Title: Hellraiser 4: Bloodline
Director: Kevin Yagher (credited as Alan Smithee) / Joe Chappelle (Uncredited)
Starring: Bruce Ramsay, Valentina Vargas, Doug Bradley, Charlotte Chatton, Adam Scott, Kim Myers, Mickey Cottrell, Louis Turenne, Courtland Mead, Louis Mustillo, Paul Perri, Pat Skipper, Christine Harnos, Michael Polish, Mark Polish
Plot: Engineer Dr. Paul Merchant (Ramsey) has sealed himself aboard “The Minos” a space station he designed as part of a final showdown he’s orchestrated with Pinhead (Bradley) as he reveals his families legacy and their part in the creation of the Lament Configuration to security officer Rimmer (Harnos)
Review: There’s a real sense of finality to this volume of the long running series and perhaps had the franchise not been questionably revived in 2000 with the Direct to DVD “Hellraiser: Inferno” perhaps this would have been the film to bring the series to a fitting close. Still during the pre-production series creator Clive Barker envisioned a three part film spanning three different time periods in an attempt to freshen up the series.
Despite Miramax giving the project the green light the project was compressed down into a single film which throughout its production remained a troubled one as both the cinematographer and Assistant director where replaced, while both the art department and camera crew were dismissed a week into the production. Somehow Yagher managed to still deliver the film not only only time but on budget yet Miramax executives where unhappy with the finished film and demanded rewrites to make Pinhead a prominent role determined it would seem still to make the character the poster boy for the series like Jason and Freddy had been for theirs, regardless of the fact that the “Hellraiser” films operated on more levels than a slasher. Yagher wasn’t overly opposed to these changes but instead was more concerned about the film drifting too far from the film he had turned in leaving the studio to bring in Joe Chappelle to implement the changes required to complete the film along the way cutting the film down from its original 110 min runtime down to 85, much to the dismay of Yagher who requested his name be removed from the film using instead the DGA pseudonym Alan Smithee.
Opening in the year 2127 which is always kind of a worrying sign that your franchise has gone into space seeing how its long served as where you put the franchise when your fresh out of ideas (see Jason X, Critters 4 and Leprechaun 4) but visualy its actually pretty intresting as here Yagher seems to be taking his set designs from “Alien” as Dr. Merchant remotely controls a robot to solve the puzzle box though why everyone seems to be sitting cross legged when they solve the box (robot included) remains a baffling oddity. From here though we flashback to the creation of the box in 1796 France by Dr. Merchant’s ancestor the French toymaker Phillip LeMarchand who makes the box for aristocrat and illusionist Duc de L’lsle (Cottrell) who gives the box its now all familiar power of opening a gateway to hell and which more interestingly he also uses to summon the demon Angelique (Vargas).
Angelique adds a new dimension to the series seeing how she is a demon in a human skin, in this case a former peasant girl and a far cry from the S&M favouring cenobites we have come to associate with the series. The relationship she shares with Pinhead is equally fascinating when he shows up in the modern day timeline to claim the soul of another of Dr. Merchant’s descendants this time the architect John Merchant whose skyscraper we saw at the end of “Hellraiser 3: Hell On Earth”. I just loved the idea that these two demons could approach their duties in such different ways with Pinhead being very much all business and likes to get straight into causing pain and suffering, while Angelique being an older demon prefers to corrupt her victims using temptation. Seeing such conflict makes a change of pace from just having Pinhead as the unquestioned leader even if this pairing is greatly toned down from the more violent relationship they shared in the original script. Sadly by the time we get into the future timeline and she has returned in Cenobite form she is a much more muted character and essentially just another member of Pinhead’s latest collective.
Pinhead gets a lot more depth added to his character in this entry, rather than just showing up and playing intimidation games with his intended victims, in this entry he is shown as actually having more of a goal than we have previously seen from him. Doug Bradley clearly realises the opportunity to flex his acting chops and really makes the most of his scenes, while selling this idea of the ongoing rivalry between the forces of hell and the bloodline of these characters who essentially take the role we’d no doubt expect to be represent by the forces of heaven in another production. True we might not get any great insights into his background or what drives him but the final confrontation between him and Dr. Merchant is another high point for the series and would have provided the perfect end note for the character had the allure of milking the franchise legacy for easy bucks not screwed things up.
As with the previous film the Cenobites here once more fail to live up to the legacy of the original group we got in the first two films even if they are certainly an improvement over the hodgepodge of ideas we got in the previous film. Cenobite Angelique is a forgettable design, while the Chatterer gets reworked into Pinhead’s pet dog known here as the Chatterer beast which is a fantastic design and practical effect. We also get a pair of twin security guards who are turned into the Twins cenobite which is another fantastic design and one which played a lot different than I expected. There is a scene around the halfway point of a chubby man being dragged into hell which I thought for a moment would be the creation of the Butterball cenobite which even though it might not have made sense in the time line would have still been nice to see, but sadly doesn’t happen here.
While the first past and present timelines have their interesting moments throughout, by the time we finally get back to the future timeline the events start to feel much more rushed leaving me to wonder if this segment had been where the most cuts had been made. More so when this segment really only serves to have the security team meet their demise in a number of gruesome and gory ways which have become such a cornerstone for the series though with the exception of a couple of deaths fall largely flat, while Rimmer killing the Chatterer beast screws up its pay off with the timing of its one liner which comes way too early to be effective.
This is by no means a perfect film, especially when it lingers for the most part around the ass end of okay, but at the same time the scope and ideas here make it such a fascinating mess and only more of a shame that like the entries which followed it has been largely forgotten it would seem as boxsets of the franchise always comprise of the first 3 films ignoring this film which truly can be seen as the end of that first saga. Yes it is a far cry from what the first two films established but at the same time for fans of the series its still an entry worth your time.