“Oh, you suffer beautifully” | Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

In the beginning, a man opened a magical puzzle box and was dragged into hell for an eternity of torture. He escaped, his skin flayed from his body and what was left of him forced to hide in the attic while his ex-lover provided him with innocent victims to murder and use to restore his health. In the end he died again, reclaimed by the demonic creatures who used the box to attract and steal away those with a penchant for sex and torture.

Much has been written about Hellraiser, Clive Barker’s 1987 horror feature that introduced the surreal and fetishistic concept of a masochistic hell populated by the calm, mutilated Cenobites. This low-budget film adapted Barker’s own novella The Hellbound Heart, and was produced in the United Kingdom with moderate success. A sequel followed in 1988, co-developed and produced by Barker but directed by Tony Randel. It took the viewer further into the backstory of the Cenobites, particularly that of their leader – a nameless bald man dressed in leather, his entire head and face dotted with pins protruding from his skin.

New World Pictures, who had produced both Hellraiser films, went bankrupt in 1990. It was partly the result of another Clive Barker film – Nightbreed – failing at the American box office after distributor 20th Century Fox had mis-advertised and significantly re-edited the work. With New World gone, its assets were transferred to different stakeholders. Hellraiser went with several producers to the newly-established Trans-Atlantic Pictures, and faced with a proven commercial property in their hands they pushed ahead with a second sequel. This third Hellraiser feature, subtitled Hell on Earth, was largely produced without Barker’s involvement – he clashed with producers over its less gothic tone – and was directed by Anthony Hickox. During post-production, Trans-Atlantic executives managed to attract the attention of film producer Harvey Weinstein. He successfully bid for his mini-studio Miramax to distribute Hell on Earth in USA, in return for some additional gory effects and a re-edit to shorten the movie. It was Weinstein who successfully urged Clive Barker to join the production and provide his honest feedback as the creator of the franchise. With all edits and changes made, Hell on Earth premiered in American cinemas on 11 September 1992. Not wanting to potentially weaken the Miramax brand of arthouse and prestige dramas, Weinstein set up his own sub-label with which to release it: Dimension Films.

It was not a commercial hit; Barker, creative staff, and producer alike assumed that Hellraiser had come to an end. Miramax and Weinstein, however, had other ideas.

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The first year of Dimension Films was not a great success. Two other films had been purchased and released: Stuart Gordon’s science fiction thriller Fortress, starring Christopher Lambert, and the horror sequel Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice. The following year Miramax was purchased by the Walt Disney Company, essentially as a means of establishing a prestige label for more adult fare that would not be suitable under the company’s existing Buena Vista Films. A side-effect of that purchase was that Disney also purchased Dimension, and seeing the opportunity the studio supported Weinstein and his label in continuing to release genre product. From Paramount they purchased The Crow, a comic book adaptation in danger of being shelved permanently after the accidental death of its star Brandon Lee during the shoot. The new Disney Dimension also bought the rights to the Halloween horror franchise, which brought along with it the in-development sequel Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. Seeking to expand the label further, the decision was made to start developing and producing films in-house. The first to shoot, using rights that had lain essentially ignored during the negotiation and purchase from Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob, was a fourth Hellraiser feature.

Why discuss Hellraiser IV, ultimately titled Hellraiser: Bloodline? It is the third sequel to a horror film, was almost universally reviled upon release, and performed so poorly on a commercial level that no Hellraiser sequel saw the inside of a cinema theatre again. There are essentially two reasons. Firstly, the story of the film’s production is an interesting one, packed with studio indecision, second-guessing, emergency reshoots, and behind the scenes strife. Secondly, the sequel that was intended when it commenced production has one of the most inspired concepts for a sequel ever, and the film that was planned – and it is still visible between the cracks of the theatrically-released version – would have been possibly the best horror sequel of its time. Here is how everything went wrong.

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Having built a relationship with Clive Barker towards the end of making Hellraiser III, Dimension Films was able to attract him back to develop a fourth film. As Barker was in the middle of preparing another film of his own for United Artists – Lord of Illusions – he was not available to either direct, or indeed be deeply involved in the new sequel. Instead, he sat down with writer Pete Atkins, who has scripted the previous two Hellraiser films, to put together a proposed storyline.

