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Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)
We’ve seen one house turned into a young woman’s private Hell. We’ve journeyed with that woman into Hell itself. What’s left, but Hell on Earth?
In this, the third in the Hellraiser series, the mighty Pinhead comes into his own. Yes, he was torn apart in Hellraiser II, but it’s not long before another thrillseeker resurrects the head Cenobite (the dangerously charismatic Doug Bradley), and this time he has more than one house at his disposal. A scene of inexplicable violence sparks the interest of a young journalist, Joey (Terry Farrell), and she is soon caught up in a bizarre battle between good and evil. Pinhead is creating a new army of Cenobites, with potentially the whole world as their playground. Yet he faces one worthy enemy: a face from the past, a familiar face, and one he could never have anticipated.
This wonderfully surprising sequel lives up in every way to the expectations raised by the first two films. Visually brilliant, Hellraiser III treats us to several new Cenobites, including a female who smokes a cigarette from a cavity in her throat, and a former sex-maniac whose addiction is represented by a piston constantly pumping into his head. Ignore, though, the too-silly DJ Cenobite, whose head is pierced by several CDs, and whose special gift is throwing said CDs at people. Riiight. Maybe that can be excused by the theory that CDs were still quite a novelty then, and new technology is frightening … or something. No. No, it can't.
Still, for the most part the visuals are stunning. New to this film is a slow-motion dreamscape style used for dream/nightmare sequences that is greatly reminiscent of scenes in Dario Argento’s Tenebre. These scenes in particular give the film its unique atmosphere. If Hellraiser’s scares are based on claustrophobia and Hellraiser II’s on grim surrealism, Hellraiser III makes us scared of our own reflection. Joey is inextricably entangled in Pinhead’s world. He haunts her dreams and he is very persuasive. And, there but for the grace of God go we.
"Not quite," smirks Pinhead at the mention of God. Yes, the incest’s gone (except for that ever-disturbing catchphrase), but in this film it’s replaced by another unsettling scare tactic: blasphemy. And isn’t Bradley good at it! "This is my body, this is my blood," he intones, standing at a church lectern in a gross parody of a mass – "Happy are they who come to my sabbat!" "You’ll burn in Hell for this!" declares the preacher (more aptly than he knows), but this revelation earns no more than a raised eyebrow from Pinhead. "Burn? Oh, such a limited imagination." Hellraiser III’s script is quite the best of the first three films. Pinhead’s one-liners are biting and achieve the effect of genuinely scaring you even as you laugh. They never follow our dear departed Freddy Kreuger into the dim realms of self-parody, for which we can all be very (or, in keeping with the theme, truly) thankful.
This is, in my opinion, the most entertaining of the first three Hellraiser films. Yet they all have something to offer. Hellraiser is by far the most frightening. Hellraiser II is the most visually exciting. Hellraiser III has the best script and the most intense performance from the ever-stunning Bradley. Rarely in the history of film have sequels complimented their originals so well. These should, all three, be called classics of the horror genre, and if you think there’s no such thing as a classic sequel, please wander along to Classic-Horror’s very entertaining and informative review of Bride of Frankenstein, or else watch this space for my upcoming review of Evil Dead II…
Director Anthony Hickox has a brief cameo as a soldier in Vietnam.