Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Merchant of Penance: "Hellraiser: Bloodline" (1996)

The first sign that "Hellraiser: Bloodline" is in trouble is in the opening credits. The film was directed by "Alan Smithee," the pseudonym used (until recently) by directors who are not happy with what has happened to their film.

In the year 2127, Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) is on board a space station, playing with the ol' puzzle box- or at least his android is. The ship is overrun by Rimmer (Christine Harnos) and her squad, and they capture Merchant, who had hijacked the vessel and sent the original ship's crew back to Earth. Merchant sits Rimmer down and tells her his story.

In eighteenth century France, Merchant's ancestor L'Merchant (also Bruce Ramsay) has created a puzzle box for local occultist Duc De L'Isle (Mickey Cottrell) and his assistant Jacques (Adam Scott, in an early role). L'Merchant delivers the box to De L'Isle, and watches through a window as the pair murder a young woman, filling her flesh with a demon summoned using L'Merchant's box. The pair name the woman Angelique (Valentina Vargos), and L'Merchant decides to steal back the box after drawing up plans to send Angelique back to hell. Things don't work out so well.

Fast forward to 1996 New York City. Successful architect John Merchant (again, Bruce Ramsay) is happily married to wife Bobbi (Kim Myers), and they have a cute son Jack (Courtland Mead). John has constant nightmares about a mysterious woman, who we know is Angelique, and the puzzle box, whose design has found itself into his architecture (giving the end of "Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth" an acknowledgement). Angelique, still alive, seeks John out, and this time Pinhead (Doug Bradley) is summoned.

As Merchant tells Rimmer his cursed family's history, we are aware that he also managed to bring the demons into the ship. This Merchant, using the designs from the first story, has a plan to rid the universe of the Cenobites once and for all.

Kevin Yagher was the original director on the film, but left after cuts were made that we was not told of (according to IMDB.com). Joe Chappelle was brought in for some reshoots, and "Alan Smithee" was given screen credit. While the film does have a few missteps here and there, I wouldn't call it the worst of the series.

I do like how Peter Atkins' screenplay tries to tie up all the loose ends that the first three films may have left. The structure is imaginative, and even the futuristic setting makes sense, unlike "Jason X." Bradley as Pinhead seems to get creepier and creepier, and his dialogue delivery is excellent. Lead Ramsay seems more comfortable playing the later Merchant, than the French or architect ancestors. I'm not sure why that is, but other than the 2127 scenes, he comes off as bland.

I could not tell the difference between Yagher's and Chappelle's scenes, except that the film sometimes comes off as rushed and tampered with. The special effects, while the strongest of the series so far, seem a little incomplete. The cinematography is excellent, the gore is much better this time around, and the anthology-like screenplay works. Atkins may have written the finale set in the future with a thought to the next few sequels. If Pinhead meets his doom in a century or so, we still have a hundred years of people unleashing the Cenobites in their present-day.

All in all, "Hellraiser: Bloodline" isn't that bad. I found myself liking it as it went on, and was thankful that the stupid smirking humor of the third film was absent. This was the last "Hellraiser" film released to the theaters, the rest went straight to video- and that's never a good sign. (* * * *) out of five stars.