Creature-Feature Conversations: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

Creature-Feature Conversations is a series of informal discussions about obscure, unique, or cult horror films, primarily from the 80s and 90s.

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters, movies, and especially monster movies. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and been collected in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. From 2011 until 2016 he wrote a monthly column on vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press that has now been collected into Monsters from the Vault. You can visit him online at orringrey.com.

Jonathan Raab is the author of The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre, and Flight of the Blue Falcon. His novella Cold Call is featured in Turn to Ash’s Open Lines anthology. You can read his short story “The Secret Goatman Spookshow” in the Lovecraft eZine.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (dir. Anthony Hickox, 1992)

OG: When we were discussing what movie to watch for our next Creature Feature Conversation, and I said that I wanted to do something with an honest-to-goodness monster in it, Jonathan and I both typed Hellraiser III at the same time. (Because we’re masochists who hate ourselves, and apparently also you, dear reader.) So obviously this was meant to be.

But before we get into the meat of this conversation, we need to talk about how 90s Hellraiser III is. How 90s is it? It stars the lady who played Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, much of the action takes place in a nightclub, it has KMFDM on the soundtrack, and there’s a Cenobite who kills people by throwing CDs at them. (As an aside, I happen to own the KMFDM album with this song on it, and according to the liner notes it was “whacked together in a day to meet the deadline for the Hellraiser III soundtrack,” and even they don’t know what En Esch is saying.)

JR: It also features the Cenobites spouting off catchphrases, which is very 80s/90s. The camera Cenobite literally says “That’s a wrap,” after his compatriot blows up some cops by throwing a drink mixer full of gasoline (???) at them and combusting it with his fire breath. These new Cenobites are like the worst rejects from a latter-number D&D Monster Manual, complete with bizarre, nonsensical special abilities and totally devoid of personality or menace save for your half-drunk DM’s inappropriate movie quotes inserted into the game for comic relief.

Welp, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning: when the familiar overwrought and epic (I say that lovingly) Hellraiser theme accompanies the image of a dark cityscape, you can almost fool yourself into thinking this is a film that has a shot at approaching the quality of the first two movies. You’d be mistaken. My first clue came when the reporter protagonist (the aforementioned Terry Farrell) witnesses a supernatural event involving a clubgoer who is cut up by chains. Then his head explodes. And the head explosion looks awful—like a black foam soccer ball shot apart by compressed air. Think of a movie with a head explosion in it, and I guarantee you that film did the effect better. There’s Scanners of course, that’s the classic—but even something like The Toxic Avenger pulls off the disintegration of skull and brain matter more effectively. I admire that they’re trying to shock the audience with a big effect early on, but it was silly, not shocking. It didn’t help that in one of the following shots we can see the corpse in the background, head still intact.

Pinhead in statue
Help, I’m trapped in this awful movie

OG: Every time I watch Hellraiser III (which yes, I have somehow done multiple times now), I manage to forget that it’s directed by Anthony Hickox of Waxwork/Waxwork 2/Sundown fame. Now, I love all of those movies, but that seems like a weird filmography to jump to a major Hellraiser sequel from, which may help to explain Hellraiser III a little bit, though I’m hesitant to put this movie’s warts all on poor Hickox’s shoulders. (It might, however, provide a good clue as to the change not only in quality but style of special effects from the original and even the previous sequel; we’re in much cartoonier territory here.)

Fundamentally, Hellraiser III feels like the movie that’s trying to really turn Hellraiser into a franchise, to keep up with the Friday the 13ths and the Nightmare on Elm Streets. Hence the wise-cracking, made-for-action-figure-treatment (and not in the cool way) Cenobites, which Pinhead at least acknowledges are, “Mere shadows of my former troops.” (My scribbled note: “You got that right.”) Chalk part of that up to studio interference, I’m sure, but also to screenwriter Peter Atkins’ ongoing disambiguation of the Hellraiser mythos, begun in Hellraiser II, wherein he sort of plays August Derleth to Clive Barker’s Lovecraft; strip-mining the original’s numinosity to replace it with a much clearer cut delineation between “good” and “evil.”

