If one hundred people put together a list of the worst ways that horror franchises have jumped the shark, I’m pretty sure “sent the villain into space” would be near the top of ninety-nine of them. Sending a franchise villain to space is essentially saying, “Screw it, I’m all out of ideas for this character.” This would seem particularly true of a character like Pinhead, as the Hellraiser series has always been about grue-filled erotic fantasy and never even played in the same ballpark as science fiction. Given that the original Hellraiser is my all-time favorite movie, one might think that I’d see it as sacrilege to launch one of the great villains into the stars. Well, you’d be wrong, because against all logic, I firmly believe that Hellraiser: Bloodline manages to make it work.

Before writing this piece, I did make sure to go back and give the movie a fresh watch, mainly to make sure I wasn’t just remembering it through nostalgia-colored glasses. After all, this was the first Hellraiser movie I was able to see in theaters (and given that the following sequels are direct-to-DVD dreck, it was also the last). Plus, it’s always tickled me knowing that Adam Scott has one of his very first film roles in this movie, because I get a kick out of seeing Ben Wyatt from Parks and Recreation having his heart ripped out, but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t like the idea of the movie more than I liked the actual movie itself.

After giving it another look, I have to admit that I somehow like the movie even more now than I did when I was younger. This is perhaps because as I grow older, I have a better appreciation for melodrama, which is bursting from this movie’s seams. It all starts with lead actor Bruce Ramsay, who plays three characters who are all members of the Lemarchand bloodline, which has been cursed ever since Philip Lemarchand first built the box responsible for bringing demons into this world. Whether Ramsay is playing the well-meaning but naive Frenchman in the 1700s, his American present-day descendant John, or the future space station dweller Paul, it appears that overacting is a dominant gene in this family. But I can appreciate that this dude is really just going for it. Likewise for Angelique (Valentina Vargas), an OG demon who reaps souls through the power of temptation, making everything she says come out in either a breathy whisper or, when she’s going full demon, a menacing growl.

As for our man Pinhead, what makes Doug Bradley’s performance so terrific in the original movie is that, even given the grotesque nature of his character, he plays things with a subdued elegance. But his progression in subsequent sequels basically turned him into a Bond villain in Bloodline. Clive Barker described the original Pinhead as someone who had experienced pretty much everything and had become bored. We get more of that in part 2, which picks up moments after the original, but in part 3, he has bolder ambitions. He wants to expand his reach beyond the few people who willingly open Lemarchand’s box. By the time he appears in Bloodline, he’s done screwing around. He’s going to take over the world and he has no time for Angelique’s lusty methods, although he doesn’t mind taking a minute or two to pontificate over the beauty of pain.

Director Kevin Yagher also makes some fun choices to contribute to the movie’s over-the-top ambiance. Many shots utilize odd angles that warp the shape of the set, and Pinhead is repeatedly framed in uncomfortably close-up shots. It’s silly, it’s messy, but damned if it’s not interesting to watch. It’s just a shame that Yagher was apparently so unhappy with studio interference that he asked to have his name removed from the finished product and replaced with everyone’s favorite scapegoat, Alan Smithee. One interesting aside: I wonder if Yagher experienced a traumatic event in a hallway, because literally every character in this movie finds themselves alone in a grungy, poorly lit corridor with plenty of places for Cenobites to lurk.

Speaking of the Cenobites, the demons in this movie are a welcome return to form after the laughable creations from part 3, whose attempts to be modern doomed them to be dated five minutes after the movie came out (I’m looking at you, “CD Head”). Bloodline’s Cenobites go back to the timeless basics of extreme body modification, such as peeling Angelique’s skin from the top of her head and stretching it down to her shoulders to resemble a nun’s habit. And for those that miss Chatterer, he’s back! Well, sort of. Here we get Chatterbeast, a lumbering, teeth-clacking hell-dog that pops up out of nowhere when people think they’ve managed to escape Pinhead and his minions.

We also get a great “making the Cenobite” sequence on par with Channard’s transformation in part 2. A pair of unfortunate twin security guards encounter Pinhead in a sequence that serves as a cross section of everything that makes Bloodline work. First, Yagher builds dread as the twins make their way down—surprise, surprise—a creepy hallway. When they finally reach Pinhead, we’re treated to some top-notch monologuing as he conveys genuine annoyance with these guys for imagining they could inflict pain on him with a couple of handguns when, after all, he explains that he is pain. Then we get some great practical effects as Pinhead proves his point through the twisting of skin and freely flowing blood.

Finally, to address the rocket ship in the room, allow me to defend the choice of sending Pinhead into space. First of all, only about one-fourth of the movie takes place in outer space, so this is a “Pinhead in space” movie in the same way that Jason Takes Manhattan is a “Jason in New York” movie. Second of all—and I say this knowing full well that many people who have watched this movie are about to roll their eyes—the outer space setting is organic to the story... wait, wait! Don’t leave! Just hear me out.

In the first act, when Lemarchand realizes what he’s unleashed by creating a box that opens a gate to Hell, he decides that it’s up to him to create something that can close it. This idea, which involves admittedly vague concepts about perpetual light, can only work in theory until technology catches up with the concept. We know that wasn’t the case in revolutionary France, and we’re still not quite there in the mid-’90s. So, the natural conclusion is to jump forward to a time when the technology matches the concept. If we’re going to do that in what is supposed to be the final movie in the Hellraiser series (snicker) then we might as well go all out and end this sucker on a damn space station.

Look, I get why devotees of the original Hellraiser would turn their noses up at this movie. It’s light years away from the tone and sensibilities of the first film. But I’ll let quite a bit slide as long as a movie isn’t boring, and I defy anyone to say a movie that spans several centuries and locations in the span of less than ninety minutes is dull. So, if you’re willing to suspend the expectation that Bloodline will keep the same style as a Clive Barker movie, which, let’s admit, stopped being the case in the first sequel, you might find something to enjoy in this gonzo space opera.

Next: Deadly Pleasures: BEYOND THE DOOR (1974)
  • Bryan Christopher
    About the Author - Bryan Christopher

    Horror movies have been a part of Bryan’s life as far back as he can remember. While families were watching E.T. and going to Disneyland, Bryan and his mom were watching Nightmare on Elm Street and he was dragging his dad to go to the local haunted hayride.

    He loves everything about the horror community, particularly his fellow fans. He’s just as happy listening to someone talk about their favorite horror flick as he is watching his own, which include Hellraiser, Phantasm, Stir of Echoes, and just about every Friday the 13th movie ever made, which the exception of part VIII because that movie is terrible.