I find it amazing how your own film tastes can change over the course of a few years. Certain films that are revisited suddenly appear to be better than when they were first viewed. Case in point would be my first reaction to watching Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth back in the late 90s. Having borrowed the VHS from a friend back in school (it seems all my first horror watches stem from this time period), I was apprehensive about putting it into my player.
Having borrowed the second film from the same friend a few weeks previous, I looked forward to seeing what this third instalment would bring. Alas during my viewing I found my attention span wavering and hoped the conclusion would come sooner. And that was that, I gave up on the Hellraiser franchise three films in, finding Hell on Earth ironically serving of its title.
Cut to 15 years later (that single set of words has made me feel old all of a sudden) and I find myself revisiting Hell on Earth with a fresh set of eyes. Over the years my taste in the different sub-genres of horror films has yo-yoed from my teens to my (now) late 20s. I thought the time was now ripe to repay a visit to some of the VHS horrors I watch all those years ago.
A third part to any franchise is always seen as the black sheep of the films that preceded it. Yet over the years I’ve found that it’s sometimes the second sequel which holds the more interesting ideas. For instance, while I originally liked Hellbound more than Hell on Earth, my taste has shifted drastically as I find the latter film to more watchable, although flawed. I think that’s why I enjoy it that little bit more, its flaws make It that much more interesting. Let me explain.
While many fans of the series find Hell on Earth to be the point where Pinhead became a little ‘too Freddy’ in his black humour, yet I find it to be the moment when he steps out from behind the shadows and becomes a more menacing force. The inclusion of his past life back story (that of Captain Elliot Spencer) is a welcome addition and helps sheds more light on my he turned to using the Lament Configuration box.
But what is a Hellraiser film without a strong female heroine? Well instead of Kirsty and her amazing scream (seriously watch the first part again, that woman has a set of lungs on her) we get news reporter Joey and her quest to uncover Elliot’s past.
Personally I think Joey is a slightly more interesting character than Kirstie, she starts off as a dolled-up reporter and slowly metamorphoses into a smart hero. It also helps that Joey has an interesting relationship with the troubled Terri, whereas in Hellbound it was Kirstie helping the mute Tiffany, in Hell on Earth the Banter between the two female characters is infinitely more interesting.
Then we have the Cenobites walking around in our world, or rather we get the Pseudo-Cenobites created by Pinhead as he sees fit. If the two previous instalments had him with a menacing, calm and controlled persona, Hell on Earth is where Pinhead has a kind of breakdown and over-indulges in his need for destruction and torture.
While none of the Pseudo-Cenobites are as terrifying as the originals (Chatterer will always make my skin crawl), their designs are still thoroughly impressive, particularly with that happens to Terri (I genuinely winced) and the affectionately known CD. All of which is largely down to Bob Keen’s still top-notch make-up effects.
Speaking of Keen’s effects the film has several stand-out moments of Cenobite inflicting violence at the hands (or should that be chains) of Pinhead. The Boiler-Room club massacre is one particular moment that I remember constantly wincing at, mainly due to the hooks digging into the party-goers flesh and tearing out organs. Gloriously over the top and unapologetic, Doug Bradley shows just how malicious and cruel Pinhead can be.
The more I write about Hell on Earth, the more I begin to like it even though it’s not highly regarding by many fans. I can understand that as it does loose part of its gothic charm and British sensibilities from the first two instalments. While Hell on Earth does feel more Americanised I still feel it’s possibly the last good Hellraiser film – I think the less said about the DTV sequels the better.
I also feel the reason Hell on Earth has grown in my estimation over the years, is the fact I’ve become quite fond of director Anthony Hickox’s work. Everything from Waxwork 1 & 2 through to films like Full Eclipse (yes I like this trashy werewolf/cop film) are pieces of perfect Friday night entertainment. Yes they made Pinhead too cocky and yes it has a slightly dull mid-section, but overall I feel this is supremely underrated sequel and one which (at least from my perspective) is more re-watchable than Hellbound at times.