Having been disappointed by the garish, slasher-style premise of the last Hellraiser, Barker put together something to match the more baroque set-up of the first two films. Rather than base the film around a character, he suggested basing it around the Lament Configuration: the cursed puzzle box that had summoned the Cenobites throughout the saga. Via a portmanteau set-up, three linked narratives would tell the story of the box’s original creation by an inventor named Lemarchand, its effect on its victims through history, and its ultimate fate some time in the distant future.

Pete Atkins said: ‘I have to give Clive credit for the idea of a movie split across three time zones, although his idea was that the first part of the film would be set in Victorian London. The idea of having Hellraiser imagery right in the middle of Jack the Ripper territory was potentially very rich. In passing Clive suggested that what we should do was maybe follow the fortunes of a single family. As soon as he said that, I said, “Well, if we’re going to do a family, let’s do the Lemarchand family. Let’s forget Victorian London and set it in 18th Century France, and make it about the family of the man who created the Lament Configuration box”. My ulterior motive was that I thought it would nicely frame the Trilogy created by the first three movies.’ The finished film set the three linked stories in 1796, the present day, and 2127.

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With Barker unavailable to direct – assuming he was ever even interested – Stuart Gordon was approached. He was a well-known horror filmmaker with a reputation for making cost-effective films. His early work directing Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986) had given him a cult following among horror fans, and his work writing both Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and Bodysnatchers (1993) demonstrated his ability to work within a studio framework.

Sadly Gordon immediately fell into creative disagreements with his producers, leading him to ultimately step away from the project. He was replaced with Kevin Yagher, a well-regarded visual effects designer-turned-director most famous for his work on the Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play franchises. He had taken up directing via the television anthology series Tales from the Crypt; Bloodline would mark his feature directing debut.

English actor Doug Bradley was re-hired to reprise his role of the Cenobite leader, nicknamed “Pinhead”. As Hellraiser II had established the Pinhead character’s origins in the 1920s, the character was not present for the film’s first act – he would make his entrance almost halfway through the film when events shifted to the present day. ‘This is a more mythology-driven movie than a Pinhead-driven movie,’ Bradley would later explain.

Make-up designer Gary J. Tunnicliffe reverted the Pinhead make-up, which had been simplified for Hellraiser III, back to its original design. It took much longer to apply, but was much more comfortable for Bradley to wear.

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Instead of Pinhead, the 1796 sequence of Bloodline was dominated by Angelique, a demon summoned in a blood ritual and stealing the body of a sacrificed peasant girl. The role was played by Chilean actor Valentina Vargas.

In 1986 Vargas co-starred in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film adaptation of Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose, playing the nameless girl with whom the novice Adso (Christian Slater) shares a brief affair. Vargas subsequently appeared in Luc Besson’s The Big Blue (1988), Samuel Fuller’s Street of No Return (1989), Karin Howard’s The Tigress (1992), and Miguel Littín’s The Shipwrecked (1994).

‘I had nightmares about Pinhead coming to kill me,’ Vargas said, ‘so I was very scared when I started the movie. I thought to myself, “Should I do this or leave it?” because I didn’t want to get into those dark places. Finally, I said to myself, “Maybe I should tap into those areas and find out what they’re about.”’

Gary Tunnicliffe was responsible for Angelique’s unique and gory appearance: ‘I actually got the idea for her design when I was watching Sister Act, the comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg. It’s true, honestly! I was watching these singing nuns and seeing the way their cowls fall down and I thought it would be interesting to do something with flesh rather than material and create a sort of nun from hell. So that’s where the idea came from. I thought we’ll split her head and pull the skin out to the sides and attach it to her shoulders. And that’s what we did.’

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Other members of the cast included Bruce Ramsay in the triple role of the inventor LeMarchand and his two descendents in the 20th and 22nd centuries, Mickey Cottrell as the Marquis de Sade-inspired Duc De L’isle, Adam Scott as De L’isle’s assistant, Kim Myers as the 20th century Merchant’s wife, Christine Harnos as 22nd century officer Rimmer – a role originally developed as a descendant of the original Hellraiser protagonist Kristy Cotton, and Jody St Michael as the “Chatterer” Cenobite.

