Monkey Goes To Hell by Frank Marmoset
Some of you may remember I was recently murdered by fictional serial killer Jason Voorhees. As a result of this, my soul has been cast into the fiery pit of Hell. It’s not clear what I did to deserve eternal damnation – is masturbating to Avril Lavigne videos a sin? – and I’m pretty bummed about the situation. Luckily, I just met a friendly chap with nails in his face who says he can help me out. According to him, all I have to do to escape Perdition is journey through each of Hell’s nine circles, earning passage from one circle to the next by watching a gruelling series of demonic films, each more horrifying than the last.
Pffft. Doesn’t this guy know I’ve seen every film Jennifer Aniston has ever made? Compared to that, this should be a cakewalk.
Circle I – Hellraiser (1987)
The first trial on my journey is Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, which turns out to be not much of a trial at all. It’s actually a pretty good film. Flawed, but good.
The story revolves around a mysterious puzzle box (the Lament Configuration) that grants its user access to a hellish netherworld of sex, sadomasochism, and flesh-tearing fish hooks. One man, Frank Cotton, escapes from this Disneyland for the bondage crowd into his brother‘s attic; but pretty soon Frank’s buddies from Hell – the demonic Cenobites – want him back, presumably because they’re planning an awesome barbed wire orgy and they don’t want him to miss out.
Writer/director Clive Barker is an accomplished painter as well as a novelist, so it’s no surprise that Hellraiser’s greatest strength is its imagery. Whether it’s the grisly sight of Frank walking around skinless, diabolical visions of clanking chains and chunks of flesh, or the slaughterhouse-meets-S&M chic of the Cenobites, it’s clear Barker has a knack for creating horrific images that stay with you long after the film is over. The Cenobites, in particular, are brilliantly nightmarish inventions.
The film has its share of flaws, most notably some inexcusable post-production effects. Barker claims to have done them himself over a single drunken weekend, which explains their shoddiness, but they‘re an unfortunate blight on what is an otherwise very good film. There was also a belated attempt to Americanise the film, achieved by dubbing American accents onto British actors, which is a little awkward and distracting.
But given the film’s many strengths, particularly its originality and striking imagery, a few superficial flaws are easy enough to overlook. Hellraiser’s mix of gore, demons, fish hooks, murder and sex is still effective and its status as a classic horror is well deserved.
Important note: The character who became the figurehead for this series is the lead Cenobite, named (unofficially at first, officially later) Pinhead. This, I think, is the worst name for a monster in the entire horror genre. It’s like calling Jason Voorhees ‘Masky’ or Freddy Krueger ‘Burnyfaceknifefingers’. Therefore, for the rest of this review, I’ll be calling him Gary, because even Gary is a more menacing name than Pinhead.
Circle II – Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Oh, you devious bastards. I see what you’ve done here: set me up with an easy first film, lull me into thinking Hell isn’t so bad, then POW! you hit me with Hellraiser II, a film so nonsensical it’s like it was made by bears with a rudimentary understanding of camera equipment.
Well played, sirs. Well played.
To be fair to Hellraiser II, it’s a film hamstrung by its limited budget. The idea was to expand the Hellraiser mythology by taking characters from part I on a dark adventure through the underworld. Unfortunately, the film’s bargain basement Hell looks like it was shot in a particularly drab sewer. Hell has often been depicted as a place beneath the ground, but I had always assumed it was a little deeper than where poop goes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live.
Problem two is the story, which resists comprehensibility like Lindsay Lohan resists sobriety. The characters are poorly defined, it’s never completely clear what everyone is doing or why they‘re doing it, and many scenes make almost no sense whatsoever. Even the eventual reveal of Hell’s overlord – a giant rotating grey diamond that shoots out black smudges of what can only be described as ‘something’ – is utterly baffling.
The final nail in Hellbound’s coffin is its villain, a newly created Cenobite, who shrugs off the gravitas and otherworldly menace that made the Cenobites so memorable in part I and instead wanders about reciting a string of cheesy one-liners that would make Freddy Krueger cringe. He is then defeated by accidental self-decapitation, which in my opinion is even more humiliating than being killed by Corey Feldman.
Watching Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a bit like having someone put an egg whisk in your brain and swirl it around. Not a bad way to torture an idiot trying to escape from Hell, but not much fun if you wanted to see an entertaining film that makes some sort of sense.
