Unlike many of the other franchises in this series this series (The Mangler, Friday the 13th, Leprechaun), Hellraiser isn’t a slasher franchise. Instead, it’s more into body horror and HP Lovecraft-style Cosmic horror (but instead of a giant squid monster, the elder god is a flying polyhedron). I thought it would be a nice diversion from my steady diet of slasher films, so I gave the 9 Hellraiser films a watch.
Hellraiser. Uncle Cotton, who really likes having weird sex in Southeast Asia, purchases a box that summons weird sex demons because he’s into that kind of thing. Uncle Cotton’s sister-in-law finds him in an attic, reduced to a pile of meat, and decides she wants to fuck him. She does this by feeding a bunch of lonely, horny, middle-aged men to Uncle Cotton.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II: A doctor is interested in meeting the sex demons, so he follows them to Hell, where he is transformed into a sex demon. Then a girl has to solve a Rubik’s Cube to kill an elder god after another girl kills the doctor sex demon while wearing her step mother’s skin.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth: Some douchebag in New York buys a giant sex pillar that contains Pinhead, then fucks a bunch of girls in front of it. Pinhead murders everyone in a nightclub.
Hellraiser: Bloodline (AKA Hellraiser in Space): Pinhead and the other sex demons go to space and murder a bunch of space marines after 60 minutes of intergenerational backstory.
Hellraiser: Inferno: A shitty Groundhog’s Day knockoff where it turns out the guy was in Hell the whole time.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker: A shitty Jacob’s Ladder knockoff where it turns out the guy was in Hell the whole time.
Hellraiser: Deader: A photojournalist goes to Prague to make friends with a cult.
Hellraiser: Hellworld: Pinhead uses the broad appeal the Hellraiser brand and Massive Multiplayer Online Games to lure sexy teenagers to a party in the woods.
Hellraiser: Revelations: A bunch of marketers try to write a Hellraiser film with no knowledge of Hellraiser save a vague description of the original film given by their stoned college roommate 10 years ago.
Here’s what I learned:
1) Some people turn into really shitty Cenobites.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Hellraiser franchise, a cenobite is a weird sex demon who can be summoned to this world using a magical puzzle box. The most famous is Pinhead, pictured center.
In the second film, we discover that there is a process to transform human beings into Cenobites. In this film, this only happens to one guy. But by the third and fourth films, the writers stop exercising restraint and transform every 3rd person into a cenobite. As you can imagine, sustaining that level of creativity is hard. Hard like creating 150 new Pokémon every other year hard. I mean, that’s how we wind up with shitty Pokémon like Trubbish and Garbodor.
Let’s look at some shitty Cenobites.
Speaking of shitty Pokémon, this guy really reminds me of the ice cream cone.
I picture him gargling “KILL ME” while losing a 3-legged race.
Nothing screams “Beta Male” like getting your skull pounded by a mechanized cock for eternity.
We finally know where all those free AOL CD’s went – into this smug motherfucker.
A shitty Danny Trejo with a weird head camera tumor.
2) I wouldn’t want to be a minor character in the Hellraiser universe
Pinhead and the Cenobites are choosy about the people they kill. In the second film, we learn that Pinhead and the cenobites can only claim souls under specific conditions: a person must open the Lament Configuration Box and have the intent to summon the cenobites. Alternatively, someone who opens the Lament Configuration Box can barter the souls of others to escape their fate. So, in most cases, Pinhead and his crew only seem to go after very specific victims.
It may seem odd then that there are probably more than 200 combined kills between all of the demons in the Hellraiser franchise. In reality, Cenobites are pretty undiscerning when it comes to murdering characters who are unimportant to the plot. In the second film, Julia Cotton kills 6-7 unnamed asylum patients to restore her body, and in the third, Pinhead kills over 100 people in a nightclub massacre.
Likewise, people who escape the Cenobites – Frank Cotton, among others – have the courtesy to only murder unnamed prostitutes, asylum patients, and middle-aged men – people who are irrelevant to the plot. In the first three films, only 17 of the roughly 175 people who die are characters who have lines and appear in multiple scenes. None of them are lead characters. It’s almost as though Clive Barker went out of his way to preserve iconic characters like Kirsty Cotton and Joey Summerskill so that they could return in iconic films like Hellraiser: Hellseeker.
On a more serious note, I did a quick comparison chart to look at how Pinhead’s kill count would look without any extras in the franchise. You’ll notice that he goes from the most prolific killer to the least.