It was clear that with three separate historical periods, for which different sets, costumes, and casts would need to be hired, that Hellraiser: Bloodline was going to be an expensive proposition. Despite this, Dimension Films allocated only a $4 million production budget. Costs soon overran, eventually leading Dimension executives to end the shoot prematurely. Clive Barker recalled: ‘They were in cuckoo land believing they could achieve all that needed to be achieved within the financial framework that they had laid down. It just was not possible. It wasn’t practical.’

In late 1995 Kevin Yagher said that ‘originally our release date, which was always sort of a joke, was January 1995. I delivered my director’s cut at the end of December last year, right before Christmas. And then we reworked it into March. It was a huge undertaking, an $8 million movie trying to be made for four and ending up around five.’

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Yagher made several edits of the film. When his hoped-to-be-final edit was submitted the studio in March 1995, studio representative came back with an unexpected complaints: there was not enough Pinhead.

‘In terms of “servicing the franchise”,’ said Barker, ‘Miramax wanted to focus on the prime character, Pinhead. Now, my argument about Pinhead has always been that less is more. But the American audiences just go crazy when this guy comes on screen, so the studio said, “No, more is more.” And I said, “Well the more you put this guy on the screen, the less scary he’s going to be.” And their response to that was, “Well then, we’ll just put more blood in.”.’

Dimension’s demands for more Pinhead were particularly galling for Yagher, since the same producing executives had been involved with the film from development through to production, and had been given numerous opportunities to give feedback and order changes throughout the process. There was no method of introducing the character earlier: the film’s entire first act was set 125 years before Pinhead existed. The Dimension Films solution was to completely re-edit the film and make it non-linear. Their proposed version would begin on a 22nd century space station and then flashback to the 18th and 20th centuries, with the storyline truncated to reduce the screen time between Pinhead’s appearances.

An understandably unhappy Kevin Yagher resigned from the film; he was already developing an adaptation of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with producer Scott Rudin. (That film would ultimately be directed by Tim Burton and released in 1999.) ‘There was no firing,’ said Yagher, ‘it was a mutual agreement, and most of it had to do with time and commitment and how much more I could put into the movie. They knew I was upset about the film changing. We both thought it would make things less painful.’

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It was the 18th century sequence that was the most heavily cut. The character of the Duc De L’isle was reduced heavily, as were entire scenes of demonic creatures dining in period dress and powdered wigs. A rivalry between Pinhead and Angelique was re-constructed to reduce their original relationship – one that was fiercely antagonistic – and replace it with a more flirtatious rivalry. Pinhead’s presence was emphasised wherever possible.

It was, in retrospect, inevitable that Pinhead would become the dominant figure of the finished film. For better or worse, he had become the face of Hellraiser through his prominent depiction on posters and other marketing materials. Dimension’s decision also helped to jam the film forcefully into a brand that could more easily match the other horror series playing out in American cinemas.

American horror cinema had been, since at least the early 1980s, dominated by sequels. They were inexpensive to make, and came with a pre-developed brand that guaranteed an easier sell to teenage audiences. By 1994, A Nightmare on Elm Street was up to its seventh (and purportedly final) instalment Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Halloween had passed its fifth film with a sixth – The Curse of Michael Myers – in production. Friday the 13th had temporarily burned out a year earlier with Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.

Even less popular franchises continued to generate sequel after sequel: Prom Night IV had been released in 1992, as were House IV and Evil Dead sequel Army of Darkness, while The Howling VI had been released a year earlier in 1991. Out in 1994 was Pumpkinhead II – anticipating another long franchise – as well as Phantasm III, Puppet Master V, Leprechaun 2, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, and even The Birds II: Land’s End. As the owners of the Hellraiser film rights, and suitable or otherwise, Dimension Films expected to continue making and profiting from the intellectual property well into the future. Selling that property meant showcasing Pinhead wherever possible.