Circle III – Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992)
In Hellraiser III, our friend Gary the Cenobite is trapped in a statue. What’s that you say? Why is he trapped in a statue? Come on, man, didn’t you read my review of Hellraiser II? The Hellraiser sequels laugh in the face of coherence. They mock common sense. They point at reason and make humiliating farty sounds with their armpits. All you need to know is Gary plans to escape from his inexplicable confinement and only a pretty journalist can stop him before he unleashes Hell on Earth.
Part III is not a completely muddled mess like part II, so let‘s give it a point for that. But, hey, how about we take that point right back for introducing a new group of Cenobites who, instead of being menacing and nightmarish, are based on goofy visual gimmicks, like one has a video camera embedded in his eye and another kills people by… I feel dirty just saying this… throwing CDs at people.
So while Hellraiser III feels like it was made by actual humans instead of cinematically curious bears, they’re not very clever or talented humans and they ruined the only good thing this series had going for it – the Cenobites – by turning them into silly jokes. Maybe I should not have been so harsh with the bears who made part II. They did pretty well considering their lack of opposable thumbs and constant need to shit in the woods.
Circle IV – Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)
Here’s an idea for a film I’d rather be watching right now: Bellraiser. In this film, when you solve a magical puzzle box Kristen Bell appears and is adorable. There’s no story or anything, she just stands there being adorable, that‘s it. Unfortunately, Gary says I have to watch more of this Hellraiser nonsense. I’m starting to think he’s kind of a dick.
Sorry about this, but I can’t tell you what Hellraiser IV is about. It has something to do with the genesis of the Lament Configuration, an incomprehensible plan which sees Gary teaming up with a pleasantly breasted female demon, an evil Cenobite dog that looks like it was chewed up and spat out by a much larger evil Cenobite dog, three generations of guys in three different centuries, two French dandies, a space station, and a partridge in a pear tree for all I know. An evil partridge in a demonic pear tree.
It’s possible the chaos of Hell has discombobulated me, compromising my ability to properly understand stories . Alternatively, it could be that Hellraiser IV is to coherent storytelling what a troop of howler monkeys are to polite dinner conversation.
Suffice to say, just when I thought the Hellraiser series couldn’t get any more balls, they found a way to make it even more balls. Luckily, Peter Atkins – the man who wrote Hellraisers II, III and IV – left the series after this instalment, presumably content with his achievement of taking Clive Barker‘s original idea and sinking it in a lake of unintelligible claptrap. So without Atkins’s input, the series should improve, right? RIGHT?
Circle V – Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)
With Hellraiser: Inferno the series shifts its emphasis away from Gary and the Hellraiser mythology and toward dreary psychological thrillers containing just (barely) enough Hellraiser elements to justify the use of a marketable brand name in the title, thus giving the finger to all the poor suckers who actually like these films. Kind of a dick move if you ask me.
The film follows a guy, played by Craig Sheffer, who staggers around hallucinating for ninety minutes before realising at the end he’s been dead and in Hell all along. Sorry, that’s a spoiler. See, I can be a dick, too.
Taken on its own terms, Inferno is a forgettable DTV thriller. Considered as a Hellraiser sequel it’s… well, it’s not possible to consider it as a Hellraiser sequel since it barely is one. If you made a rom-com where Jason Voorhees turned up at the very end and said, “And they all lived happily ever after,” it would not make it a Friday The 13th film, and this is not a Hellraiser film.
The story makes sense, though. So one bonus point for that.
Circle VI – Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
Hey, you know that song ‘Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’ by AC/DC? Well, It’s a total lie. AC/DC were not being truthful in that song at all. Hell is a very bad place to be, especially when the entertainment is Hellraiser: Hellseeker.
If you were making a case to defend the previous sequel, you could say it at least tried something different. If there’s a lesson in there, it’s that it’s possible to bring fresh ideas into a stale franchise. But the lesson Hellraiser VI learned was, “Hey, let’s just copy Hellraiser V” which results in possibly the single laziest horror sequel I’ve ever seen.
The film follows a guy, played by Dean Winters, who staggers around hallucinating for ninety minutes before realising at the end he’s been dead and in Hell all along. Sorry, that’s a spoiler again. See, if they’re just going to copy the previous film, I’m just going to copy my previous review.
Ashley Laurence returns as Kirsty, the central character from parts I and II, but she’s absent from ninety percent of the film and her connection to previous events is barely mentioned until a desultory twist at the end. Kirsty’s presence seems like a bone thrown to long term fans of the series, but chances are anyone who likes her character will find the turn she takes at the film’s climax cheap and insulting.
Oh, and nobody seeks Hell in this film. Even the title is lazy and stupid.
