Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hellraiser V: Inferno

Hellraiser V: Inferno (2000)
Dir. Scott Derrickson
Written by Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Starring Craig Sheffer, Nicholas Turturro, James Remar, Doug Bradley

    The advent of HELLRAISER V: INFERNO brings with it a number of new features to the series. For one, it’s the first time some shady producer came up with the genius idea of sticking a few Pinhead scenes into an unrelated horror script and calling it a sequel (PUMPKINHEAD 2 obviously set a dangerous precedent). It’s also the first HELLRAISER to bypass theatres entirely, admitting that the last two entries had left this franchise a cheapened, burnt-out husk of its classy original. Realizing this, the producers consulted with top Bush administration education experts, who agreed that the thing to do was to make sure we punish the failing institution by cutting its funding and diverting valuable talent away from it, letting it die a slow and humiliating death until it could be replaced with a private institution (in this metaphor, the inevitable remake/reboot).

But no one puts Pinhead in a box. Well, metaphorically anyway. Even though this humbling DTV cash grab isn’t great, it’s actually better than I was expecting. Basically, it’s the same low-imagination atmospheric mindfuck movie that every wannabe horror director has to make when they’re young and poor and before they can afford more interesting scripts. It’s a bit dull, and contains literally nothing you haven’t seen a million times before, but other than that it’s actually reasonably well made, and even reasonably well acted. If you can get over the fact that Pinhead probably has under 5 minutes of screen time and even those are completely unnecessary, it’s watchable enough.

Yes, the title comes with ripple effects to drive home the point that its an INFFEEEERRRNNNOOOO.

The story here is that Joseph Thorne (Craig Sheffer, no stranger to the Barkerverse, having already played Boone in NIGHTBREED) is a brilliant but somewhat corrupt detective. He seems like an OK guy, but he also takes cash from the evidence room and cheats on his whiny wife with a suspiciously attractive hooker. In terms of corrupt cops, I’d say he’s way less corrupt than Harvey Keitel in BAD LIEUTENANT, less than Harvey Keitel in THE BORDER, maybe on par with Harvey Keitel in CORRUPT (at least before he chains Johnny Rotten up in his bathtub), slightly more corrupt than Harvey Keitel in CLOCKERS, and much more corrupt than Harvey Keitel in THELMA AND LOUISE. But still, he seems like flawed dude who’s fundamentally decent. So when he finds a suspicious puzzlebox at the scene of a gristly hook-related fatality, you’re kinda hoping that he won’t try to solve it, even though he explicitly says earlier that he loves puzzles and that’s why he became a detective.

So what happens when he opens the box? Hooks, right? And maybe a Chatterer dog? Well, remember that this wasn’t originally written as a HELLRAISER script. So Pinhead’s MO this time is to briefly appear in a weird dream along with two female cenobites with long tongues and a walking torso with Chatterer’s head (both, to the movie’s credit, look pretty creepy, and are probably the best cenobites since the first one). I miss the hooks too, but I guess he got bored with them during the long ordeal of hook-murdering the guy Thorne took the box from and decided to try something new. Or maybe he finally got tenure and just doesn’t give a shit anymore. At any rate, that’s the last we’ll see of Pinhead for awhile. But Det. Thorne (there’s no Inferno anywhere in the movie, so maybe that’s his nickname) still has other problems. Some psychopath called “The Engineer” has kidnapped a child and is murdering people that Thorne knows and leaving the kid’s severed fingers behind, one at a time. You know, to fuck with him. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Thorne keeps having weird hallucinations and freaky encounters with a guy in a leather jacket and hood who also has Chatterer’s face (what, no love for Butterball?). And to top it all off, he’s being forced to talk to a bearded new-agey psychologist (James Remar) about his issues, because his fellow cops (including partner Nicholas Turturro) think he’s cracking up.

Still preferable to the two-guys-one-girl variation.

All this is reasonably well executed, with decent atmosphere (although like all DTVs, it overuses those lame green filters) and a good feel of surreal menace waxing and waning. Problem is, there’s just nothing very imaginative in here to make it memorable or unique. I doubt there’s a single thing in this movie that you haven’t already seen somewhere else in a better --or at least more interesting-- movie. To it’s credit, there is an occasional decent idea or jump to the truly bizarre here and there. The cenobites look pretty good, there’s a pretty rough early “found footage” type deal where Thorne gets a tape of an informant being whipped to death with a cat-o-nine-tails made of fishhooks. And there’s one amazing scene where he goes to this poolhall in search of “The Engineer,” only to find that everyone there is inexplicably dressed like a cowboy. Later he goes out into the woods, and two Asian women dressed like cowboys (one in all black, the other in all white) come out of nowhere and kick the shit out of him with kung fu. That’s almost some David Lynch shit right there, so I gotta give ‘em credit for that. It escalates pretty nicely and even though the climax is nothing you ain’t seen before, it works in its own derivative way. Oh, his memory of his mother gets possessed and he has to kick her ass, I guess that’s one other thing I haven’t seen before.

