You know, sometimes a horror series just takes three entries to get where it’s going. Jason didn’t play goalie until “Friday the 13th Part III” and Freddy’s comic timing never gelled until “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.” So FINALLY, after two movies of being an amoral undead dom invoked by sweaty humans pawing the famous puzzle box, Pinhead’s doin’ it for himself.

The story opens with J.P., a rich jerk, at an art gallery checking out a large baroque pillar smothered in sensual bas-relief carvings – you know, faces and hips and boobs and suchlike. Pinhead’s face and the puzzle box are also floating around in there somewhere, like gluten in your lite beer. If you watched “Hellbound: Hellraiser II,” you may dimly connect this lovely artwork to a cheap prop rising from a blood-soaked mattress in Dr. Channard’s house at the end, complete with, my favorite, a pair of adorable rutting skeleton marionettes on one side. That must have just been hell’s first concept piece.

J.P. is approached by a plausible Kris Kristofferson impersonator/scary drifter, and instead of whipping out his gun, because you know J.P. is the kind of guy that has a Glock tucked in the waistband of his Bugle Boys at all times, he proceeds to negotiate with this guy like he’s the legal owner of something other than the lice in his beard. Mysterious guy tells J.P. the pillar is his and accepts a clutch of bills without counting or caring. Fans of the series so far know where this is going. Although non-English-speaking fans of “Sabado Gigante” probably know where it’s going, too.

We meet our heroine, Joey, who is neither an 8-year-old boy nor a kangaroo. No, Joey is a reporter, or wants to be, and on this particular night, she is fretful because the news desk dispatched her to the hospital emergency room to cover people…um, generically croaking, I guess. And Death must have been still nursing his ankle injury at Peter Griffin’s house, because no one in the city is dying. Poor Joey is super put out by this lack of suffering to report on and convinced the news desk purposefully sent her to cover bupkus. (One might argue a good reporter could turn a totally empty emergency room into a story, Joey.) Despite this being our first glimpse into her character, Joey remains sympathetic, but then this is the same era where it took 9 seasons for audiences to realize the characters in “Seinfeld” were terrible people.

Joey’s cameraman Doc, a sweet Motorhead roadie of a man, is called away to assist another reporter on an actual story. Joey resumes having a sad. But then a man is wheeled in on a gurney covered in chains that summarily electrocute him, and Joey’s night is immediately looking up. She doesn’t have a cameraman and the guy is dead, but he was accompanied by a distraught girl, and Joey is on her like maggots on the guy in the straitjacket in “Hellraiser II.” She doesn’t get much out of the terrified witness though except the location where the guy got chained, a club called The Boiler Room.

As Joey goes after her big story, J.P., the owner of the Boiler Room, discovers a defect in his newest conversation piece where the puzzle box had been. With the help of a critter nested in the hole, J.P. learns how much his new art enjoys soaking up blood. It’s not far from there to find out sacrificing ladies to the pillar is not only a great way to avoid awkwardness after anonymous sex, but it also brings his new bestie Pinhead to life. J.P. cannot imagine a downside.

Joey heads to the Boiler Room and eventually reconnects with the witness, Terri, who just happens also to be J.P.’s off-again girlfriend. Terri crashes at Joey’s pad and gives her the puzzle box, along with a Lifetime Channel’s worth of wronged woman woes. She tells Joey how she never dreams and it’s clear she never hopes for much either; she expects Joey to exploit her, too. When Joey treats her with kindness and offers to let her stay at her condo even after she’s got her story, Terri’s amazed and grateful. But that won’t stop her getting scared of being abandoned again and running to J.P. when he calls.

Terri might not dream, but Joey sure does, and that’s where Pinhead’s better angel comes in. You see, Joey’s father was killed as a soldier in Vietnam, and we join her in a recurring nightmare where she screams for a Medevac to come to her father’s rescue. Also joining Joey this time is Captain Elliott Spenser, a ghost from a previous generation’s war, but you might recognize him better when his face is scored with nails.

