HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH (1992)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Sexuality, and for Language

HellOnEarth poster

Directed by: Anthony Hickox

Written by: Peter Atkins & Tony Randel

Starring: Doug Bradley, Terry Farrell, Paula Marshall, Kevin Bernhardt, Ken Carpenter, Peter Atkins & Clayton Hill

In HELLRAISER, Clive Barker gave us a wildly original vision of Hell. Though that 1987 flick was not without a couple of faults, it holds up as a horror classic. A year later, Barker returned as a producer to deliver an unexpectedly solid sequel. Years passed and the franchise went to Dimension studios. With Barker serving as an executive producer this time around, we got HELLRAISER III. This was the first HELLRAISER to be made outside of the United Kingdom. Boy, does it show. This feels like Pinhead was being set up as the next Jason or Freddy without the studio ever understanding why those first two films were so successful to begin with. I know that the HELLRAISER franchise is a slippery slope with a total of nine films, but this is the first terrible entry installment in the series.

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After the events of HELLBOUND, Pinhead and the Lament Configuration have wound up trapped inside of a mystical pillar, aptly called the Pillar of Souls. This magical artifact finds an unlikely home in The Boiler Room, a seedy nightclub teaming with drugs and sex. Needless to say that Pinhead eventually awakens and feeds on unsuspecting clubbers to eventually rise out of the pillar. He wants to unleash Hell upon the face of the Earth with the help of some newly created Cenobites. It’s up to Joey, a young reporter who has recently been contacted by the spirit of Elliot Spencer (the man who eventually became Pinhead), to stop the demon’s reign of terror before it’s too late.

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Congratulations to HELLRAISER III on finding a way to keep the franchise going. The Pillar of Souls is a neat addition to the franchise mythology, even if it’s being used in this crappy third installment. Doug Bradley reprises his usual role of Pinhead and gets a couple of good lines, even though this plot essentially turns him into Hell’s version of a Bond villain. Whereas the previous two movies had Pinhead confronting people on an intimate level and toying with them, HELL ON EARTH changes the character entirely…and it’s not for the better. World domination just doesn’t seem like a motivation for Pinhead. It changes a unique demon into a one-note villain that we’ve seen in plenty of other horror, sci-fi, fantasy and action flicks. It doesn’t fit within the franchise at all.

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Seeing that the Cenobites were slaughtered during HELLBOUND’s finale, Pinhead is faced with the unique problem of creating new Cenobites to help him conquer the world. These new demons don’t do a very good job as Pinhead only seems to take over two city blocks, but I can’t blame them as they seem destined to fail to begin with. We get a guy who has a camera lens for an eye. There’s also a girl with a few noticeable scars along her face and a guy with a rod impaled through his head. None of these villains are exactly memorable. The lamest Cenobite comes in the form of a guy who shoots CDs at people to kill them. I wish I was joking, but that actually happens during the course of this film. The only demon who looks the least bit interesting is Barbie, a fire-breathing glutton with barbed wire wrapped around his head. This character sort of resembles Butterball from the first two films, but he’s the best that the new Cenobites have to offer.

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HELL ON EARTH also goes into cheesy and overly sappy territory, which is the last thing I’d expect to say of any HELLRAISER film. The decision to split Pinhead and the spirit of Elliot Spencer apart might have been creative in the right hands, but it feels like a lame plot device here. The writers were clearly grasping at straws in an effort to keep Pinhead distinguishable from your average supernatural killer. However, it’s not like we have anybody to root for in this film either as Joey is a bland protagonist and she feels forced into becoming our main character. An attempt to give her a backstory regarding her dead father comes off as ridiculously over-the-top as well.

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HELLRAISER III is definitely the worst entry in the franchise that I’ve seen thus far. I don’t plan on venturing too much further into the rest of the series (only two more reviews to come), but I really hope that BLOODLINE and INFERNO are at least marginally better than this lame third installment. While there are interesting ideas (the Pillar of Souls) and a couple of good gore gags (Pinhead’s first victim), this third HELLRAISER succumbs to a bad acting, lame Cenobites (one of the series’ biggest strengths up to this point) and a stupid story. Overall, I’d say just stick with the first two HELLRAISERs and pretend that HELLRAISER III doesn’t exist.

Grade: D

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