But now I’m probably getting ahead of myself, so back to you…

JR: Hellraiser II is certainly different in terms of its narrative ambition than the first film. You’re right on that count. But it at least fits with the first film, feeling like a sequel that broadens the world’s scope and introduces us to plenty of great ideas. It might not be as good as the original, but it certainly feels like it belongs in the same series, and is a worthy watch for anyone who enjoyed Barker’s BDSM masterpiece: it’s got plenty of the series’ signature gore, great new expansions of the Cenobite and torture motif, and atmosphere galore. It’s the atmosphere and dark, smokey look of the originals that really draw me in, even when their budgets and ideas were stretched thin. Those movies looked menacing and gritty.

Conversely, III’s kills are poor imitations of earlier death scenes, most of the cinematography and shot composition is flat and uninteresting (with a few exceptions scattered throughout the film, such as the reporter’s arrival at the exterior of the post-massacre club; the candle lit room where Pinhead reveals himself; even the heavy-handed church scene doesn’t look bad, even if what happens there is eye-rollingly obvious), and, worst of all, Pinhead is overexposed and his dialogue and motivations are muddled shadows of his prior appearances.

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One of the film’s few high points.

OG: I think this film may also be the first time that anyone calls him Pinhead diegetically, though he is referred to that way in the credits of part 2. You’re absolutely right that Hellraiser II is much more of a piece with the first one than this installment, but I think that when you stack them all together you still get an almost perfect distillation of a franchise’s descent from visionary film to studio product in three easy steps, with this representing the smoking crater at the bottom of that particular arc.

Nonetheless, for all its (many) problems—such as Pinhead spitting out bullets? Seriously?—I always find things to like in Hellraiser III, from the street waif with a heart-of-maybe-not-quite-gold who manages to become a Cenobite just because she wants to have dreams, which is both prosaic and comic book-y at the same time, to the architecture ending, which gets called back in the at least marginally superior (to my memory) Bloodlines. Mostly, though, I just love how of its moment the movie is. There are so many unnecessary pyrotechnics, a theme song by Motorhead, and even a showdown in an abandoned construction site! But yeah, that’s me going out of my way to find things to enjoy in a film that I already knew was “the dumb Hellraiser sequel” before I even put it in my player.

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Creature-Feature Conversations: Phenomena

Creature-Feature Conversations is a series of informal discussions about obscure, unique, or cult horror films, primarily from the 80s and 90s.

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters, movies, and especially monster movies. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and been collected in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. From 2011 until 2016 he wrote a monthly column on vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press that has now been collected into Monsters from the Vault. You can visit him online at orringrey.com.

Jonathan Raab is the author of The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre, and Flight of the Blue Falcon. His novella Cold Call is featured in Turn to Ash’s Open Lines anthology. You can read his short story “The Secret Goatman Spookshow” in the Lovecraft eZine.

Phenomena (aka Creepers) (dir. Dario Argento, 1985)

OG: The first time I saw Phenomena—years ago, now—not only had I never seen a Dario Argento movie before, I didn’t even know the word giallo yet. So, needless to say, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and didn’t really know what to make of the experience when I was done. I still kinda liked it, even then, but it was a lot better revisiting it now that I’m at least a little more familiar with both Argento and gialli. Continue reading “Creature-Feature Conversations: Phenomena”

Creature-Feature Conversations: Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI

Creature-Feature Conversations is an ongoing series of informal discussions about obscure, unique, or cult horror films.

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters, movies, and especially monster movies. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and been collected in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. From 2011 until 2016 he wrote a monthly column on vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press that has now been collected into Monsters from the Vault. You can visit him online at orringrey.com.

Jonathan Raab is the author of The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre and Flight of the Blue Falcon. His novella Cold Call will be featured in Turn to Ash’s Open Lines anthology later this year, and his novella The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie will be available just in time for Halloween. You can read his short story “The Secret Goatman Spookshow” in the Lovecraft eZine.

