Review Date: Monday, October 29
Released by: Echo Bridge
Release date: November 29, 2011
Codec: 1080 AVC
Widescreen 1.85 | 16x9: Yes
At the end of Hellseeker
, there was promise that finally the series could return back to its core conflict with Pinhead and Kirsty back battling over the box. And then 2005 happened. Dimension greenlit two more Hellraiser
sequels, with Deader
hitting in June and Hellworld
following two short months later in September. Despite both being directed by Hellseeker
helmer Rick Bota, neither would continue the Kirsty Cotton storyline and instead focus on more topical, “from the news” kind of stories and shoehorn into them some kind of Hellraiser
connection. While Deader
explored sub-cultures who liked to experiment with coming in and out of death (think Flatliners
for goths), something with at least some kind of thematic connection to the cenobites and their liquidity between hell and reality, Hellworld
took the series to pretty much its lowest common denominator of exploitiveness – cyberspace!
The techie, online/video game horror film has been a focus for Hollywood dating all the way back to the 80s, but few attempts have ever really been successful. In the pile of failures are films like feardotcom
, Stay Alive
, The Lawnmower Man
and The Card Player
. Even one of the films to get it right, Brainscan
, certainly didn’t catch on at the box office and many would probably debate its merits. One of the major hindrances of these movies is perhaps that they seem so of the moment, they immediately feel like a gimmick and seem dated even before they’ve begun. Many of the enduring horror films have been built around timeless mechanics of man vs. monster, good vs. evil or man vs. man…man vs. the internet just doesn’t quite cut it. Yet, leave it to Joel Soisson, hackmaster extraordinaire who, since 2000 has written 14 films, each one a sequel to some other film before it, none of which were written by Soisson. So basically we have a braindead concept about cyberspace written by a braindead writer who has never written anything not already based on someone else’s idea. This oughtta be good.
Games are serious business, guys. Hellworld begins with some angsty teen without a shirt digging a hole in his cellar. He seems to be working hard and then stops, throws his arms up in the air all Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption
and then yells up towards the sky. The next scene is his funeral. If that’s how young people die these days then I guess I really am out of touch. Anyway, all of his hip, witty friends all congregate for his service, before one of them breaks the silence, slamming his fist on the pew and emphatically stating “Christ…how many times do you have to tell a guy: ‘it’s just a stupid game!’”. “Hey!” one of the other friend retorts, “We were all addicted to Hellworld!”
What is Hellworld? Well, from the few shots we get of it in the film, it’s a kind of 1999-era point and click, turn-based MMORPG based on a little-known horror license. You know, the exact game you’d imagine would take the world by storm in levels approaching World of Warcraft. Somehow, we’re to believe, all the cool kids are playing it including our heroine, Chelsea (Katheryn Winnick
, Jeff Lieberman’s Satan’s Little Helper
). As an aside, if you can show me a woman as beautiful as Katheryn Winnick who is into horror RPGs I’d probably open a Lament Configuration just to meet her. Anyway, all these vapid do-nothings are obsessed with the game, even after one of their friends dies from it, and through their feverent playing find an invite in the game to a special Hellworld party. At this party the group, as well as Hellworld players across the country, are all given masks and cellphones (what, Soisson didn’t think video games and cyberspace were hip enough, he had to include cell phones too? Or was this him testing the waters for Pulse 2
?) so they can call up random people and get hummers in public. That’s how cool gamer parties work, folks.
The host of the party (Lance Henrickson
, literally credited as “The Host”) takes the core group on a tour of the old mansion, telling them how it used to be a convent designed by the original box-maker Lemarchand (who was featured in Bloodline
). Don’t ask me how the French toymaker ended up building a religious temple in the middle of the United States. When the group sees the host’s collection of puzzle boxes, Chelsea chimes up to comfort the crowd by saying “relax, cenobites don’t exist, and even if they did, I’d never open up the Lamont configuration”. See, that illusion of such a hot chick being a gamer is already unraveling. Wrapping this up, as the party progresses, each member of the group finds themselves trapped in different parts of the puzzle box-like house, and each one seems to die a gruesome, torturous fate. But when Chelsea tries to call the cops for help, they can’t seem to find anything wrong at the house. Are they stuck in the game? Is the host who he says he is? What’s Katheryn Winnick’s personal telephone number? Sadly, only two of these get answered by the film’s conclusion.
Hellworld is so silly and far off the mark from where the series began it’s really tough to actively really feel any passion towards it one way or another. If this film ever would evoke any feelings though, you can bet they’d point towards the bad. All the actors speak with a perceived wit or self-importance, their dialog is worse and the plotting even more of an insult. Like Hellseeker, this one again attempts for a grand twist to somehow legitimize the proceedings, but the origins of the Henrickson character are telegraphed from minute one, and the other twists are all so ludicrous it’s tough to even write them with a straight face. It still makes zero sense, but somehow, and spoilers if you really care, the host was able to drug all these kids with a substance that was not only able to make them hallucinate vividly a house they’ve hardly been in, and more than that, engage in a group hypnosis allowing them to somehow share their dreams together, all the while transferring the host into their dreams via his phone calls. Oh, and they do all this while buried alive in graves the host presumably dug and filled while the party was going on for the rest of the guests.
