Hellraiser Franchise (ranked)

It’s only fair that on the heels of rewatching and doing a write up on the best horror franchise of all time means now I have to do the worst.

The Hellraiser films are the most consistently bad of any horror series I can think of. Well, that might be a stretch, but of the series with villains so notable (Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, Michael), this is surely true. And I knew this going into it, but I had still never seen beyond Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, so I figured, what the hell—lemme give them a chance.

As any regular reader of this blog may know, I am a huge fan of the Evolution of Horror podcast, and on their Patreon feed they covered this series 2 movies at a time, so that helped keep up the momentum more than anything else. I think if I hadn’t been listening to the episodes about these movies I would’ve given up around parts 6 or 7, when my partner did (who was trying to watch the series with me).

In my previous franchise rankings I neglected to include a little bit of my personal history with the films, which I regret. As such, I’ll give a quick rundown of my experiences with the Hellraiser films. The first one I ever remember seeing was Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. I must have been around 8 or 10 years old at the time, and it was playing on TNT or USA or some other cable TV Channel. Then when I was older, probably about 17 or so, I decided to watch the first one. I hated it. I thought it was boring and for a while was in the habit of saying, “Clive Barker sucks at telling a story.” (I know, I was dumb.) I watched the sequel, Hellbound, at some point in my early 20s and thought it was decent, but still didn’t quite stick with me. 5 or 6 years ago, I watched Hellraiser with my partner, who loves that film, and I was converted. I didn’t think it was absolutely brilliant, but I was on board and felt like I got it

And that’s about it, prior to these past few weeks in 2022, so let’s get to the rankings:

WARNING: I have included some stills from these body horror films, including images of piercings, suspension, blood, death, etc.

Hellraiser: Hellseeker (Part 6, 2002)

Oh god, where do I even begin. A boring movie about a boring man in which nothing actually happened? This is one of those movies that wasn’t initially a Hellraiser movie, but then they just injected some Pinhead into it. And you can feel that. Even if you didn’t know this going into it, you’d definitely pick up on something being off about it. Honestly though, Pinhead was the most interesting part of the movie, I can’t even imagine what trash it would’ve been without being a part of the franchise. They managed to bring back Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) which was exciting to see in the opening scene, but then she’s just not in the movie, aside from a flashback and a twist reveal, because she quickly “died.” Thankfully it was less than 90 minutes long. Despite this, it put me to sleep halfway through, and I had to finish it the next day.

He looks as bored as I did watching this. This is an image, but he isn’t struggling or squirming or anything, he’s just as still on film.

Worth a watch? Nope. Never. Seriously, don’t bother. It’s just absolutely boring and bad.

Hellraiser: Inferno (part 5, 2000)

This is basically the same as Hellseeker: tortured detective has to reckon with his actions. It’s not quite as bad, because there’s at least some stuff in there that pushes it across the threshold of “bad” to “so bad it’s funny.” The voiceover narration is so absolutely derivative and cliche that I thought it must have been some kind of parody. But it’s played seriously, and that’s baffling. Halfway through the movie, as they search for and attempt to rescue the child whose fingers (yes, fingers, not fingerprints) keep appearing at crime scenes, I thought to myself, “this is so stupid that it’s probably the main character as a child.” And I was right. 

There’s definitely a weird Lynch vibe throughout the movie. At one point, he talks with some random guy dressed like a cowboy (which made me think of Mulholland Drive, though Inferno actually predates that) who never turns up again. Shortly thereafter, he’s running through the woods and attacked by martial arts cowboys, credited as “Asian Cowboys.” You read that correctly. It’s got some of the Lynchian absurdity/unreliable camera, without any of the substance. 

And in the end, he’s killing himself or something? Because he’s become a cynical detective and he was such a happy kid? I don’t really know to be honest. And also Pinhead is there. It’s dumb.

Worth a watch? This one isn’t quite as hard of a “no” from me, but it’s definitely not even close to a “yes.” If you’re intrigued by any of this, just remember, it’s bad and mostly boring.

Hellraiser: Judgment (part 10, 2018)

Maybe a surprise to some that one of those not featuring Doug Bradley as Pinhead ranks higher than some that do, but hear me out: part 5 and 6 are so absolutely dreadful that I never want to watch them again. The position of this movie on my list has less to do with how good it was, and more to do with how terrible those are.