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (directed by Tom McLoughlin, 1986)

the-secret-goatman-spookshow-john-solder
Illustration by John Solder for Lovecraft eZine #38

JR: This was actually one of the first entries I saw back when I started w̶a̶s̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ investing my money in horror VHS/DVDs in high school. I remember it being a bit scarier back then, but even now, I found that its humor and self-awareness won me over in the face of its by-the-numbers horror movie plot and proceedings. I really liked it, and consider it kind of a perfect beers-with-your-buddies type of slasher: unpretentious, silly, with some creative flourishes and a few actors who looked like they showed up to earn their paycheck by chewing on some scenery. Continue reading “Creature-Feature Conversations: Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI”

Creature-Feature Conversations: Event Horizon

Creature-Feature Conversations is an ongoing series of informal ejmkwr1jafwywvn7fv1ddiscussions about obscure, unique, or cult horror films.

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters, movies, and especially monster movies. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and been collected in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. From 2011 until 2016 he wrote a monthly column on vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press that has now been collected into Monsters from the Vault. You can visit him online at orringrey.com.

Jonathan Raab is the author of The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre and Flight of the Blue Falcon. His novella Cold Call will be featured in Turn to Ash’s Open Lines anthology later this year, and his novella The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie will be available just in time for Halloween.

Event Horizon (Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, 1997)

Orrin Grey photoOG: This was a favorite of mine back in the day; I used to own a copy on VHS, back when VHS was about the only way you could own copies of movies. But prior to sitting down to watch it for this, I hadn’t seen it since college. (That’s about fifteen years ago, for those of you keeping track at home.) Recently, when it first showed up on Netflix streaming, I had a conversation with Simon Berman of Strix Publishing (who’ll be putting out the deluxe hardcover reissue of my first collection, Never Bet the Devil, Kickstarter coming soon!) and he was saying that this film  had what he considered an undeserved bad reputation. Which was news to me, as most everyone I know seems to be fond of it. I know you’ve seen it before as well, did you know that it had a bad reputation, and how did it hold up for you?

JR: What’s funny (and somewhat… sad, if you think about it) is that I’d given myself aFrosty sense that this movie wasn’t very good. That was due mostly to the ill will I’d built up for director Paul W.S. Anderson, and for 90s CGI. Looking back on my retroactive negative attitude towards the film, I realize I was caught up in my post-college (that’s nine years ago!) desperation to “grow” in taste and refinement. Somehow I had convinced myself that this movie was bad or overrated, simply because Alien Vs. Predator was bad.

That is not at all the case.

I discovered this movie while I was in high school. I rented it when some friends came over to spend the night, mostly on the fact that it starred Sam Neill and it was in the “Horror” section of my local small-town grocery store’s rental display. This movie terrified me and those of us who stayed up to watch it. It was so intense that I compared it to The Exorcist in terms of what unnerved and frightened me.

I’m happy to report that the film, post-self-important-critical-reassessment, absolutely stands tall as a—and yes, I use this term carefully—classic 90s horror film. And, in an ironic twist considering my pre-developed palate, is a competent and well-made throwback to haunted house and sci-fi thrillers like The Haunting, Galaxy of Terror, and Alien and Aliens.

 

 

OG: Yeah, I can’t really imagine anyone saying this film is bad, though I can also see why it might not quite reach classic status. Underneath its Hellrasier in Spaaaaaace! logline, there really isn’t a lot of meat on its bones. (The screenwriter went on to pen Firestarter 2 and Mutant Chronicles and… that’s about it.)

But it’s a good, solid movie that mostly looks amazing! (The cartoony 90s CGI notwithstanding, which is really only a problem when things are supposed to be floating in zero G, as pretty much everything else is practical.) The eponymous Event Horizon remains one of my favorite spaceship designs of all time, both inside and out, and the gravity drive room is, I’ll just go ahead and say it, as iconic (and cool looking) as anything to ever find its way into the horror canon. It’s the Lament Configuration of this movie, and is just an incredible set from top to bottom. I don’t really know who’s responsible for that stuff, but I know that the production designer for Event Horizon had previously worked on Hardware which… makes a lot of sense.