I can suspend my disbelief quite a bit, and I’ve certainly had to do it with this franchise (I could even accept that three different women all wanted to have sex with that leaden lead from Hellseeker
, all while he was married, I might add). I can accept that people want to play this god awful Flash game, I can hope and pray there are gamers out there was beautiful as Katheryn Winnick, and I can even believe that creatures summoned from hell can come to earth through a toybox. I can’t really come to terms, though, with the kind of logical leaps the film makes with Henrickson’s host character – presenting him as a regular everyday dad yet somehow giving him omniscient powers and the ability to pop in and out of reality and the dreams of his victims. Put some latex on him and there’s the Freddy vs. Pinhead movie fans were asking about.
Equating this film to fan fiction is probably doing it one better than it deserves, because the story really is that hellishly bad. Not only is it trying to cop all these points from the Warcraft
phenomenon, but the host is so derivative of Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw, which was the reigning horror franchise at the time of Hellworld
’s filming, that Lions Gate should be giving Dimension a call. Even the deaths, with these mechanical facial contraptions, seem more indebted to the torture of the Saw
films than the pain of the Hellraiser
movies. It’s not really surprising that the eighth film in a franchise is derivative (for comparison, Halloween: Resurrection
, Jason Takes Manhattan
) but it’s only under Joel Soisson that the void between ideas and emptiness reaches some kind of epic divide.
If I will concede anything, it’s that Henrickson makes a fine host and really relishes his mysterious role and plays it like a pro. The characters are such losers, the lot of them, that watching Henrickson exact his revenge is certainly a gratifying experience. Series regular Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s effects are an improvement of the comparatively lean Hellseeker
. It’s a film that also doesn’t take itself very seriously, which can be seen as a bit of a reprieve after chapters 5
. I guess in the duality of pleasure and pain, one must endure horrendous amounts of torture in Hellworld
for those fleeing moments of pleasure, but for those who are still here after eight sequels, that shouldn’t be so tough. You’ll watch it, you’ll hate it, you’ll have something to write about on message boards. Hellworld
is bad, and the only way to destroy it is not the box but to rant about it on the cyberspace where it was derived. Horror Digital members, you have a job to do!
I don’t know what it is, but Echo Bridge is Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to DVD and Blu-ray releases. Their DVDs are bar none some of the worst out there – interlaced, ridden with PAL to NTSC ghosting, murky, low bitrates, the works. Their Blu-rays, at least in their small sample size up to this point, are quite the opposite. Hellworld
, as a part of this Hellraiser
Blu-ray 4-pack, looks very solid in this AVC transfer. Colors are vivid but contrast is still maintained, and the dark, moody cinematography is conveyed with deep blacks that still preserve gradients. It’s not quite tack sharp, but the images have an organic quality to them, not enhanced with any edging or post-processing, yet still exhibiting finer details. The other films on this Blu-ray all look much better than their DVD counterparts, and Hellworld
is no different. Too bad the movie couldn’t have been better on Blu-ray, too.
I guess it’s fitting that Echo Bridge pulls out the stops for arguably the worst film in the franchise, but Hellworld
is the only film in the set, and the only film from any of their Hellraiser re-issues to have a 5.1 audio track. This DTS-HD track demonstrates a lot more range than we’re used to hearing from Hellraiser
, with the rears being utilized quite well for ambient effects, be it crickets chirping outside in the scenes near the end of the film, or all the party atmosphere inside the mansion. Like past Hellraiser
sequels, the sound effects all register with detail and are constructed of a quality often better than the films in which they’re featured. While effects are effectively spread out through the 5.1 spectrum, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of movement between speakers and in that sense the track is rather blaise. Still, DTS-HD 5.1 sounds good from Echo Bridge, hopefully this is their norm going forward.
For those who bought the film when it was first released by Dimension (I’m sorry), it came with a behind-the-scenes featurette, where I can only imagine you can see Lance Henrickson counting his money and Doug Bradley quietly weeping in the corner of his trailer. It also came with a commentary with the production team, from the director to the makeup man. Par for course with Echo Bridge’s re-releases, the featurette is gone but, at least on the standalone DVD release, the commentary is still preserved. There are no extras ported over to the Blu-ray 4-pack. Hey, no complaints.
The Pain: This high-concept, “Pinhead in cyberspace!” entry to the long-running franchise is arguably the series low. Again, like in Inferno
, Pinhead seems to be pretty much an afterthought, something shoehorned into a story that was probably written first without the Hellraiser
license in mind. They didn’t really do a good job adding in the Hellraiser
mythos, either, with the implementation of the actual “Hellworld” game that is apparently causing a craze so laughably bad the suspension of disbelief is tested and crossed right from the get-go. If Barker were behind a Hellraiser
video game I’d imagine something like Tetrisphere
, but with gore, instead we get a point-and-click Flash game that looks about as good as a 1998 website. Bad.
The Pleasure: Echo Bridge has done a solid job, especially given the film’s budget status in a cheap 4-pack, of bringing the film to high definition. The transfer is colorful, clean and with enough range to really look film-like. The DTS-HD 5.1 sound is the first time they’ve done 5.1 for a Hellraiser
film (whereas previous films would just have their original 5.1 mixes downsampled to 2.0) and it too is a marked improvement.
If you like the film, all three of you, then this is definitely a quality upgrade, even with the lack of extras found on the DVD. If some of the previous entries in the Hellraiser
series have pushed your patience, this will do even less to bring it back. Alt+F4 this virus of a movie.
Movie - D
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B+
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour and 31 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- English DTS-HD 5.1