Review Date: October 25, 2012
Released by: Echo Bridge
Release date: April 26, 2011
Widescreen 1.85 | 16x9: Yes
Pretty much the nail in the coffin in any franchise is when you send the series to space. It either kills the franchise for good, like Critters 4
or it rattles the formula so far that rebooting the series is the only way to continue forward (Jason X
or Leprechaun 4: In Space
). The fourth series of the 90s to sadly befall the space curse was Bloodline
, and as Chunkblower pointed out in his review, it wasn’t pretty (just ask Alan Smithee). It was now either time to retire Pinhead or give him a fresh new start, and, well, this being Miramax and all, the company who somehow made eight Children of the Corn
sequels, and made franchises out of The Prophecy
and Dracula 2000
, you probably already know what path they took. In 2000 they released Hellraiser: Inferno
, directed by first timer Scott Derrickson, who’d later go on to achieve further success in the genre directing films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose
and this year’s Sinister
. How’d he do with Hellraiser
? Well, it definitely goes in a new direction, but it definitely isn’t hell’s inferno…maybe more like the purgatory in Dante’s Inferno
The film begins with what has to be the most frantically cut chess game ever made. Edited as if by Eisenstein, the scene depicts our lead, Detective Joseph Thorne (Nightbreed
’s Craig Sheffer
), as a pragmatic thinker who goes for the win, and someone who can think quickly on the spot. He has to deal with some nasty crime scenes in his line of work, but is often able to sift through the small stuff to crack the case. He’s got a literal case to crack this time when he and his green new partner, Detective Tony Nenonen (Nicholas Turturro
), find the puzzle box amidst a bloodbath at their latest crime scene. Joseph solves the box, but in so doing unleashes, no, not Cenobites this time, but instead his own inner demons. He cheats on his wife, with whom he has a young daughter, with prostitutes in hotel rooms, and when his latest turns up dead, he starts to question whether he’s responsible or if the box is turning his life to hell.
Joseph blackmails his partner into coming to the hotel room to cover his tracks at the crime scene, but in so doing he also frames Tony for added security. Joseph’s an “end justifies the means” guy, and you could argue Pinhead (again Doug Bradley
) would feel the same with his “pain for pleasure” sentences. When they’re removing evidence, they find a severed finger at the crime scene that looks almost the same as the one they discovered at the scene with the Lament Configuration. It appears to be the fingers of a child, and understanding his own corruption makes Joseph empathize with the purity of children, making this case more personal than it already was. In his searching he finds out that the culprit of these serial killings may go by the pseudonym “The Engineer”, and Joseph will mine his connections in the urban underbelly to find him.
As Joseph descends further into the case, the box seems to chain itself onto his transgressions and the mistakes he’s made in his corrupt, go for broke lifestyle. He starts hallucinating at first, but eventually he cannot decipher between what is real and what is a mental manifestation of the box. He sees deaths in evidence that nobody else can see, but many of the prophecies he sees end up becoming reality. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy – is he actually tracking himself as his subconscious rips the flesh from the people he knows, or are the Cenobites out to punish him for the pleasures he’s taken at others’ expenses?
Of all the Hellraiser
films, this one seems the least connected with the series’ mythology. Had Scott Derrickson not said otherwise in interviews, one would think that the Pinhead was just added in after the fact to what is otherwise a psychological crime picture. Rather than serve as a villain with a motive (to escape hell or to explore with his subjects the pursuits of pleasure and pain) he’s instead more of an impartial judge. In the film Pinhead is more or less a physical manifestation of what would normally just be one’s conscience in more traditional films. The audience doesn’t even see him until 40-minutes in, and even then it’s only a brief flash. The movie is quite literally just a film of a man encountering his demons – although Pinhead’s demons are more just window dressing for the actual faults that Joseph explores in his life. This is a film where if you simply just edited out the box and Pinhead you’d have the same year’s Memento
– a film about a guy looking for answers in a confusing and increasingly fragmented world, only to find that he himself is both his victim and his villain.
Considering Bloodline’s ambition to really delve into the origin of the box and of suffering in general, Inferno, despite whatever quality of craftsmanship it may contain, still ultimately feels slight in comparison. Derrickson had only seen the first film when he sent his treatment over to the Weinstein’s for approval and that’s evident with the way the film breaks away from any continuity and instead just bases a completely fragmented tale from some of the concepts of Barker’s original. Referring to the always unreachable evil as “The Engineer” harkens back to the lead Cenobite from Barker’s novella, for instance. But what culminates in this picture just feels entirely inconsequential because none of these characters have any ties to the original four films, and probably most hurtful of all is that Pinhead has been reduced to a mostly silent figure of judgment, like death in The Seventh Seal. For a character that was always able to differentiate himself from the Michaels, Jasons and Freddys with his intelligence and his, this is particularly crippling for Inferno.