One of the funniest moments of the movie comes during the big revelation about what’s actually going on, which I hope you can infer from the previous sentence I’m going to SPOIL. It’s customary in these type of movies that the person secretly planning, “engineering” all this, if you will, is gonna be a character you already know, and it’s usually pretty easy to spot because there’s one character in the cast who’s played by a well-known character actor but doesn’t have much to do with the plot. It’s a tough spot to be in for a movie, because you know you’re telegraphing your villain this way, but you also want to have a good antagonist for the hero to face off against at the end, not some hammy low-watt extra. Here, you’ve got Craig Sheffer, his partner, and hmmm... James Remar as the psychiatrist who’s always going on about metaphysics and morality and so forth. OK, it doesn’t take a genius to see what’s going on here, Remar is actually the engineer, and feeding Sheffer clues while fucking up his life based on the things he reveals in their sessions. But get this: you’re right, he is, but there’s another twist: James Remar is actually the Engineer, and the Engineer... is actually Pinhead! It’s all a weird dream that Thorne is having after having open the box, to teach him a lesson about his wicked ways what with the stealing evidence and banging hookers in motel rooms and whatnot. So even though you’ve got James Remar revealed to be the bad guy all along, as soon as you find out he just morphs into Doug Bradley and Remar never even gets to have an evil speech or anything! Why the hell would you cast him in this role, it makes no sense, it just alerts us that he’s gonna be the villain and then you don’t even get to use him to give us some good villainy. Setting aside the odd change of character for Pinhead (what, he teaches us lessons about morality now? Guess he watched SAW and had a change of heart?) I think we can all agree that this was a silly thing to do. Shit, they should have just cast Doug Bradley as the psychiatrist. They could have saved some cash, and Remar could have had more time to prepare himself emotionally for being on Sex and the City. END SPOILERS.

Not to fear, Captain exposition has arrived. I only have five minutes so I'll make this quick.

The whole thing is surprisingly watchable, and probably on a whole works better than HELLRAISER IV: BLOODLINES, but it’s pretty low on reasons why you should watch it. BLOODLINES, despite it’s disastrous incompetence, is way more fun and more unique. This one coasts on a constant low level of decent competence, but only has maybe three or four memorable sequences in the entire runtime, and most of those get almost no mileage out of any of the familiar HELLRAISER tropes. They throw a few hooks in there, and even got some decent cenobites, but it’s hard not to notice how superfluous it all is to the actual plot, which is acceptably well-executed but unremarkable in almost every way. Amazingly, director Scott Derrickson would move out of his own DTV hell to helm the well-regarded THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, that abysmal remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and, holy shit, last month’s SINISTER, a movie I generally enjoyed (and which also incorporates a well-utilized found footage angle). Hell, he’s even co-writing that movie DEVIL’S KNOT about the West Memphis Three that’s gonna be directed by Atom Egoyan (he also wrote URBAN LEGENDS: THE FINAL CUT, so don’t get too excited, Egoyan fans). Wow. In the movies, Pinhead punishes you for your sins, but I guess in Hollywood, you get rewarded. No wonder Pinhead stays in that box all the time, things make more sense there.


LOVECRAFT ADAPTATION: No, but adapted from an unrelated script.
BOOBIES: No, not too many chicks interested in going topless for DTV. Even the hooker he fucks at the beginning is one of those leave-the-bra-on hookers.
> or = HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS LEVEL GORE: Some good hookey stuff.
SEQUEL: First DTV sequel out of a total of 9 total HELLRAISERs so far.
OBSCURITY LEVEL: DTV, so I'll call it high.
MONSTERS: That torso thing.
SLASHERS: Well, "The Engineer" is a serial killer, and a couple stabbings. I'll say yeah.


  1. Well, you made it official. We now have the "Harvey Keitel Scale" for corrupt cops in movies.

  2. You have no idea how happy it made me when I realized I could go all the way with it.