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Entries in Hellraiser: Bloodline [1996] (1)

Friday
Jul152011

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

Space Shuffle

I could be wrong about this, but I believe Hellraiser: Bloodline was the first horror movie to kick-off the "...in Space!" trend (as in, "It's Leprechaun...in Space!" and "It's Jason...in Space!). Had makeup-effects-artist-turned-director Kevin Yagher known that the fourth entry into this series would be such a pop landmark, he might have kept his name on the picture--instead of using the classic shame-onym, Alan Smithee.

Smithee does a decent job with the material. Though not as eerie as the first film or as unsettling and expansive as part two (we'll leave three alone for now), Bloodline is the most unique of the Hellraiser sequels; the story bounces from a futuristic space station orbiting Earth to eighteenth-century France to mid-nineties New York and back again with ease. The horror elements aren't frightening so much as weird and gross--which, honestly, appears to have been the aim.

Really, the person who should've removed his name from the movie is screenwriter Peter Atkins. In a moment, I'll tell you why.

Bloodline tells the story of Dr. Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay), a scientist working on a space station of his own design. The year is 2127, and he's just completed the most significant architectural structure in the history of man: an mirror-lined, inhabitable version of the series' puzzle box, which can summon the demons of Hell. Merchant's plan is to conjure, trap, and destroy the cadre of monsters who've haunted his family for centuries.

Before he can complete his mission, a military unit boards the station and takes him into custody. He'd gone rogue on his backers and dismissed the rest of the crew in order to carry out his secret work, and now finds himself being interrogated by an officer named Rimmer (Christine Harnos). Much of the film is told in flashback, as Merchant takes Rimmer on a tour of his cursed ancestry.

In the 1700s, a toymaker named Phillip L'Merchant (still Ramsay) is commissioned by French aristocrat Duc de L'Isle (Mickey Cottrell) to create a special puzzle box. The wood-and-brass faces shift and reconfigure themselves with the right touch, and de L'Isle appropriates its mystery for use in the dark arts--summoning a demon to inhabit the body of a peasant girl that his man-servant, Jacques (Adam Scott), murdered. The demon, Angelique (Valentina Vargas), betrays de L'Isle and spends the next couple of centuries as Jacques's slave, offering up sex and, apparently, agelessness.

On learning of what his box has brought forth, L'Merchant tries to steal it back to create a reverse gateway. Angelique catches him in the act and curses his bloodline to eternal torment before killing him. A couple hundred years later, New York architect John Merchant (Ramsay again!) begins having visions of Angelique, now a high-society temptress who's severed ties with Jacques. She visits Merchant's latest building, a towering, modern something-or-other with massive chunks of the puzzle box jutting out of every surface. Using a dumb businessman as bait, Angelique summons Hell's badass, Pinhead (Doug Bradley). Together, they plan to use one of L'Merchant's old designs to construct a permanent open door between Hell and Earth.

Obviously that doesn't work out, as evidenced by the film's future-set bookends. Indeed, Bloodline's middle portion is merely a rip-off of the climax of Wes Craven's New Nightmare with different actors and a monster that won't shut up.

Yes, here's where Atkins' script really hits the fan. He wrote the previous two installments, too, and each one became progressively more out-there and exponentially talkier. I have too much dignity to actually clock his screen time, but I'd bet Bradley spends a good ten (maybe thirteen) minutes monologue-ing during this barely-ninety-minutes picture. Worse yet, the words coming out of his mouth aren't interesting: they're like the bad, morbid poetry a preppy kid would write to woo the Goth hottie in English Lit.

Pinhead's pontificating drags the movie down so much that I could barely enjoy the brief pockets of levity, as when twin security guards get melded together to create a new member of Hell's army; or the film's last fifteen minutes, which manage to both presage Jason X (i.e. "...in Space!") and make it look like groundbreaking, high-production cinema. The rules of Hell become garbled, too: the fact that Pinhead can't tell a holographic projection of Merchant from the real thing calls the master cenobite's whole mystique into question--maybe he was distracted by the sound of his own booming voice.

It's a shame, too, because this didn't have to be the last theatrically released Hellraiser movie. The ideas are interesting, and the acting alternates (mostly) appropriately between over-the-top and sufficiently serious. The gore is inventive, particularly the scene where the formless Angelique fills in the skinned peasant girl's hide like someone trying on a sock that'ts two sizes too small.

I suspect the problem is that at some point, too late in the production, a lot of people realized they were making Hellraiser 4, and a little bit of their spirit got sucked into the malignant box of wasted creative energy. Retrospect is a bitch, though, and if any of them had had an inkling as to how magnificent their movie would look compared to the next decade-and-a-half of direct-to-video sequels, I'm sure at least the director would have proudly slapped his real name right back on the poster.