I think any bad reputation this movie might have probably comes—as you sort of implied—from retroactive dislike of Paul W.S. Anderson. And lord knows AvP was a disappointment, though AvP: Requiem does show how much worse yet it could have been in other hands. I have this private theory that Anderson is essentially trying to be a late-era John Carpenter, and I think that Event Horizon is about as close as he ever got, minus maybe the first ten or fifteen minutes of Resident Evil. Replace the more restrained score by Michael Kamen and Orbital with some pounding synth stuff, and Event Horizon would be vintage mid-list Carpenter. Sam Neill is even playing sort of a variation on his character from In the Mouth of Madness three years earlier.

 

 

JR: For the record, In The Mouth of Madness has, at various points in time, occupied the space reserved for my favorite horror movie of all time. It’s up and down in recent years, but that movie hits all the right notes for me.

The Event Horizon is a glorious setting. In a making-of documentary Anderson describes how they basically reconfigured Notre Dame into a spaceship. Despite everything being gray and black, the different rooms and spaces within the ship have their own unique look, but everything fits together. The incorporation of stone-like designs, the columns, patterned walls, the green-lit circuit board tunnels, the rune-like etchings on the iconic gravity drive, and candlelit style of lighting really works.

Now, I know you won’t meet my “classic,” assessment, but in my defense, please note I said “90s classic,” which is a far cry from “80s” or “70s classic.”

The actors did a great job considering they all had limited time and dialogue to differentiate themselves beyond what their occupation was. Laurence Fishburne as an even-headed merchant marine captain is a great foil to Sam Neill’s increasingly arrogant and madcap performance.

OG: As a big, big Hannibal fan, it was fun to see a pre-Matrix Larry Fishburne looking so young (albeit not Apocalypse Now/Nightmare on Elm Street 3-young), as well as playing “spot the actor I can recognize now” among the supporting cast (Jason Isaacs! Sean Pertwee!)…

Everyone always calls Alien “a haunted house movie in space,” which I’ve never really gotten from it so much. For me it always felt more like an early-era slasher in space. But Event Horizon is definitely a haunted house movie in space, right down to the bleeding walls before all is said and done. And then of course there’s that great and oft-quoted line which, like many of the visuals in the movie, is a classic, even if the total package never quite reaches that exalted position in my book: “Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see.”

JR: Sounds like we both agree that this movie has aged pretty well (CGI aside), and it’s worth checking out even if you don’t have the nostalgia factor in place. I might just revisit Anderson’s Resident Evil and Resident Evil: Apocalypse to see if I still enjoy them now as much as I did when I was in high school and college…

Too far?

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Guess who invited us to dinner: A review of The Invitation (2015)

Directed by Karyn Kusama
Written by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi

Review by Alex Smith

The Invitation, directed by Karyn Kusama, which released to VOD this April, will hopefully reach a larger audience when it arrives on Netflix this month. The premise is simple enough: Will and his new girlfriend accept an invitation to a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills hosted by Eden, his ex-wife. The two divorced years ago following their son’s death, and with that split their old friends have split off as well. Following a disturbing omen en route to Eden’s house, the couple arrives to cocktails and smiles. Continue reading “Guess who invited us to dinner: A review of The Invitation (2015)”

Creature-Feature Conversations: The House by the Cemetery

Creature-Feature Conversations is an ongoing series of informal discussions about obscure, unique, or cult horror films.

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters, movies, and especially monster movies. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and been collected in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. From 2011 until 2016 he wrote a monthly column on vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press that has now been collected into Monsters from the Vault. You can visit him online at orringrey.com.

Jonathan Raab is the author of The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre and Flight of the Blue Falcon. His novella Cold Call will be featured in Turn to Ash’s Open Lines anthology later this year, and his novella The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie will be available just in time for Halloween.