Circle VII – Hellraiser: Deader (2005)
In this seventh Hellraiser film, B-Movie queen Kari Wuhrer plays a journalist investigating a cult of death-obsessed loonies called Deaders. Wuhrer finds a Lament Configuration, which she stupidly opens, and another boring, nonsensical Hellraiser sequel ensues.
Man, balls to this. I should never have agreed to this deal. Watching these lazy, tedious, unintelligible films it’s too high a price to escape Hell. So I’m thinking I’ll just stay here, settle down, buy a three bedroom semi-detached in the seventh circle, marry a nice Succubus, raise some half-demon kids, potter lifelessly around Hellkea at the weekends looking for bedroom furniture and spoons, and long for the sweet release of a death that will never come because I’m already dead. Anything to avoid another Hellraiser sequel.
Please note, sorry, Scarlett Johansson is not in this film. I just put that picture in to cheer the review up a bit. It’s getting a little bleak down here.
Circle VIII – Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)
Again, just from a legal standpoint, I should let you know Scarlett Johansson is not in this film. She is in Eight Legged Freaks, though. It’s pretty good, you should probably check that out.
Well, we’ve officially reached the point where I’d rather have these films crammed sideways into my anus than projected into my eyeballs, but this is the last of the currently available Hellraiser sequels so how about I just pull my eyelids open with a couple of fish hooks and get this bastard over with?
Story-wise, what we have here is a group of teens obsessed with an online game called Hellworld, which is based on the Hellraiser mythology. The teens attend a Hellworld-themed party thrown by Lance ‘Will Work For Bus Fare’ Henriksen where they’re killed off one by one by our old friend Gary.
Clive Barker once said the worst thing he could imagine for Gary was to see him become just another common-all-garden slasher wandering around killing teenagers, and in Hellworld Barker’s nightmare has come true. This is a slasher film, pure and simple, and not even a good one. None of the sequels in this series are worth a damn, but Hellworld feels like the final insult, the point at which a once striking and unique creation – he may have a terrible name, but Pinhead is one of the more impressive movie monsters of the last thirty years – is drained of what little credibility he had left.
So that’s it. It’s over. Eight circles, eight films – the Hellraiser challenge is complete. All that remains now is the mysterious ninth and final film, and whatever it is there’s no way it can be as bad as the dreck I’ve already been subjected to. Here comes Gary now, he’s taking the final film out of its DVD case, and… hey, what’s he smirking about?
Circle IX – Sex And The City 2 (2010)
It burns, it burns! Please… make it stop… it’s like an enema of pure hate!
SEX AND THE CITY 2 IS TEARING MY SOUL APART!
The story sees four of Hell’s foulest demons (possibly the most grotesque Cenobites yet) escape from the underworld and head to Durkadurkastan for a holiday. Once there, they wander around like lobotomised baboons, complain about their obscenely luxurious lives, display all the depth of a teardrop on a hot skillet, and (just for laughs) arrogantly insult the entire Middle East.
This seems on the surface to be a frothy comedy, but since it was designed in the vilest depths of Hell as an instrument of torture the film offers a few twists on the traditional comedy formula. For example, instead of likeable characters, SATC2 has a quartet of self-absorbed harpies who moan constantly and appear to have undergone some sort of ante-mortem embalming procedure. Also, in a depraved reinvention of the form, the film presents a view of female empowerment (mostly revolving around shopping, sex, and sulking until your husband buys you jewellery) that is so aggravating it’s impossible to laugh at any of the jokes. Although, to be fair, that last one is less important since the film is about as funny as ironing your own genitals.
You will never find a more horrifying portrait of moral, spiritual, cultural and artistic bankruptcy than Sex And The City 2. No Hellraiser film has done a better job of capturing the corruption and iniquity of human nature, and watching it is as depressing as a triple feature of Requiem For A Dream, Leaving Las Vegas, and a documentary about puppy murder. It truly belongs down here in Hell.
“Okay, Gary. I’ve done it. I’ve passed your tests, even that last one, which was monumentally dickish by the way. Now let me out of this damn place!”
“I’m sorry, Frank. That’s not going to happen.”
“What? But we had a deal!”
“Yes, about our arrangement. I lied. There was never a way out of Hell for you. No man who masturbates to Avril Lavigne videos can ever hope to escape eternal damnation.”
“Shit, man. I knew that was it.”
“It’s not the self-abuse that concerns us, Frank. It’s her music. A cacophonous din that is too evil even for us.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right about that. So what happens next?”
“Next, and for all time, we visit abominable tortures upon your very soul. We have such sights to show you. Starting with… the complete works of Kate Hudson!”