Hellraiser: Bloodline – Kevin Yagher – 1996

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How long can a horror franchise go before it burns out? I say four films in a row is a pretty high number and the first four Hellraiser films qualify. This fourth one, the one I’m going to discuss is the least of them, and the director disowned it, but so what, the film ended up pretty good with some damn fine moments and some sweet contributions to the Hellraiser mythology.

Lets start with the good. The framing structure includes segments of future, far past, present and future again. This works pretty well, except that the France and Space segments are much, much cooler than the segment from 1996. It helps that we have one actor playing all of his own ancestors in the film and I’m always reminded of The Fountain and wonder if Aronofsky doesn’t owe the tiniest debt to this film.

The space segments at the beginning and end of the film are well designed and we even see a robot trying to open a puzzle box. A military crew discovers the ship all but abandoned except for LeMerchant, the future generation of the man who designed the original puzzle box. Desparate to finish his work this man must justify his strange rites to these mercenaries, and thusly we are whisked back to France.

These scenes are the best in the picture. Merchant takes the newly finished puzzle box to his patron who demands it be used. There before his lover and Merchant, the box is opened and both Pinhead and the demon Angelique emerge. The patron is slain and the lover beholden to Angelique and given only one directive. He man have all that his heart desires so long as he does not stand in hells way.

In the present the immortal lover does just that when Angelique seeks out the descendant of Merchant. The lover is slain by the demon as she pursues Merchant the architect and threatens to kill him and his family. These scenes in the present are quite soapy and cheap looking. Honestly they are the least of the film. Due to three related but separate protagonists, we are never very attached to any one and therefore lack the needed empathy to take us through the whole picture caring.

Nothing less than the fate of the universe is at stake in this picture, but the filmmakers do a pretty poor job establishing the stakes. We know there is a threat because we are told, not because the film illustrates the threat. Future Merchant needs to finish the rite in order to create the mirror box, a source of never-ending light that can trap the demons, and while this entire plot is cool, the story lacks cohesion.

What is most relevant about this film is its anachronistic narrative structure. Starting in the future then cutting past, present then back to the future is a clever device. And following a bloodline throughout is quite nice. Unfortunately, this device was cooked up as an afterthought band-aid for an unfinished film, and while it makes the film considerably better; it never really works on its own.

Hellraiser: Bloodline is an excellent example of the death throes of a franchise. Still hanging on to its mythology and villain to keep it interesting. It is clear the series is running out of steam. After this the films become unwatchable.  Maybe someday if Clive ever gets around to publishing the Scarlet Gospels, we will get the movie version of a sequel to Hellraiser and Lord of Illusions. Until then, this is a worthy if deeply flawed contribution to the tapestry that is the Hellraiser tale.

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