A couple of notes about this chart – it treats all characters who commit at least one murder individually, thus separating characters like Pinhead from Julia Cotton, who are both featured in Hellraiser. It also measures from the beginning of the first film in which a character is introduced as an antagonist, so Jason Voorhees’ line begins at the beginning of Friday the 13th Part 2, while Pamela Voorhees’ line would begin at the beginning of Friday the 13th, and Roy Burns would begin at Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning.
3) Despite what I expected, Pinhead really isn’t the primary murderer in this franchise. In fact, there really isn’t one.
Unlike Friday the 13th and Halloween, there isn’t a central murderer in this narrative. You could call Pinhead the primary antagonist, but only because Pinhead drives a lot of the action that leads to death. But unlike a Michael Myers or a Jason Voorhees, Pinhead isn’t a mindless killing machine; instead, he’s a schemer whose motivations go beyond murdering everyone he comes across. Or, at the very least, he’s a schemer whose motivations go beyond murdering everyone he comes across who’s outside of a night club.
In fact, if you compare Pinhead’s kill count to the character other than Pinhead with the highest number of kills in each film, Pinhead only leads in kills in 1/3 of the film.
4) Only open cursed puzzle boxes if you have a thing for getting your nips torn off with hooked chains.
If you come across something that looks like this Lament Configuration Box, best not to play with it. Alternatively, you could give it to your kinkiest friend as an anniversary present.
5) Almost all of the watchable films are at the beginning of this franchise.
IMDB has not been kind to the later entries in the Hellraiser franchise:
Beyond the first 3-4 entries, watching this film franchise was tough. The first two entries in the series are quality films; in fact, among the films I’ve watched, Hellraiser has the top ranked 1st entry and the top ranked 2nd entry among all franchises. Both of them are excellent horror films – the Cenobite designs are cringe-inducingly weird, they’re dark, and they convey this sense of futility in the human condition.
But then, something changes. Some of the new Cenobite Designs are hilariously bad, Pinhead goes to space, they shoehorn Pinhead into a couple of shitty Jacob’s Ladder knock off films, they try to work a film into Groundhog’s Day in Hell, and they make a movie about a massive online roleplaying game based on the Hellraiser brand. By the time you get the Hellraiser: Revelations, the franchise’s stock has crashed. In fact, the 9th entry is the fourth worst film among everything in my data, rated higher than only three others – The Mangler 2, which is renowned to be one of the worst films of all time, Ghoulies 4, and Antfarm Dickhole, which is exactly as good as it sounds.
It gets so bad that the audience abandons the franchise – Revelations has a little more than 1/20th of the raters that the original movie has. Most horror franchises seem to lose viewers over time, but no film’s drop off is quite that spectacular.
6) This franchise really hated how I kept track of character deaths.
Hellraiser revealed to me that there are plenty of flaws in the way that I’m tracking character deaths. But before we get into those details, let’s look at all of the kills across all franchises I’ve watched:
In a franchise like Friday the 13th, rules for counting are fairly simple – a guy gets stabbed, and you count the death when he slumps in front of the camera. Hellraiser has some weird rules surrounding death in its narrative, which required me to make some rules up on the fly. Here are a few of the assumptions that I followed.
Multiple Deaths for one character. Throughout Hellraiser, 11 characters die twice, 2 characters die 3 times, and one character, Trevor Gooden, suffers 4 onscreen deaths within a single film.
This is a problem because I only want to count a character’s death one time. As such, I only count the final time a character dies per film. Frank Cotton dies twice in the original Hellraiser film, but I only count his second death, when he’s ripped apart by Pinhead and company.
The Nightclub Massacre. Pinhead murders an entire nightclub full of people in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. Guessing the precise number of people who died in this sequence is nearly impossible. In a couple of later scenes take place in the nightclub, which is full of corpses; I estimated that about 125 people died based on a hasty corpse count during these scenes.
Everything is a dream. Hellraiser: Inferno, Hellraiser: Hellseeker, Hellraiser: Deader, and Hellraiser: Hellworld feature long sequences where it’s difficult to discern reality. These were all tricky to track.
In Inferno and Hellraiser, we never actually arrive in base reality, so I track the sequence of deaths as they occur in the dream world. In Hellworld, five of the characters are trapped in a drug trip, and their deaths align in both the fantasy and reality. None of the deaths in Deader’s fantasy actually happen, so I only counted the deaths that occurred once we arrived in reality. Oh, and all of the deaths in Deader happen to characters who have already died once before, further confusing my methods.
The conclusion you should draw from all of this is that I’m going to stick strictly to movies where I can confirm when a characters alive or dead for these articles.