In 1987, Clive Barker unleashed the first film in the "Hellraiser" saga onto the masses, from his literary work "The Hellbound Heart." The first film was, and still is in many ways, an iconic, classic entry in the horror genre. The rest is history. At the time I am writing this review, the series has spanned nine films (with rumors of a TV-show possibly in the works), and countless spin-off media including a popular line of graphic novels and comics.
"Hellraiser" is a staple in horror, which is what makes this latest film so infuriating and heart-wrenching.
"Hellraiser: Revelations" is the latest in the series (beginning with the fifth film, all releases have skipped theaters and been plagued with lower budgets and even lower-grade actors and crews). Directed by Victor Garcia (from a script he also co-wrote), this mess of a film is DOA, with lame-brained acting, penny-pinching special effects, and a horrid plot that is essentially a lazy re-imagining of the original film. This is a slap-in-the-face to fans of the series, who have stuck by it even as the later sequels got worse and worse following the surprisingly strong second film. (Which is one of the rare horror sequels that had any thought to it, and is arguably almost as good as the original, despite obvious differences in tone and scope.) Beginning with the third film, the series took a nose-dive, although one or two entries, notably the fifth film, were watchable and enjoyable. This one, however, is the worst of the bunch.
Two spoiled young men, Nico and Steven, vanished sometime ago during a wretched trip to Mexico where they partook in prostitutes and copious partying. After murdering a prostitute, and after being given the mysterious puzzle box by a vagrant, Nico solved it, summoning "Pinhead" (played by a new actor... more on that later), whom dragged him to hell. Steven brings Nico back from hell via sacrifices, and later shows up to a house where he and Nico's family are having dinner.
At the house, Emma, Steven's sister, finds the box, and eventually the families begin to experiences strange and bizarre things over the film's anemic 75-minute running time, before a series of lame-brained twists that I won't spoil ends the film in an abrupt and very anti-climactic climax.
First the acting. I haven't really seen any of the actors in this film before (which I'm guessing is due to the almost non-existent budget preventing us from getting any name-actors), so I don't have anything to compare them to. But the acting was uniformly foul. All emotions by all parties seem forced, and our two leads (Jay Gillespie and Nick Eversman) are about as believable in their performances as a sheep wearing a dollar-store werewolf mask trying to blend into a pack of wolves. They simply cannot act.
Technically, the film is a mess. Garcia's shot-choices are bland, boring, and scream "inexperienced film-school student", and the lighting is atrocious. I was shocked to learn the cinematographer was David Armstrong, whom proved himself to be a capable DP on numerous other films, including six of the seven "Saw" films. Here, all of the lighting and shots seem hastily thrown together, and you could tell Mr. Armstrong didn't have enough time or motivation to work with. I study film and video production at college, and I've seen student-films shot on standard-def camcorders that look better than this from a technical standpoint.
The effects are also lousy. The cenobites looks soul-lessly designed, and their costumes looks like cheap rental-store robes. Pinhead's new design doesn't work and has too much shadow-work around his needles and creases/cuts, making him look a bit goofier than the eerie paper-white look of past films. Gore effects are phoned-in, with cheap, obvious prosthetics. The few CG-type effects are hilariously cheap looking. The set-design is bland and uninspired as well. Especially in the Hell scenes, which haven't been updated since the original film. Hell's still just a mass of swinging chains and pillars, which worked in the original film due to some excellent shots by Barker and the fact we hadn't seen anything like it before, but looks silly and cheap nowadays.
And onto the biggest complaint most people have... and a very justifiable complaint it is. Doug Bradley, whom portrayed Pinhead in all eight previous films skipped out on this one. He wasn't pleased by the script or the next-to-nothing paycheck, so he bailed. Our new Pinhead is portrayed by Stephen Smith Collins, with voice-over work by Fred Tatasciore. And good-lord, is the performance(s) bad!
I already mentioned the new makeup for the character's head didn't work as well as in previous films. But I could forgive that if the performances for the role were good. They aren't. First of all, Collins, who does the on-screen acting just doesn't look the part. He looks more like a light-weight professional wrestler with his head-shape. And his body language doesn't have any of the poetry or art of Bradley. He performs the role as though he had no rehearsals or prep-time, and is timidly being told what to do by the director off-screen. He seems in over his head. And Tatasciore's voice-over work is laughable. Gone is the booming voice of past films, which was dripping with darkness and emotion. Now, Pinhead sounds kinda like Don LaFontaine (the man known for providing voice-over work as the narrator of just about every movie trailer before his untimely death) trying to whisper with a bad Eurpoeon accent while suffering a sore-throat. It's just... awful.
This film is undoubtedly a career-killer for most involved, and it may just kill the franchise. It's beyond awful, and I give it a 1 out of 10, not just for being a bad film, but for being a tarnish on the classic original's legacy. Avoid this, I saw it for free on Netflix, and I still feel like the studio owes me a refund!
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