For the uninitiated: Hellraiser (1987), Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996).

We’ve crossed the threshold now. Currently there are nine Hellraiser films (although a tenth is allegedly on its way), so we’re over fifty percent through the franchise. Too bad we can’t just round it up and call the whole thing done.

Hellraiser V: Inferno is the first direct-to-DVD Hellraiser sequel, and a big departure from the previous films. Inferno follows Joseph Thorne, a crooked detective who discovers the Lament Configuration at the scene of a brutal crime, and after solving the puzzle box begins to have vivid and disturbing hallucinations all while more ritualistic and sadistic murders begin happening to people he knows. Thorne finds out that someone or something known as The Engineer is behind the killings and that he has kidnapped a child, leaving a severed finger at the scene of every murder.

Hellraiser: Inferno is the first non-Hellraier Hellraiser film in the Hellraiser franchise. For those out of the loop, the latter films in the series are known to be produced out of unrelated scripts that Dimension Films has bought and shoehorned in Pinhead and the Cenobites. So, as bad as the fourth Hellraiser film was, it was still written as a Hellraiser movie. It was incoherent and a terrible ending to an otherwise solid series of films exploring the lore behind Hell, the Cenobites, and the Lament Configuration, but it was explicitly written as a Hellraiser movie. Now while at first glance, taking a random, cheap script and dropping Pinhead and co. in sounds like a terrible idea, you really need to think of the quality of script being used. If you strip the Cenobites out of the original Hellraiser, you’re still left with a compelling story about a broken family, obsession, and toxic, manipulative relationships. So when I found out that Inferno is going to be worked off of a random script, I wasn’t ready to jump the gun just yet and hate it. If the non-Hellraiser story was good, and the connections between non-Hellraiser and Hellraiser plots were serviceable, this could be an alright movie.

And guess what? It is.

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Hellraiser V: Inferno is a pretty alright movie. For being the fifth entry into a 13 year old franchise at the time, Inferno is legitimately enjoyable. Think of the fifth movie released in almost any series, and I’d argue that Hellraiser V is probably better. The biggest drawback for this film, I find, is the budget. On a shoestring two million dollar budget, you can see areas where they cut corners to make the film a little cheaper. The production quality is lower than I’d like, between the filming, lighting, and any post-production colour correction and whatnot, this feels more like a TV movie or a TV show. They toned down a few practical effects, sticking to simpler to execute ones, and they did a bit of CGI work for some shots that would have been too expensive to do practically. And while some of the more blatant and in your face CGI looked kind of dated (this movie did come out almost two decades ago, mind you) a lot of it was subtle enough that it didn’t bother me. The director had good enough sense to make scenes with obvious CGI in them darker or more obscured so that you weren’t stuck looking at a every pixel of a crappy render in bright daylight. Kudos to him for having the foresight to think of that. The fact that they were able to stretch $2,000,000 as far as they did for this film is a feat in itself. Also, take this as a lesson, kids. Your film’s budget is almost irrelevant if you write a great script and screenplay beforehand.

So, barring production value, what makes Hellraiser V so different from the rest of the franchise? Well, it’s definitely a departure from the fantasy-horror that the first two films are steeped in, and you can tell the creators distanced themselves from the third and fourth by taking a step back from the slasher tropes that were beginning to crop up in those films. This one feels like a neo-noir crime thriller, because (surprise!) that’s what the original script was written like. You’ve got the crooked, corrupt cop who snorts coke on the job and cheats on his wife with prostitutes, and somehow finds a way to justify it in his head, and now he’s got to navigate the seedy underbelly of the city to get to the bottom of all of these sadistic murders. There’s less of a noir look to the film than I would like, but in terms of content, I think the writers hit the pin on the head (heh).

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The fusing of the original script and the Hellraiser plotline went pretty smoothly too, I think. I don’t know what the original screenplay was like, but it felt like a cop drama/ crime thriller that turns into more of an occult thriller near the end. I feel like the producers of this movie were able to look at wherever supernatural or ritualistic events happened in the script and then were able to flavor them with the stylings of a Hellraiser movie rather than just replace them with Hellraiser stuff. If the original idea this movie was conceived on was just a bog-standard crime movie I doubt it would work as well as it did, and that is why I’m scared for the rest of the Hellraiser sequels. I fear that Dimension Films saw how well (or at the very least how not poorly) Hellraiser V did, and decided that shitting out cheap Hellraiser films based on other scripts they already owned would be their new modus operandi.

I’ve also got to commend this film for doing something rather unexpected for an entry five films deep into an ’80s horror franchise: be legitimately scary. Well, creepy is more appropriate. There weren’t any good scares in this one, but by bringing back the themes of pursuing pleasure and sex, morality, and obsession into the mix, they were able to springboard off of those ideas and make some more twisted sequences that can legitimately make your skin crawl. I’d argue that this is the scariest Hellraiser film since Clive Barker’s original. And, as always, Doug Bradley brings Pinhead to the screen in a way that nobody else could, with his trademark blend of intimidating physical presence and surprisingly well spoken monologues.

I guess so far the Hellraiser series is four for five right now, with only Bloodlines being the major flop. Inferno isn’t as good or as fun as the original trilogy are, but it can totally stand alone on its own merits. I’ve heard how bad some the deep sequels get, but after being surprised with out watchable and even enjoyable Hellraiser V: Inferno is, I think I’m still happy to keep riding the Hellraiser train to the end of the line.

-David