Blu-Ray Review: ‘Hellraiser: Revelations’

“Given its determination to be more like the first Hellraiser, Revelations earns some points. Sadly, it’s not enough to really feel like an actual return to form.”

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Hellraiser: Revelations, directed by Victor Garcia, and out on DVD and Blu-Ray on October 18th, is the ninth film in the Hellraiser series. I have actually seen all nine of these films, which not many people can say. And while I loved the first two Hellraiser films, and admire them for their fleshy horror, powerful mythology, and disturbing use of sexuality and S&M, I only watched the rest of the sequels as part of an undying hope that they would be a return to form. They weren’t really. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) changed the motivations of the central monster Pinhead to one of dull world domination, and Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) was recut to be a bit less dynamic, and was credited to Alan Smithee. And then, as is the case with most long-running film series (especially those that eventually go straight-to-video, as indeed, this ninth film did), the following sequels dwindled in quality and cogency right up through the eighth film, Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005), where the original Hellraiser (1987) was a film within the film, and the demons were all hallucinations brought on by a vengeful roofie.

This ninth film, at the very least, abandons the classical punitive Hell as presented in the film series since film #5, and tries to make Hell seem more like the extreme S&M paradise as depicted in parts one and two. Indeed, Revelations is so determined to tap into the original films that it begins stealing lines of dialogue wholesale. At one point, one character says “Pain and pleasure. Indivisible.” Right into the camera. This was a line spoken by the evil Frank in the first film. Revelations also adds an actually refreshing amount of twisted sexuality, including a rather close-up and unambiguous scene of incest. For a film series that started out being about sexuality, and in which being physically rent to pieces was depicted as the ultimate sexual experience, it’s nice to see this sequel inject some darkened sex back into it.

Sadly, the rest of the film is kind of limp, and has a plot that is a little too straightforward for its own good. There’s a twist partway through, but it’s not so interesting.

The story follows two twenty-something frat boy douchebags as they skip town to go to Tijuana. The film would have us believe that these two are amoral, Sadian hedonists, but they don’t do much more than drink tequila and bone hookers in public restrooms. They’re essentially any pair of white boys on Spring Break. Nico Bradley (played by Jay Gillespie, and presumably named after Doug Bradley, who played Pinhead in the previous eight films) is the more unhinged of the two, while Steven Craven (played by the handsome Nick Eversman, and again note the name) is the moral center of the two. After accidentally killing a hooker (that’ll be a 10 on the “Whoops” scale) they are approached by a dirty vagrant who presents them with a golden puzzle box. They manage to solve the box, causing Pinhead (Stephan Smith Collins) to appear and drag Nico into Hell. Eventually, he will be freed, albeit skinless, and the two of them will engage in a similar setup from the first Hellraiser, wherein Steven brings Nico victims to feed upon in order to grow his skin back.

All of this is told in flashback from a year in the future, where Nico and Steven’s families have gathered on the anniversary of their disappearances. Steven’s dad (Steven Brand) seems quiet and stern, but none of the other three parents seem to emerge as any sort of real personality. Steven’s little sister Emma (Tracey Fairaway) is a hot-to-trot teenager who is barely dressed in a low-cut top. That she looks 25 is typical of movies. Their little wake is interrupted when Steven mysteriously reappears at their door, sans Nico, mumbling cryptic things about their trip and the experiences they had. He seems to have the stink of evil on him, which his parents kind of ignore, and which makes his sister make out with him briefly.

A word on Pinhead: In the previous films, he was played by a tall, thin British actor. In this one, a younger American. The difference is mostly negative. Pinhead, even with a series of nails sticking out of his scalp, gave off an air of erudite menace. Like he was only here to do a job, and if you were to scream, he would only quietly savor it. He was like a supernatural Marquis de Sade. This new actor is a bit too… I dunno, brusque. Non-descript. Mean-spirited. He doesn’t have the class that the old Pinhead had. Pinhead, indeed, spends most of this film wandering around a darkened hallway, seemingly eavesdropping on his human prey. I would have preferred just not to see him. At least the film had gallons of real blood, and some pretty icky gore effects. It’s certainly not shy. And for a film like this, thank goodness.

Revelations is the first of the Hellraiser films to give the actual dictionary definition of the word “cenobite.” The monsters are all cool-looking, variously mutilated humans who seem to be experiencing the ultimate pleasure through their ultimate pain. They are called, in the series’ mythology, cenobites. The Revelations screenwriter, Gary J. Tunnicliffe, must have wanted to stress that it wasn’t a word made up for the series.

The Blu-Ray looks pretty enough, since it’s a new movie and transferred straight to the high-definition medium. The flying chains that are so familiar to fans of the series whizz by the back speakers a couple of times, but overall it’s not an impressive audio presentation. Hellraiser: Revelations is accompanied by a string of deleted scenes, which I didn’t have time to watch but must have been worth cutting since, at 77 minutes, it’s not like padding the film’s running time was out of the question.

So, given its determination to be more like the first Hellraiser, Revelations earns some points. Sadly, given its plot familiarity, oddball pacing, and running only 77 minutes, it’s not enough to really feel like an actual return to form. For the completists, go for it. For people unfamiliar with Hellraiser, my usual advice stands: Find the original.