Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth Shows Decline In Series But Still Worth The Trip To Hell


The Plot:

When a news reporter stumbles onto the story of her life, she’ll stop at nothing to get her scoop. That’s before she realized she’s now embedded deep in the Puzzle Box saga. After a club owner buys a mysterious tower from the former Channard Institute, the vivacious reporter finds herself between the clutches of hell and the forces of heaven. With Pinhead getting more powerful, using the blood of the innocent like old incest-loving Uncle Frank, she must stop at nothing to end Pinhead’s reign of torturous terror once and for all, or death will be the last of her worries. Welcome to Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.

If you have a quality, be proud of it. Let it define you, whatever it is.-J.P Monroe/Pinhead

The Review:

I was fairly young when I stumbled onto a two-tape edition of Clive Barker’s seminal horror film, the immortal Hellraiser (1987). Well look at that, my birth year. I had already been a horror head, having seen the legendary Halloween (1978) a few years before that, but when I saw a strange guy with needles protruding from his head on the cover of that dusty tape jacket, I knew I had to see what this old Anchor Bay release was all about. Fast forward to present day, and I’m well versed in all things Cenobite. So let’s all play with a puzzle box, take a little pleasure in pain, and head down to hell as I review Anthony Hickox’s 1992 film Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.

The Direction:

Anthony Hickox directs Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth vision and purpose. Hickox, who steered the ship on Waxwork (1988) and its sequel Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992), does a fine job steering this visual voyage in hell above the earth’s surface. While the film has many problems, most notably in the script department, the direction in the film is mostly sharp. That is, of course, for the third film in an aging horror franchise. It is true the Director of Photography, Gerry Lively, should have been let go before the first day’s craft services were cold; the film is too brightly lit for this kind of fair. I don’t want to be too harsh though, Lively did shoot the original Friday (1995). That doesn’t mean Director Hickox didn’t do one hell of a job making a few scrap pieces into a well made puzzle box. One hell of a job. See what I did there. Bad joke machine over here people.

While there are many instances where Director Hickox shows an understanding for cinematic language, some directors have it and some “directors” don’t, one particular shot stood out . Sure, the film opens with a beautiful shot showing a character’s feet, which pans up to reveal the character’s face and follow said character into a building, but there’s one shot that seems like the director’s ace in the hole. That is the 180-degree reveal shot.

The shot is used about three or four time in the film, and each time to chilling effect. The filmmaker starts the take, which is usually a standard medium shot, and as the characters in frame is delivering dialogue with an off camera performer, the camera does a half revolution to expose the other actor/actress in the scene. The first time it happened I flipped. The more it happened, the more I felt at home in the hands of a filmmaker who knows what needs to be done to tell a successful visual narrative.

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Hell on Earth, which marked the first time a Hellraiser film shot outside of creator Clive Barker’s native United Kingdom surroundings, features a few other shots that are worth mentioning as well. Among them, we get a few realization shots, a few foreground/background shots, and other various cinematic language demonstrations. One thing’s for sure, Hell on Earth could have been way more hell on the eyes. We thank you Cenobite Squad.

The Acting:

The acting in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is entirely adequate overall, with the exception of one performance . Look, it’s usually not my bag to trash a less than supporting role in a film. I just don’t feel compelled to do so. That said, Ken Carpenter is downright horrible in this. Playing cameraman Danial “Doc” Fisher to our heroine Joey’s investigative reporter, the man makes every line cause your skin to crawl. Not in a good way either. Every syllable rings like the bell at the running of the bulls, only you’re standing in the middle of the beast packed path.

A thespian who isn’t bad at all in the picture, on the other hand, is Terry Farell, who plays headline heroine Joanne “Joey” Summerskill.  The actress, who would later go on to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame (1993-1998), really brings a hunger to her role in the third entry in the Hellraiser series. What I like most about her performance, among many things, is her ability to portray perpetuated strength over time. See, Joey hasn’t been very successful in the business that leads to bleed. She just can’t get that big break. She hasn’t found that shooting star story. Farell plays the role with a hint of fight that makes us feel she’s been at it for a while. She won’t quit. Even when she doubts herself, and thinks about quitting, we get a sense she really doesn’t mean it. I enjoyed a lot about her performance.

Then there is Paula Marshall, who plays domestically abused Terri. The actress, who, in many ways outshines lead Farell, really brings a believable vulnerability to the role of Terri that I found admirable. She’s a good girl stuck in a bad situation. She means well. Come on, Pinhead, help her out. She also has amazing chemistry with lead Farell. This only makes the film a sadder experience due to what happens to Marshall’s character; her talents are wasted.

Last, but far from least, is Doug Bradley. Bradley, who had donned the makeup twice before to play hell’s favorite demon Pinhead, really chews the scenery in the picture. No time wasted, no scene taken for granted. Next to any other actor in the film, his scene crushing abilities makes those performers look worse. Unlike the two previous outings, this time around Mr. Bradley has to play the pinned one, as well as the human version of the infamous Cenobite, Elliot Spencer. It’s nice to see a different side of both the actor and the character, even though the endeavor is ultimately a misstep. More on that in the script section.

The Script:

Hell on Earth’ script is a glass half full type of endeavor. While the film’s script does in fact work, often going down like a fresh brewed beer on tap, the second half of the film miserably falls flat. This is due to one big blaring reason.

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In not sure where some of these screenwriters come from, but it frustrates me when franchises become about explaining the origins of the big baddie. Instead of creating key series’ protagonist, much like Friday The 13th’s Jarvis Trilogy, horror sequels seem hell bent on redundantly explaining why the villain is the villain. It’s mostly due to, I suspect, producers demanding the screenwriters to “give the people what they want.” This is stupid storytelling ideology.

Here, we get an insipid story line involving the good and bad parts of Pinhead being split. The bad being Pinhead, clearly, and the good being Elliot Spencer. This part of the narrative happens about halfway or two-thirds through the film, and the picture never recovers. It’s takes a otherwise smoothly working film and makes it shockingly clunky.

There are things that work in terms of script success though. The first half, the one seemingly and strikingly dedicated to fleshing out the actual characters, is actually pretty solid. Before all the Dr.Jeckel/Mr.Hyde rubbish begins to water down the script, we are presented with many great story strengthening ideas. These include, but not limited to, themes of domestic violence, perseverance, and the indelible ideas of life after life. Too bad the thought train is derailed by the mighty conductor Elliot Spencer.

The Verdict:

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is far from the worst sequel I’ve had the privilege of sitting through. While the film’s script drastically falls apart in the second half of the film, there’s still much to devour for you Deadites. I recommend the film for all the PinPals that can’t get enough of that old bald baddie from Hell. Others will still enjoy the third outting. So grab a loved one, grab a puzzle box and enjoy the fruits of the earth. Minus the Hell.

The Grade: C