Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
Dir. Anthony Hickox (1992)
An investigative reporter assigned to an emergency room watches as a man is ripped apart by electrified chains. This leads her directly into the path of the reemergence of the Cenobites.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
After the disappointment of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, I was definitely expecting the third installment to be even worse. Hellraiser was fantastic, of course, a cult classic of the highest order and the inspiration for hundreds of filmmakers since. How likely would it be that the third installment would surpass the second and be similar in quality to the original? Ok... so I wouldn't quite go that far. In fact, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is an entirely different animal than either of the first two films. With an (almost) entirely new cast of characters and a wildly different plot, Hell on Earth is a different film for a different generation, bringing the Hellraiser franchise into the 90's in a much more modern (and much less gothic) fashion.
Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) is a reporter who is down on her luck, never fully able to break through in her career. She finds herself assigned to a local emergency department, tasked with reporting on victims of medical emergencies but finding none to report on. Her cameraman is called away to a more impressive story (with a more impressive reporter), and Joey is left alone in a deserted and quiet hospital. Shortly thereafter, a young man is wheeled into the dark hallways with chains attached to his flesh, and when Joey runs into the trauma room to find out what is going on, he is ripped limb from limb in an impressive (though largely bloodless) display of violence. Terri (Paula Marshall), who accompanied the young man into the hospital, flees the scene quickly, and when Joey catches up to her, she tells a story of a young injured man who is holding a mysterious box and a douchebag club owner who has recently purchased an art piece that just so happens to contain the trapped remains of Pinhead and his Cenobite crew.
Having grown up in the 90's, Hellraiser III is a welcome change to the series, fitting right alongside other movies of the early parts of the decade and transforming the franchise into one that more closely resembles the others with which it is compared. It's a risky decision updating the ambience: fans of the original who were expecting more of the same were more than likely incredibly disappointed. Gone are the dark, cool-toned dungeons of the Hellworld, the erotic-tinged phantasmagoria of the original completely abandoned in favor of a more mainstream-focused genre film. In that respect, Hell on Earth lacks much of the disturbing impact of the first two films in the series. In watchability, however, it is a vast improvement in the original sequel and a desperately needed step forward in making the series appeal to a growing horror audience who wanted more of the same, safe movies that didn't challenge their preconceptions and that celebrated the fact that it's perfectly okay for horror films to be fun escapes from the terrifying reality of life outside the silver screen.
The film is a bit cheesier than its predecessors, with some of the actors doing a downright terrible job. There's a clear shift to making Pinhead more closely resemble his cohorts, delivering more-clever-than-scary lines that sound like they should be coming from the mouth of a burned child molester than a malignant resident of Hell. His desire to escape from his earthly prison provides a need for the character to be more tempting than terrifying, providing the audience the first understandable glimpse at what drew Frank to the Lament Configuration in the first place.
The effects are pretty gruesome, though far less disturbing than in the previous two films. There are shades of the erotic horror present in the first two installments, but the film makes no apologies in its pursuit of a wider audience. The first film especially struck at the heart of the Puritanical expectations of an American movie audience, seeking to present truths that many moviegoers were not quite ready to accept. Hell on Earth is much tamer in that regard, offering a film that feels relatively innocuous, an example of the old joke about the woman who is happy to rent a film for her children that contains copious bloodshed as long as you never catch glimpse of a nipple.
The nature of the Hellraiser films prevents the movie from being entirely coherent, of course. Joey's dream sequences don't really fulfill any narrative purpose, seemingly an attempt at padding the runtime with a little bit more action. We're introduced to the pre-Pinhead Elliot Spencer in a more real way, delving further into his backstory that explains how he became Pinhead. While this segment of the film does get a bit expository, it also serves to explain things and provide a deeper and richer backstory to what was already a fascinating character. The newly introduced Cenobites are ridiculous and goofy, modern demonic concoctions that answer the timeless question: can a Cenobite be created from compact discs and a video camera? Turns out, the answer is yes.
There is nothing about Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth that is timeless or particularly impressive, but it was quite refreshing after the relative disaster of Hellbound to have a film that was as entertaining as it was inventive. While there is absolutely no comparison to the original, it's still a watchable film with some gnarly scenes of mayhem and violence. For a series that trended more towards perversity and a sinister sense of otherness, Hell on Earth is an accessible film that is as fun as it is different from its forefathers.
Who this movie is for: 90's horror fans, Franchise followers, Club kids
Bottom line: The first of the franchise that lacks the wicked depravity of the original, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is a delightfully accessible 90's horror film that feels more on par with the other famous franchises in horror. Not to mention, you wouldn't mind quite as much if your mother walked in while you were watching this one. The ridiculous new Cenobites are a bit more cartoonish than their progenitors, and it is certainly far less serious than the previous two films, but if you're looking for a fun movie that doesn't make you feel so icky, I highly recommend giving this one a shot.