The House by the Cemetery (directed by Lucio Fulci, 1981)

FrostyJR: This is the second time I’ve seen this film all the way through. I watched it a couple of years ago when I first started getting into Italian horror, and I just bought a few Fulci films on a lark. Although I consider this one of the lesser films from Fulci’s catalog that I’ve seen, it’s still a solidly ridiculous but entertaining flick. How would you explain the plot to someone who’s never seen it?

Orrin Grey photoOG: Badly? Before I get to that, I just need to say that this is only the… let’s see, carry the nine… second Fulci film that I’ve ever seen, the first being probably his most famous, The Beyond, about which I remember almost nothing except that I’m pretty sure it had the same library in it as this movie. Honestly, if I were trying to explain House by the Cemetery to someone who hadn’t seen it, I probably wouldn’t even mention the plot, just tell them that it’s sort of an Italian mash-up of old dark house, giallo, and slasher films and let them draw their own conclusions. Continue reading “Creature-Feature Conversations: The House by the Cemetery”

Honey, I’m in our home: A review of Astron-6’s The Editor

Directed by Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy
From Astron-6

Marketed as a horror-comedy send up of the films of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and other Italian horror and suspense filmmakers, The Editor from Astron-6 ends up being something a bit more complex. Can you lovingly mock and mimic a type of movie so well that you end up making the very thing you set out to spoof?

On the surface, the premise is simple. In consciously meta fashion, a Giallo-style, black-gloved, knife-wielding psychopath is offing the cast and crew of an in-production 70s/80s Giallo flick. All of the victims have some of their fingers sliced off, which levels suspicion at the film’s troubled editor Rey Ciso, who mangled his own hand during a past mental breakdown. Incompetent police, deviant sexual affairs, petty jealousy, infidelity, mental illness, and the occult all come together to form a nonsensical murder mystery in typical Giallo fashion.

The plot is incidental—more of an excuse to reference and replicate the best and worst of Italian horror cinema. The pacing, dialogue, sound design, music, camera work, acting style, and ridiculous plot are all played up for laughs, but also perfectly capture the ridiculous nature of Italian and exploitation horror films of previous decades. Even though this is nominally a comedy, I couldn’t help but wonder if, had this film been released in 1983, would anyone have realized it was supposed to be a spoof?

the-editor-poster-01

That is not to say that the film isn’t funny, because it absolutely is. There aren’t many jokes per se, but the gore effects, overacting, absurdist dialogue, decidedly non-PC humor, and running gags had me barking out laughter more times than I can count. The humor isn’t just for those familiar with the source material—although that helps—anyone who is a fan of absurdist, over the top, and crude humor alike will find plenty to laugh at. This is one of the funniest—and most disturbing—movies I have seen in a long time.

So yes, the film succeeds as a comedy. But it also succeeds at replicating the atmosphere, tropes, and techniques of horror cinema’s foreign heyday. The choppy camera work, amazing practical gore effects, dream-like action and characterization, and spooky soundtrack make it fit comfortably next to the likes of Suspiria, Deep Red, Opera, Demons, or The Beyond. Much like those movies, looking for logic in the plot is pointless. I found myself swept up by the gorgeous cinematography, nightmare imagery, and stilted, offensive, and absurdist dialogue. Even though The Editor lovingly mocks some of my favorite foreign horror films, I  found myself enjoying it in the same vein.

The film isn’t without its issues. It runs a tad too long, and the humor can sometimes be take-it-or-leave-it. If you’re easily offended by violence, sexism, violent sexism, gore, graphic nudity, etc., then don’t bother. It doesn’t matter if the intent is to be ironic or not—this is an exploitation film, through and through. Comedy, yes, but Cabin in the Woods this ain’t.

I’ve spent the last couple of years dipping into Italian and foreign horror, and get many (although not all!) of the references, understand the techniques and conventions employed, and appreciate the true-to-form replication of the style. I am not sure how someone unfamiliar with Argento, Fulci, and the Bavas would react to the film. Would the humor and filmmakers’ skill be enough to win over such a viewer?

Well, the movie is so good—on a number of levels—that I think it’d be worth a try. I’ll be adding this one to my collection.