In which our critic eviscerates the worst of the Hellraiser sequels

In Pop Punishment, Louis Peitzman endures the most derided genre films, television, and literature, all for your sadistic pleasure.

It's no secret that horror franchises tend to fall apart after the first or second sequel. Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween-all started off strong and ended up on a long and depressing path to unwatchable dreck. But the Hellraiser series may be the most flagrant offender. Few horror sequels move so far from their creators' original mission statements. Clive Barker had a vision, and then a bunch of lesser talents shit all over it.

I'll leave Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth alone-except to say that they could have at least tried for some stylistic consistency with these titles. The fourth installment, Hellraiser: Bloodline, is where things really go off the rails. It was also the last Hellraiser film to actually open in theaters, which is good news for everyone but those naïve Hellraiser fans who paid money to go see it.

Bloodline is misguided on so many levels that it's difficult to narrow down its faults. It takes place in 1784, the ‘90s, and 2127. It features Adam Scott as the treacherous Jacques, wearing the worst French period wig money can buy. There is a character named Rimmer. Improbably, Bloodline is supposed to bookend the Hellraiser series by explaining the origin of the Lament Configuration and the ultimate destruction of the Cenobites. I'm not sure who decided this was a good story to tell over 86 minutes, but director Kevin Yagher was wise enough to take his name off the project. Yep, this is an Alan Smithee film.

If the history and rules established by Bloodline actually continued throughout the Hellraiser series, it might be more effective. Alas, each subsequent sequel is basically a standalone horror flick, with Pinhead thrown in for appearance's sake. Bloodline's introduction of toymaker Philip LeMarchand, who is commissioned to build the Lament Configuration for the evil Duc de L'Isle, is an easy way to half-heartedly tie the rest of the franchise together. Turns out LeMarchand has an endless string of Merchant descendants to kill off, and they pop up whenever that plot requires it. Case in point, Hellraiser: Deader, which had no connection to the series until someone decided the central villain was a Merchant.

The next four Hellraiser films went straight to DVD, even though they're really no worse than Bloodline. (High praise indeed!) Hellraiser: Inferno, the fifth in the series, is actually kind of interesting, if only because it's more mindfuck than gorefest. Inferno gives Pinhead even less screentime than he got in the original Hellraiser, and I'm of the mind that he's a lot creepier in small doses. But the movie is ultimately a failure as a Hellraiser film. What happened to the Cenobites' BDSM origins? It's not about pleasure and pain anymore. It's not even about Pinhead trying to take over the world for murky reasons. At least the ending is unsettling-crooked detective Joseph Thorne realizes he's been dead all along and is doomed to relive the same events on an infinite loop. That just sounds monotonous, and really, what's more horrifying than boredom?

Hellraiser: Hellseeker has the distinction of bringing back the original Kirsty Cotton, Ashley Laurence. Since the events of Hellraiser and Hellbound, she's gotten married to the beeper salesman from 30 Rock AKA that guy in the Allstate commercials. But other than Kirsty's presence, Hellseeker is basically the same film as Inferno, down to the whole "you've been dead all along" twist ending. You can't Shyamalan someone twice in a row, so it's not hard to see where this one is going. We do get to see Kirsty and Pinhead strike yet another deal, which is a nice touch for fans of the original, and once again she escapes unscathed. Safe to say Pinhead has a crush?

The next two Hellraiser atrocities are the ultimate "fuck you" to fans-neither was originally intended to have anything to do with Hellraiser. But after some rewrites and a puzzle box thrown in, no one can tell the difference, right? Hellraiser: Deader is so clearly not part of the series that Pinhead's presence is more head-scratching than welcome. Kari Wuhrer plays reporter Amy Klein, who travels to Bucharest because it's cheaper to film there. Also, there's a suicide cult who can bring people back from the dead. The relationship between the Deaders-if you want to be taken seriously, pick a better cult name-and the Cenobites is tenuous, at best. Add to that a tasteless child sexual abuse story to make this movie extra reprehensible.

And then there's Hellraiser: Hellworld, a wholly baffling and nonsensical train wreck whose sole salvation is the casting of Lance Henriksen and certified hottie Henry Cavill (your next Superman!). Hellworld makes some attempt to be meta-the characters are addicted to an MMORPG version of Hellraiser, which they accept to be fiction. Then they get butchered at a fancy party, except no, they were just tripping balls. I won't suggest that Hellworld's screenwriter was also under the influence, as psychotropic drugs generally inspire more creativity.

There is actually a ninth Hellraiser film, 2011's Hellraiser: Revelations. But it was never released in theaters or on DVD, which we can credit to its incredibly low budget or divine intervention. Either way, I think I've suffered enough. Whether or not you can appreciate the early installments in the franchise, most of the Hellraiser sequels are torture, Pinhead-approved.

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