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Despite best efforts to edit together a coherent cut of the film, the earlier shutdown of production left Bloodline with key moments missing. In addition, the entire reshaping of the Pinhead-versus-Angelique conflict would necessitate a new climax. With Yagher moving on, director Joe Chappele (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers) was hired to oversee the new scenes. Script writer Pete Atkins wrote the new elements; it was his final work on the film before moving on. ‘I think from this point on it would be just telling more stories about the box and the demons,’ he explained, ‘so I am not particularly interested in pursuing it. Miramax certainly wants to preserve the franchise. One reason why they are spending the extra money in having this extra shoot is to keep the franchise alive for part five and six.’ The reshoots took place from April 1995.

Three new scenes were produced, but once completed Dimension staff were still unhappy. The decision was made to undertake another reshoot. This second run of scenes were scripted by Rand Ravich (Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh) and shot by Chappele. The theatrical cut was assembled by Randall K. Bricker (also from The Curse of Michael Myers).

When shown the theatrical edit, Kevin Yagher refused to be credited for the final film. His last edit on the film had ran to 110 minutes, while Dimension’s final cut had been shaved down to a lean 85 minutes. ‘On an artistic level,’ he said, ‘the final cut I saw did not represent my vision, and it changed enough that I no longer wanted credit. There was a lot of me in there, but there were a number of things in there that I wasn’t involved in. That’s why I removed my name.’

As per Director’s Guild of America guidelines, when arbitration over the directing credit failed Hellraiser: Bloodline was credited to Alan Smithee – the standard anonymous name used when the director refused to be linked to their film. This result immediately damaged Bloodlines’ commercial chances: the pseudonym had been in use since Death of a Gunfighter in 1969, and was already widely recognised by audiences as a film whose director had quit. It was as if the label ‘This is a bad movie’ had been tattooed on the poster.

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The released cut of Hellraiser: Bloodline is a dreadful movie. The edit is simply far too tight, rendering much of the film mildly nonsensical and failing to generate any depth in or sympathy for its characters. The non-linear structure makes the story messier than it needs to be, and the climax reeks of the low-budget reshoot that created it.

At the same time there is an enormous amount of promise. The 18th century section of the film, for example, fits in beautifully with the intricate and artful world of the Lament Configuration and the Cenobites. It suggests a much stronger film under the surface; it is not clear that Kevin Yagher directed anything close to its potential, but it is clear that there is an immensely enjoyable horror movie buried in the material. The present-day section is the weakest of the film, of course, simply repeating worn beats from earlier films. The science fiction part of the film is weakened by being re-edited into a framework device. Science fiction versions of pre-existing horror properties do not seem to ever work well. The most successful is probably Jason X (2001), which at least mocks its own conceit and works on a basic level as comedic parody. Had the film being left in a linear edit, it is possible that a far more epic tone would have been created and the science fiction elements more easily digested.

This is, ultimately, the tragedy of Bloodline. It might have been a great horror film, but we will simply never find out. Instead it is consigned to history as a fascinating failure – a ‘what-could-have-been’ – for the hardcore and dedicated enthusiasts to discuss. When released in American cinemas on 8 March 1996 it was critically eviscerated and commercially disastrous. Its entire theatrical release grossed just US$9 million.

Of course, with brand recognition there was still money to be made from the direct-to-video market, and the potential always remained for a future sequel or remake to better capture Hellraiser’s appeal. In a 1996 online chat, Clive Barker noted: ‘Hellraiser 4 has been released in the States. It’s not very good. I think they are making another one. Oh God!’ Hellraiser: Inferno was ultimately released on video in 2000.

Dimension Films have studiously held onto the screen rights for more than two decades. So long as a sequel is released every few years, Dimension retain the rights. A subsequent six sequels have been made, each on a minimal budget and quietly released without fanfare. The fifth film marked the feature debut of Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Doctor Strange). The tenth and most recent, Hellraiser: Judgement, was written and directed by make-up designer Gary J. Tunnicliffe. Until the rights are transferred, or Dimension give up, Hellraiser seems looked in an endless cycle of dreadful and cheaply-made follow-ups for the rest of all time.

It is a certain kind of hell, I suppose.

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