Sunday, September 30, 2012

Great Scott (Derrickson)!: "Hellraiser: Inferno" (2000)

Scott Derrickson, the director of "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and the remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" had to get his full-length horror/sci-fi film genre chops somewhere. He did that by directing and co-writing "Hellraiser: Inferno," the fifth film in the "Hellraiser" series. Not only is this film on par with Clive Barker's original nightmare, it shamefully went straight to video.

Craig Sheffer is outstanding as Joseph Thorne, our anti-hero. He is a Denver detective with a knack for solving complicated puzzles and cases. He also has a knack for snorting cocaine, stealing crime scene evidence, and visiting prostitutes. He ignores his wife and young daughter, wrapping himself up in every case. His partner, Tony (Nicholas Turturro), is more grounded, with a wife and two kids of his own. In the beginning of the film, the pair investigate the brutal murder of an acquaintance from Joseph's high school years. The man was literally torn apart, and also found at the scene was the finger of an unidentified child, and a strange wooden puzzle box. Joseph takes the box, later picks up a hooker, and after another night of debauchery, solves the puzzle box in a seedy motel while the hooker sleeps.

Joseph launches into a nightmare where he hears a child call for help, and hallucinates grotesque creatures. He awakes and leaves, but returns to the room after getting a call from the prostitute, who is violently murdered while on the phone. Joseph cleans the scene of any evidence he was there, but plants some items belonging to Tony to control the situation and the partner he should, but does not, trust. Joseph investigates the hooker's murder, his acquaintance's murder, and finds himself hunting down both the missing child whose fingers are being found at the crime scenes, and a mysterious figure with the street name the Engineer. In the meantime, a featureless killer (save a hideous mouth) hunts down the people close to Joseph.

Derrickson has crafted an ugly looking film along the lines of "Seven." He crosses the taboo line in that children are victims of this world (and the afterlife). He also rivets the viewer, as the case's turns become more and more unexpected. Derrickson cowrote the screenplay with Paul Harris Boardman, and they come up with both a clever police procedural as well as a spooky demonic film.

Craig Sheffer plays Joseph incredibly well. There is nothing sympathetic about him, and Sheffer's cold distance works. Joseph is dead inside, coming alive when pursuing his suspect, but not when dealing with his family. The rest of the cast do great jobs, with even small roles like Nicholas Sadler as Joseph's snitch Bernie standing out and making quick but lasting impressions. A special mention should go to James Remar as Joseph's police counselor. His calm demeanor and appearance (he looks like Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart") will fool you, and Derrickson wisely uses him just long enough.

Doug Bradley, as always, is excellent as Pinhead, the lead Cenobite, but fans of the series might be disappointed in how little he is onscreen (a couple of minutes at most). Again, Derrickson and Boardman use him when needed, not turning him into a quipping villain with no menace. This film is Joseph's story, a thoughtful direction the series had to take in order not to repeat itself, unlike so many other sequels in this genre (can anyone tell me the difference between the middle three "A Nightmare on Elm Street" entries...didn't think so).

While some of the computer generated special effects are a bit weak, the climax runs a few minutes too long, and Joseph's voice-over narration is as necessary as Harrison Ford's in "Blade Runner," "Hellraiser: Inferno" is by far the strongest entry in the series, full of horror and interesting ideas, as well as some excellent performances and suspenseful plotting. Good stuff all around. (* * * *) out of five stars.