Judging (yep), the film on its own merits apart from the Hellraiser
franchise still doesn’t really help Inferno
all that much, either. It’s a morose picture, relentlessly depressing without any sort of levity. Even when the Hellraiser
films were at their most dour, there was some fun to be had in the inventive death sequences, but Inferno
plays it straight-faced throughout, and it’s a slog. The images have that greenish-yellow Lions Gate tinge, and even when he’s killing Pinhead doesn’t seem to be particularly excited about anything that’s happening. There is nothing at all enjoyable in this film, this is a film with a darkness that just does not let up, even before we get into this character’s downward spiral. As an example of the film’s handling of its lighter parts – in Hellraiser III
people go clubbing, or in Hellworld they get hummers at video game parties, in Inferno they play chess and talk about palindromes. No wonder the lead is so drearily depressed throughout.
If there is one salvaging aspect of the film, it is indeed its lead, with the always underrated Craig Sheffer imbuing his character with a destructive drive that unravels in telling fashion on the screen. He gets put through the wringer and plays it well, but he’s perhaps too good at it since again the movie offers no levity so Joseph’s descent eventually becomes emotionally claustrophobic. It’s so dire it’s just not enjoyable, at all. Imagine how stuffy a dinner party must be with Scott Derrickson.
In Scott Derrickson’s attempt to reinvigorate the franchise after the creative and studio confusion of Bloodline
, he instead rips from it its soul. Inferno
wants to be Se7en
, but has to be a Hellraiser
movie, and in so doing accomplishes neither. It’s unpleasant, unflattering to look at, and ends with enough Chinese boxes to make it feel entirely inconsequential. It brought Hellraiser
direct to video for the first time, and that’s been a hell from which the series has never been able to escape. While some of the maligned later sequels may not treat the subject matter with the maturity that this film does, they at least deliver on the tenants of what make a Hellraiser
picture, and for that reason and the above, this is pretty much the worst it gets, Cenobites.
Inferno is a dark, dreary and depressing movie, and the look on this DVD reflects that. Colors are pretty muted and consist of an unpleasant mixture of secondary colors like green and orange. The overall transfer is fairly dark, and the contrast is such that some of the lower IRE objects, like Sheffer’s hair, get clipped into black. The fact that the transfer is interlaced means an overall lack of sharpness, and this becomes particularly bothersome during the finale when the camera intentionally has a kind of pulsing shake to exacerbate Sheffer’s trauma. It’s not a particularly good looking movie, and this transfer just makes it worse.
Originally, the film was released straight-to-video with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but in a bid to secure more disc space for the four film set (in this case Inferno
are both on a single-layer side of the flipper disc), and also to pretty much uphold their reputation as doing the shoddiest job possible, Echo Bridge presents the film with only a 2.0 stereo mix. To their credit, it is a forceful mix, with a lot of well-recorded sound effects adding particular dimension and force to the action. Dialogue is clear and hiss is minimal. There’s a little direction left to right and overall a pretty decent track considering it is a downmix.
When Buena Vista still owned Miramax and put this disc out in 2000, it had an interview with Doug Bradley and some brief vignettes behind the box and the makeup in the film. With Echo Bridge now distributing the bulk of the Weinstein’s stuff that means, as usual, no extras and a cheap price. I’m not sure if Scott Derrickson would ever want to revisit the film, and since that means less for me to review when trudging through this turgid film, that’s fine by me.
Rather than trying to build on all the scattershot, but still worthwhile, ideas of Bloodline
, this fifth entry instead distances itself from the previous films and only really addresses the Hellraiser
mythos in a tertiary way. Pinhead is a pretty dour guy, but even with him limited to virtually a cameo, the film still finds a way to be even more dire in his absence. It’s a real slog of a journey. As a Hellraiser
film this brings nothing to the series and goes against Pinhead’s whole raison d’etre, but is it even worth watching on its own terms as a psychological thriller? I can say with one word, InferNO! The bargain bin treatment of this release by Echo Bridge, removing the 5.1 mix and the supplements from the original release, make this even less appealing.
Movie - D
Image Quality - D+
Sound - C-
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour, 40 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 2.0