Fourth installment of “Hellraiser” series proves to be so bad that the director of record is Alan Smithee, the name used under Directors Guild rules when the real helmer refuses credit. The director billed in early announcements was special effects whiz Kevin Yeager — who retains credit in that category — but who wisely realized the released film would not enhance his resume. Except for the most undiscriminating gorehound, pic is a pointless mess. After brief theatrical run, it will probably sucker horror fans for years to come on homevid.
Story is framed by a confrontation on a space station in the year 2127. Paul (Bruce Ramsay) summons up spawn of hell Pinhead (Doug Bradley) with the emblematic puzzle box of the series. Paul is then taken into custody and questioned by the station’s doctor (Christine Harnos). In flashback, we get the origin of the puzzle box in 18th century France, involving an ancestor of Paul’s (Ramsay again), and then a story set in 1996 with another ancestor (still Ramsay), which takes up bulk of the movie. Added to the mix is Angelique (Valentina Vargas) who arrives to seduce some of the ancestors only to be brushed aside by Pinhead. Rather than serving as a dramatic counterpoint, she does little more than serve as a red herring.
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We’re told that it’s all in Paul’s bloodline, which is why he is the only one who can make a competing puzzle box that will close the path to hell rather than open it wider. Even novice horror fans will anticipate who wins the final round on the space station.
The chief problem is that the films have become an excuse for grotesqueries and sadism. Without any characters to root for, there’s no reason to care how it all turns out.
The gore effects are still disgusting, but have grown tiresome with age. The focus on leather, chains, hooks and blades makes Pinhead’s world a cross between a machine shop and an S&M bar. In contrast, the space effects, credited to Blue Studio, are quite good, especially in the finale where the real purpose of the space station is revealed. F/x aficionados may appreciate the craftsmanship involved in the numerous torture sequences, but most people will wonder why most of the film looks like it was lit with a 60-watt bulb.
The less said about the acting, the better, since it ranges from Bradley’s hammy Pinhead to one-note performances by the rest of the cast. Ramsay gets to hit three notes, one for each of his roles.
“Hellraiser” was one of the last of the ’80s horror series to get under way, and may finally be played out.Certainly this fourth installment is at a narrative and creative dead end.