The first 15 minutes or so could be played at 5 speed and would read like a Marilyn Manson “Sweet Dreams” / “Beautiful People”-era music video. 

It’s another police procedural, with the added subplot of Pinhead and The Auditor, a member of the Stygian Inquisition, trying to find new ways to get people’s souls. This movie is confusing and hard to follow, possibly because I found myself looking at my phone quite a bit. Some of the set pieces were pretty good though. And I’m impressed they were able to get Heather Langenkamp (known for portraying Nancy in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise) on board, who is regularly offered roles in horror films and turns them down. I’m wondering what it was that made her want to do this one, but either way, I was pleasantly surprised to see her.

Judgment ends Pinhead’s reign in hell. At the end of the movie, he attacks an angel who’s gotten in his way for the last time, and what happens to him? God banishes him to a life on earth, as a homeless mortal man in LA.

Worth a watch? Eh. No. Not really.

Hellraiser: Revelations (part 9, 2011)

The definition of low-budget horror. I mean, look at that Pinhead on the cover: It’s like they took the worst Pinhead (part 3, while he’s stuck in the statue) and photocopied it about eighty times. This is the first movie in the franchise not to include Bradley’s Pinhead, but even if he’d been involved, it certainly would not have been any better.

At first I was excited, thinking they’d made a found footage Hellraiser. The best parts of the movie might be those found footage bits, since that style can often hide serious flaws in production, which appear in abundance in Revelations. No surprises though, as the film was made over the course of about a month.

It’s entirely possible this movie could’ve really done something new and great with the franchise, but it was doomed from the beginning. Given the state of it, I’d say the one saving grace is that the filmmakers had the decency of making it barely over 70 minutes long. And this movie is so bad it’s funny—so many times I laughed at it.

Worth a watch? Not really, but I could see watching this with some friends over beers and a pizza. Something I can’t really say for most of the Hellraiser franchise.

Hellraiser: Bloodline (part 4, 1996)

Speaking of Hellraiser films that were ruined by the studios…Apparently the original script for this movie would’ve had it play out as a two-and-a-half-hour epic, told in chronological order, beginning with LeMarchand creating the Lament Configuration and ending in space with his distant descendant figuring out how to destroy it and contain the cenobites. I would’ve been all for that. Unfortunately, that is not the movie that was made.

As it stands, Bloodline is kind of just a mess. Skipping back and forth across three different time periods isn’t necessarily a problem, but the way it’s done here is just confusing. At times there’s too much exposition and at others there’s almost none. It seems like some of the stuff that got cut out of the original script must have been the glue that held this scattered narrative together.

It’s Pinhead in space, and it looks like this.

Worth a watch? I don’t think I want to rewatch it, but I am glad to have seen it at least once. Also especially fun to watch nowadays, because believe it or not, this is Adam Scott’s debut film.

Hellraiser: Deader (part 7, 2005)

I was really relieved to have a movie not about some guy. Following the journalist Amy Klein was a nice change of pace. That said, this is still just not a very good movie at all. It’s another one of those that wasn’t originally conceived as a Hellraiser movie, and they just shoehorned Pinhead into it. 

But there were a good number of elements of this movie that I enjoyed. I thought the secret train nightclub was hilarious, Marla dead in the bathroom was definitely creepy, and I disliked the LeMerchand descendant so much it was fun seeing him destroyed by the cenobites’ chains.

Way late in the film, Amy is haunted (or something) by undead Marla, who gives her leads and tells her what she knows. Once I realized that was possible I was thoroughly confused as to why the whole of the film wasn’t just Marla and Amy, figuring it out. I would’ve loved so much if they’d done this American Werewolf in London-style interaction with the dead.

This movie would’ve been at least twice as good had she been followed around by Marla (right) and just heckled or given clues or whatever…quite the missed opportunity.

Worth a watch? I mean. Sure. It’s not good, but there’s some fun stuff in there.

Hellraiser: Hellworld (part 8, 2005)

Ok, it’s ridiculous, it doesn’t make much sense, it’s poorly acted and lacks any understanding of the world of the original quadrilogy of Hellraiser films, but it’s just fun. It’s exactly what 17 year old me wanted when I watched the Hellraiser and said, “this is bad and boring.” 

