Starring Doug Bradley, Lance Henriksen, Katheryn Winnick, Henry Cavill
Directed by Rick Bota
Distributed by Echo Bridge Entertainment
Anyone remotely familiar with Hellraiser as a franchise is acutely aware of its languishing prestige at the hands of the Brothers Weinstein. Sure, the creative team behind each film likely did whatever they could to make the best possible movie under the given circumstances, but when you’re working with scripts that were never intended as part of the Hellraiser mythos in the first place, it’s not terribly difficult to understand why the later collection of loose sequels failed to resonate with fans.
The eighth entry in the series, Hellworld keeps with the tradition of the last few films as having started out as something different entirely. Previously, a script called Deader was re-written and fashioned into Hellraiser: Deader. This time, the source material was a short story by Neo Art & Logic boss man Joel Soisson, which was then reworked to accommodate the world of Cenobites, puzzle boxes and Lemarchand. Sort of. Considering that Hellraiser is perhaps the only franchise which could’ve possibly sustained multiple entries without ever repeating itself, it’s a shame that the powers that be have decided to squander its potential time and time again.
For a hefty chunk of the first act (and some of the second), Hellworld looks like it could be the best of Dimension’s direct-to-video sequels. Granted, there’s a terribly melodramatic opening scene so detached from everything else that one can potentially solve all the climactic ‘surprises’ – providing you’re willing to assume that’s where the producers are going to take a Hellraiser sequel (read: somewhere the franchise should never have gone). But moving beyond the hackneyed setup (in which the death of a close friend causes strife amongst a group of PC gamers), it was looking promising for Hellworld – at least in theory.
The rest of the film deals with a group of friends (the gamer group) who’ve been invited to a party at Leviathan House – an isolated mansion in the middle of nowhere – to partake in an evening of debauchery directly related to the ‘Hellworld’ video game (which somehow manages to utilize Pinhead’s actual voice) they’re all obsessed with. These characters are unsympathetic, screenwriter Carl Dupre’s dialogue is so unforgivably atrocious (”this is from the Norman Bates school of design.”, says a character upon arriving at the house that looks nothing like that Bates house) and painfully obvious CGI really crush this sucker before it ever has a chance of taking off – but there’s still a nifty setup that occasionally created the illusion that the filmmakers behind this one were working hard to expand the Hellraiser mythology. At least initially.
The party is hosted by Lance Henriksen, who is revealed to be an avid collector of all things pertaining to the Lament Configuration. The kids are all into this as well, and the mansion is revealed to have been Philip Lemarchand’s second greatest creation (behind that crazy puzzle box, of course). So there’s an interesting stage set that, at last, promises to do something more with Hellraiser. Unfortunately, after the first-act setup, the story devolves into something of a generic slasher film, with Pinhead showing up to, yes, murder the guests one-by-one. All of this is done to drive home a series of ludicrous twists in the finale and, at this point, it’s probably safe to reveal that Henriksen turns out to be behind the whole thing.
The issue here isn’t that Hellworld isn’t really a Hellraiser movie, rather that director Rick Bota and writers Joel Soisson (story) and Carl Dupre (script) never bother exploring the themes of obsession and sex that are intrinsically Hellraiser. That Lance turns out to be the tired and true villain is hardly surprising to anyone who’s watched a movie in the last twenty years, but that the story blows the perfectly good premise of showcasing his character’s obsession with vengeance is the real shame. The final five minutes are a bona fide Hellraiser film – the one which should’ve been the focal point of this entire narrative. Instead it’s an afterthought. Kind of like everything else happening here.
Echo Bridge brings Hellraiser: Helllworld to 1080p high definition in a transfer that hangs somewhere in the outer wrung of acceptable. Banding issues are apparent from time to time, and flesh-tones are a bit on the cold side – and without much texture. Blacks are oftentimes grey and there’s not much depth to the image. That said, it’s a clean print, with some above-average color separation. Nothing special, though this is a step up from the ‘HD’ streaming version currently offered through Netlfix. Unless you’re the hardest of the hardcore Hellraiser fans however, this isn’t a must have.
On the audio front, Echo Bridge seems to have been listening to the steady stream of feedback they’ve collected. Hellworld offers a lossy 5.1 Dolby surround track that certainly heightens the viewing experience a bit. Rear-channels are oft-used and aggressive, with musical stings, off-camera dialogue and sound FX all booming through your surround speakers. Leviathan House is given a nice boost of ambiance because of this, while main dialogue remains confined to the front-center speaker. While Echo Bridge really needs to jump into the realm of lossless audio for their next crop of releases, this is a step in the right direction.
And speaking of steps in the right direction, Hellworld carries over all of the supplemental material previously offered on the Dimension DVD. It’s not much, but the commentary from the Neo Art & Logic crew of Bota, Soisson, Nick Phillips and FX man Gary Tunnicliffe is a worthwhile listen. It’s an amiable discussion, fairly honest and with some good rapport amongst the four. There’s no reason to treat the Hellraiser franchise this way, however, so it’s hard to extend them too many accolades for what amounts to a fluffy, goof-off track. There’s also a little making-of that really doesn’t amount to very much. The annoying characters in the film are every bit as annoying in their interviews so while I don’t recommend this little documentary, I laud Echo Bridge for recognizing that horror fans like extra features on their discs. They’re not quite there yet (especially since the back of the package hilariously lists the commentary and documentary as one feature: Commentary Track: Ticket to Hell – whoops!), but it shows that they’re trying.
Hellraiser: Hellworld is pretty bad. It’s not badly made and it’s nice to see Neo Art & Logic striving to give their films some degree of production value. But with a script this lousy it’s almost impossible to recommend. Echo Bridge’s Blu-ray doesn’t offer stellar picture, but the sound quality is very strong and the inclusion of bonus features is nice touch. Pinhead completions may enjoy the upgrade once the disc goes on sale, but everyone else is better off forgetting the Hellraiser series actually climbed this high.
1 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
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