Horror Icons in Space — Hellraiser 4: Bloodline

Hellraiser Bloodline review

It’s often said by fans that outer space is where horror franchises go to die, and the film that’s typically cited as evidence of that statement is of course Jason X. But the Friday the 13th franchise wasn’t the only one to take a rocket ship to the stars, and it certainly wasn’t the first. While we wait for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this week we look back on those oddball sequels that put horror icons up in space.

Each of the big horror franchises have an installment that was originally intended to be the final one, though we of course all know how that always turns out. Like The Final Chapter and The Final Nightmare before it, Hellraiser: Bloodline was to be Pinhead’s final appearance on the big screen, and though that actually turned out to be the case, five more direct-to-video sequels ended up coming in its wake.

I suppose one could argue that Hellraiser: Bloodline killed the whole franchise, as it was the last time a Hellraiser film was given a theatrical release, but it actually pulled in more box office dollars than any of the previous films – including Clive Barker’s 1987 original. Speaking of Barker, it was the final film in the series that he had any direct involvement in, as he executive produced only the first three sequels.

Released in 1996, and co-directed by makeup effects artist Kevin Yagher and Joe Chappelle – Yagher was replaced by Chappelle before production was completed, and both filmmakers ultimately declined to have their names attached to the finished product – Hellraiser: Bloodline serves the dual role of being a prequel and a sequel, telling a centuries-spanning story that documents the puzzle box’s beginning and end.

Playing out almost like a Hellraiser anthology film, Bloodline‘s first story is set in 18th century France, wherein we meet puzzle box creator Philip LeMarchand. A master toymaker, LeMarchand is hired by an evil magician to build the box, having no idea what it’s going to be used for. As it turns out, the madman is looking to open a portal to Hell, and he does just that – giving rise to the very first Cenobite, Angelique.

We eventually jump forward to 1996, which was present day at the time of the film’s release. Angelique travels to New York in an effort to locate John Merchant, an engineer with family ties to LeMarchand. Driven by supernatural forces, Merchant is compelled to build a skyscraper that is literally a massive puzzle box, and Angelique – along with Pinhead – intends to use it as a much bigger portal between Hell and reality.

The final story, which is essentially the wraparound segment, is set on a space station in the year 2127. There we meet Paul Merchant, another distant relative of LeMarchand’s who is continuing his family’s work. Merchant willingly summons Pinhead and his Cenobites aboard the ship, modeled after the puzzle box, and he plans on blowing the whole thing up once they arrive – ending his family’s nightmare once and for all.

Whereas other franchises went to space as a result of creative bankruptcy, Hellraiser‘s trip to the final frontier feels like a genuine stroke of inspiration. In fact, it’s probably the best use of the gimmicky setting in horror franchise history. Granted, that’s not saying all that much, but there’s a purpose to Bloodline‘s use of the franchise-killing gimmick, allowing for an epic story that spans hundreds upon hundreds of years.

Revisiting Hellraiser: Bloodline this week, I was struck by how much genuine ambition is on display in the film, which is unexpected of a production that was so plagued by behind the scenes troubles. Somehow, despite the studio’s insistence on changing large portions of the script and the aforementioned director swap, the franchise’s fourth installment is surprisingly coherent, as well as impressively massive in scope.

The beauty of Bloodline is that it’s both the first and last film in the Hellraiser chronology, and indeed it tells both the beginning and ending of the story Clive Barker unleashed on the big screen in 1987. Not only do we find out how the puzzle box was created, as well as by whom and for what initial purpose, but we also get a front row seat for its destruction, providing a sense of closure to the franchise.

As mentioned, other sequels followed, but by jumping so far into the future for the outer space-set finale, Dimension Films was able to make the rare franchise sequel that actually feels like the end of the franchise. Not only is the puzzle box destroyed but so too is Pinhead, and there’s something to be said for the definitive nature of Bloodline. In many ways, it’s sort of the last Hellraiser sequel that matters.

Ambition and a respectable amount of imagination are also on display in Hellraiser: Bloodline‘s standout makeup effects, particularly when it comes to the birth of a siamese Cenobite that Pinhead creates by literally twisting two twin brothers together. The film also introduces the awesome Chatterer Beast, a hellish pet hound composed of human flesh. He doesn’t get nearly enough screen-time, but he’s pretty damn cool.

It’s easy to write off Hellraiser: Bloodline as “the one set in space,” but the reality is that only 1/3 of the film takes place in the future. The underrated sequel brings an incredible amount of mythology to the table, and though I’d be lying if I said it all worked, it’s the ambition that makes this one somewhat of a gem. Given the low budget and messy production, it’s no minor miracle that it works as well as it does.

Hellraiser: Bloodline tries way harder than most horror sequels. And for that, we should all respect it.

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