Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Gore, Language, Sexuality and Drug Use
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Written by: Paul Harris Boardman & Scott Derrickson
Starring: Craig Sheffer, Nicholas Turturro, James Remar, Nicholas Sadler, Noelle Evans & Doug Bradley
It’s downright shameful how mistreated the HELLRAISER franchise is. Unlike other long-running horror series, Clive Barker’s unique vision of Hell and Pandora’s Box offers up endless possibilities for a number of insane stories. The first two HELLRAISERs were great and brought some of the most bizarre imagery to ever come out of 80’s horror. The third film was a lame attempt to turn Pinhead into the next Freddy and it failed miserably. At the very least, the fourth installment was an interesting anthology that wound up being the last theatrical release of the series. HELLRAISER: INFERNO is the fifth installment and the first that went straight-to-video. In an effort to make a quick buck, Dimension Studios started throwing unrelated shelved scripts at the series and a few details were changed around to include Pinhead, the Lament Configuration and Cenobites. This really shows in INFERNO, a film that unsuccessfully tries to combine a neo-noir with the HELLRAISER mythology.
Joseph Thorne is a loose cannon cop who doesn’t play by the rules. When he’s not solving homicides by day, he’s stealing evidence, doing cocaine and cheating with hookers by night. It’s safe to say that Joseph isn’t a nice guy and his latest case is pushing him to his limits. A bloody crime scene reveals disturbing details as a man was viciously mutilated by hooks. Joseph recovers a mysterious puzzle box found at the scene (three guesses as to what that is) and solves it. He soon finds himself in a game of cat-and-mouse with a serial killer called The Engineer and begins to have nightmarish visions of demons. You can probably guess where this is heading.
The idea of combining other genres with HELLRAISER is not a bad one at all. In fact, I’d love to see a good noir pulled off with strong supernatural horror. That sort of happened with 1998’s underrated FALLEN and I was hoping for a little spark of that here. However, this is a generic cop movie through and through that just happens to throw a few half-assed Cenobites into the mix. There are long stretches of this film where the horror aspect doesn’t even creep in until the new writer realized that he’d gone too long without a nightmare sequence featuring Pinhead.
Doug Bradley returns for three scenes as the iconic horror villain (two of these are nightmare sequences) and the rest of the Cenobites are generic looking. There’s a torso version of Chatter (the creepiest Cenobite of the first HELLRAISER) as well as three bland latex looking things (two female and one male). However, all of these demons combined manage to be more likable than the character of Joseph Thorne. There’s a difference between being a rough around the edges protagonist and an all-out unlikable prick. This character is very much the latter. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for his plight, because the whole time you’re hoping that someone will beat the manners back into him.
Scott Derrickson went on to direct EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, SINISTER, and DELIVER US FROM EVIL after making this flick. You can see a certain visual style that translates through all of his films. Even though INFERNO is bland and mediocre, there’s still a good visual scheme to the whole film. While the first two-thirds of the movie are just a generic cop thriller (complete with clichéd dialogue and all), the last act is where the pacing picks up. As much as I didn’t care for the rest of this film, I enjoyed its final 20 minutes. The whole screenplay could have consisted of the last 20 minutes and I would have been fairly happy with the result. Unfortunately, it’s a long, dull slog to get to that point in the film.
HELLRAISER: INFERNO is officially the point where I’m getting off this franchise train. While this series has such potential and promise in the right hands, it’s clear that nobody greenlighting these half-assed projects into existence gives a shit. This was literally a case where a generic cop screenplay was picked off a shelf and someone said “Just throw Pinhead in it and it will be fine.” I liked the ending of this film and Scott Derrickson brings across a good visual style, but there just isn’t much else to enjoy about this direct-to-video HELLRAISER installment. Just stick to the first two films (the fourth if you want some closure) and ignore the rest of this franchise. You’ll be happier that way.