A bunch of young adults go to a party and are killed one by one. A recipe for a good time. Plus Lance Henrickson has a significant role in this movie and he’s awesome. I don’t like that the stuff that happens doesn’t actually happen in this movie. If you’re watching these in chronological order, you’ve just seen two movies where people experience a bunch of weird shit only to find out at the end that “it’s all in their minds.” The movies that weren’t written as Hellraiser movies in the first place tended to just make everything not real, I guess, in a lazy effort to shove Pinhead in there at the end. Even still, this movie is fun.

I’m not sure how, and I’m not sure why, but Lance Henrikson is here and Hellworld is all the better for it.

Worth a watch? Did you like Hell on Earth and do you want a movie with lots of kills and more Pinhead than usual? Then, yes. This might be a movie for you. Also it’s Doug Bradley’s last time playing Pinhead.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

As mentioned, this was my first Hellraiser movie. For a while it was what I would’ve expected from this franchise: a variety of cenobites wreaking havoc with Pinhead as their ringleader. That’s not at all even what the first two installments are, let alone the rest of the franchise, but it works in this one. 

This is not a good movie, almost none of the Hellraiser movies are. The acting isn’t all that good, the effects are hit or miss, the characters make weird choices, and it departs vastly from its predecessors. Nevertheless, this movie brings the laughs—and I think most of the time it’s laughing with us. 

The nightclub scene when Pinhead is released from the column is definitely one of my favorite sequences in any Hellraiser movie. The nightclub scene is amazing crowded-space-chaotic horror, similar to the museum party at the end of Wishmaster. Joey running through the streets of (clearly not New York) “New York,” with explosions and police blockades destroyed by the cenobites was a blast. It’s not dissimilar to war film set pieces, and given Joey’s recurring dreams about her father and Pinhead’s human life, it works. Honestly, that and the nightclub scene are what I wanted with Jason Takes Manhattan

Generally speaking, when a movie attempts to really outline a franchise killer’s backstory, for example Rob Zombie’s Michael or the last two decades worth of Leatherface plots, it just ruins so much of their intrigue, but here I really didn’t mind. It does make me wonder, if he’s been cenobiting since about 1917, who was doing it before him? He just carries himself like an eternal.

Worth a watch? Yes. Doubly so if you didn’t like the first two.

Hellraiser (1987)

While I definitely recant my foolish younger-self’s opinion that this movie is bad and boring, I’m not quite as in love with it as many others are. It’s a very well-made movie, with outstanding performances throughout, most notably that of Claire Higgins. 

The story itself is fairly straightforward, but also entirely different from what you’d expect if you’ve never seen any Hellraiser film. My disappointment hinged on the fact that we always see Pinhead alongside classic slasher villains, so going into this movie, I fully expected him to be more like that. The real villain in the movie is Frank. Pinhead is only present for about 10 minutes total. And on seeing the movie when I was older, I realized there’s just so much more to it than your standard slasher. 

Setting aside the body horror elements and the stunning special effects (that mostly hold up even today), The film finds meaning in the blurred lines between pain and pleasure and the juxtaposition between the love interests in Julia’s life, being torn between her boring husband Larry and the dangerous and sexy Frank. The addition of Kirsty to the film gives audiences a final girl, appropriate for the era, and though I haven’t read Clive Barker’s story that he based this movie on, The Hellbound Heart, I can’t really imagine the film without her.

Everyone always quotes the line “We have such sights to show you”
But the scene gets really funny to me because Kirsty (like seemingly everyone else who’s ever touched the Lament Configuration) immediately solves the box, and Pinhead exclaims, “No…Don’t…Do That!”

Hellraiser is definitely not the kind of schlocky 80s horror movie that a younger audience may be expecting, but rather a deeper exploration of fear and pleasure, pain and the body, much more akin to David Chronenberg’s The Fly.

Frank in Larry’s skin is so much creepier than skinless Frank.

Worth a watch? Absolutely, this is top tier horror.

Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988)

I’m sure that for most people the original is the best one, but for me, I just really loved all the ways Hellbound expanded on the original. Beyond that, I always liked Julia so much more than Frank. She’s way more interesting as an antagonist, complex and somewhat sympathetic, whereas Frank is thoroughly unlikeable. While Julia doesn’t display as much complexity or evoke as much sympathy as she does in the original, we still have that background and know how she ended up where she did. 

The world of the cenobites is also really cool to me, and I really like the way they built it up compared to the original film. I’m not usually a big sci-fi/fantasy fan, but this works really well in context.

This set piece is so effective. I was really scared that they were going to take and torture Tiffany after she opened the Lament Configuration at Dr. Channard’s behest—turns out the cenobites have a code. “It is not hands that draw us,” Pinhead commands, “it is desire.”

The transformation of Dr Phillip Channard into cenobite is fun—I really do enjoy the puns he delivers before killing. Though it’s a bummer he does make such short work of the other cenobites: Pinhead, The Female, The Chatterer, and Butterball. It would’ve been fun if there had been at least a struggle between them. Apparently all you need to do to kill cenobites is stab them with something sharp?

Channard Cenobite, which isn’t called “The Doctor,” but absolutely should be.

Worth a watch? Definitely, but you really ought to watch the first one before seeing this one, since this picks up basically the same night or next day after the end of the events of Hellraiser (1987).

What I’m hoping for/excited about with Hellraiser 2022

First and foremost, I’m very excited to see Jamie Clayton portray Pinhead. I don’t know much about this film, except that it’s a re-interpret of Barker’s The Hellbound Heart (which I probably should’ve read before writing this, and almost certainly will read before watching the upcoming remake). I’ve heard that Kirsty’s character didn’t exist in the novella, but looking at the actors involved with this project, I’m thinking there will be another Kirsty, or at least a final girl type involved. 

Body horror has definitely been essential to the horror genre over the past few years (Julia Ducournau’s Raw & Titane, Mimi Cave’s Fresh, Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, Brandon Chronenberg’s Possessor, to name a few), so it seems like the perfect time to bring back this staple of the sub-genre. Director David Bruckner is also known for The Night House, which has a lot to like about it, and The Ritual, which was absolutely stellar (one of the best creature designs ever), so I’m confident that he can do some great stuff with Barker’s material. Writers Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski also co-wrote The Night House. Given what I know about it at this point, there isn’t much about it that’s giving me pause or concern.

I’m sorry to say I don’t stand with Doug Bradley on this one.

Final thoughts

I noticed a trend in my last couple lists (Scream, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) where I don’t say much about the one that’s my favorite. That’s because, in my opinion, everyone should just watch the best of those franchises—the original films. It’s hard to write just what it is I love about such quintessential horror films in a couple paragraphs, and given that I agree with the general consensus, I don’t feel the need to defend or explain. However, I think my pick for number one in this franchise (as well as that of the Friday the 13th franchise) may call for a bit more of an explanation. That’s why I went into it more so with this one than those others. 

I’m glad to have watched the series—and now you don’t really have to. You’re welcome. Unfortunately, the experience of watching the latter Hellraiser films is not quite so meta as it could’ve been: there’s not much pleasure to be had in them as you continue putting them on for yourself, only dread and torment.

2 thoughts on “Hellraiser Franchise (ranked)

  1. I can respect this ranking. Hellbound is a fantastic sequel. Its strength is how it expands on the story, instead of repeating it, like you said. The first two are the only real “good” ones for me.

    3 tried to convert a dark fantasy body horror into a slasher, which is like forcing Black Sabbath to record a pop album. There’s some cool stuff mixed with the cheesy stupidness, but I’m not a big fan. And what’s with the end where the building resembles the puzzle box? How does that affect anything?

    4 I don’t like. The DTV entries are cheap psychological thrillers with minimal Pinhead and twists that negate the whole movie. They’re ok for what they are.

    I remember the (first) one without Doug Bradley having astonishingly bad acting and a home invasion type angle with the Cenobites?

    I have zero recollection of there being a second Bradley-less sequel.

    I’ve been reading about the remake since like 2008. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I also had no idea about the 2018 hellraiser tbh, until I was listening to the franchise series on a podcast. The whole series of movies is kind of a mess, i wanted to meet them where they are and be a generous as possible, but with some it was just not happening ha.

      Liked by 1 person

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