A dream of one war is a dream of all wars, Spenser says, explaining how he reached out to her from the eternal WWII limbo where his soul now hangs its hat. (I hope that doesn’t include the Great Joel Versus Mike Compuserve Flame War of 1996.) Spenser tells Joey how he became Pinhead, was released by a friend – meaning Kirsty, the heroine of the first two movies, but I’m pretty darn sure I saw Dr. Channard de-Cenobitify him and cut his throat in “Hellraiser II” – but that his evil was too dang evil to destroy. (That’s the Law of Conservation of Evil established in 1978 by Dr. Sam Loomis.) So Pinhead’s distilled evil got congealed in the pillar of hellstuff that survived the climax of “Hellraiser II” by being made into art, while his better nature went to dream-purgatory-limbo-ville. Sure, you’ve got an authoritative British accent, I’ll buy it. And so will Joey.

The problem is that Captain Spenser can’t do much about Pinhead in the physical world. He needs Joey to bring Pinhead through to the dream plane, where he has power to, erm, do stuff. And you may be thinking – wait. Is Pinhead’s ghost asking Joey to enact reverse Elm Street kid maneuvers against Pinhead? What what what? And a good half and a bad half? Wasn’t that, like, the plot of 10 episodes of “Star Trek”? Yep and yep.
Meanwhile J.P. tries to feed Terri to Pinhead, and that doesn’t work out too well for him. Terri’s weakness for bad men will still be her undoing, although Pinhead is definitely a step up from J.P. So, unbound from the rules of hell and upstairs from a club full of people who have reflexes slowed by drink, Evil!Pinhead begins speechifying and butchering, also raising new, incredibly silly Cenobites from among the dead to help out.

From here it’s blood and Pinhead monologues all the way down. You could argue pretty persuasively on either side of whether “Hellraiser III” was a damning or redemptive moment for the franchise. The director, Anthony Hickox, you may remember as director of such films as “Waxwork,” “Waxwork II: Lost in Time”, and “Warlock II: the Armaggeddon,” and he brings a jewel-toned, distorted-lens panache to the series along with a mordant sense of humor and zeal for extravagant bloodletting. Clive Barker was an executive producer, but the movie doesn’t feel Clive Barker-y anymore. It’s less serious for sure, but also less fantastic; and while it looks better, or more expensive, (hat tip to Hickox on that, it wasn’t) it’s less beautiful somehow. But it is fun, and while the plot bursts into dust at the lightest scrutiny like so much Dracula in sunshine, you could also say that about “Hellraiser II.”

Fun fact: I’m originally from the Piedmont-Triad area of North Carolina, the same general area that gave you Andy Griffith and NASCAR, sorry, and surprisingly, it also gave you “Hellraiser III.” They filmed it largely in Winston-Salem and High Point, and though the movie desperately tries to convey it’s in New York or a similar metropolis, it’s so not. There are no skyscrapers, no public transport, no crowded streets – hell, no city, at least as TV defines it. There’s some urban sprawl and ornamental trees resplendent in magnificent fall color, I guess. They used a bunch of locals, so you can play “spot the Southerner,” but most conspicuously they had a local anchorman at the time, Rick Amme from WXII, as the TV reporter for the Boiler Room slaughter coverage, and you may notice, Rick has a pretty hick accent as TV anchormen go. So there’s an esoteric drinking game for you.

roadside attractions

  • Piercing fetishes, check
  • Chains with hooks, check
  • One skinless corpse, check
  • Extreme Cenobite makeovers, check
  • New, yet by now extremely dated Cenobites
  • Pinheads Gone Wild
  • Mild sexytimes footage
  • Small Southern cities impersonating big Northern cities




It is a Hellraiser; there will be blood.




Boobs are almost shown several times, but the nudity remains basic-cable-before-10:00-appropriate.



BEASTS Pretty weak field for a Hellraiser with only the new Cenobites and no other monsters.

8 OVERALL Enjoyable and less confused than “Hellraiser II” was by the end, and it’s fun to watch Pinhead finally cut loose.

Watch the trailer to “Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth”