers behind the movie could not decide on how to make the police plot scary so they decided to just jam in demons wherever they could, regardless of how well they fit with the rest of the film's narrative. Some of the new additions to the Cenobite family are fairly creepy looking, and those scenes are generally handled particularly well (even one scene that would fit pretty well into a found footage Hellraiser flick), but they never land as well as they should because the just don't belong in this film.
There's even a random scene where people dressed like cowboys are also apparently ninjas, roundhouse kicking the detective into a tree in a bizarre scene that makes almost no sense and feels like a comical attempt to deepen the mystery that is already difficult to care too much about. Inferno is a mess, a disappointment from Derrickson that thankfully wouldn't be repeated again in his already-impressive career. If he's telling the truth, and if this film was intended to be a Hellraiser movie from the jump, he perhaps would've been wiser to edit the Configuration's demons out rather than cramming them in as many fans suspected. The film almost works as a noir, but its insistence on forcing the supernatural beings into the plot make it fail at being both a Fincher-esque detective film and an adequate addition to the Hellraiser franchise.
Going for psychological horror in the way that this film does is an interesting choice for a horror film, but it simply does not work for a Hellraiser film. The whole point of the Cenobites, as explored both in the previous films and in the novella from which they all originate, is that the Cenobites' entire goal is to inflict physical suffering, opening every last synapse and nerve ending in a person's body until every moment feels like an eternity. Perhaps, if handled a bit more subtly, the addition of psychological torment to their infernal repertoire could've been an intriguing idea. As it stands, it feels more like a bastardization of Barker's original intent, taking advantage of the psychological horror trend in the late 90's/early 2000's and slapping a Hellraiser name on it to attain a built-in audience.
I will praise Derrickson in one particular area, however: aesthetically the movie is gorgeous and superbly creepy. The darker scenes in the film felt very much like something Fincher would make, while the blue-bathed Cenobite scenes would be very much at home in a Saw movie. In that regard, it is stylistically a pretty good amalgamation of those two different tones. Derrickson does a great job of fashioning scenes that feel very much like a nightmare, possibly an inspiration to the dream sequences of Max Payne that would release a couple of years later. The film also works as a morality tale, and had it not been for the presence of the previous films, it probably would've worked pretty well as a parable with some gnarly-looking demons. As a straight-up allegory for Dante's Inferno, which I'm sure was undoubtedly the intention, it also works relatively well. Unfortunately, it is the film's inclusion in an already-popular franchise that is its ultimate downfall.
Who this movie is for: Neo-noir lovers, Hellraiser completionists, Dante Alighieri
Bottom line: For psychological horror it's not half bad, but as a Hellraiser movie it just doesn't work. If you're a fan of the series and can't sleep until you finish all the movies, then you'll definitely want to give this one a watch because it definitely says Hellraiser right there in the title. If you're looking for the psychosexual madness that has accompanied all of the previous films, this one is going to leave you wanting. Outside of a few bright spots, this one is probably worth a miss.