Comments Off on Hellraiser: Hellworld
I binge-watched all of the Hellraiser sequels from “Inferno” on with horror maven/podcast partner Miguel Rodriguez from Horrible Imaginings in preparation for our big celebratory Scarlet Gospels podcast. By the time we got to “Hellworld,” we were bored with the shallow moralizing and inertia of “Hellseeker” and “Deader,” and our bar for the franchise had gotten too low to limbo under. The promise of Lance Henriksen in a cast is always a reason to fist pump though, and we dared hope. The director is still Rick Bota, just like on “Hellseeker” and “Deader,” but “Hellworld” got a much brighter, bloodier, boobier visual aesthetic, reflecting his work on films like the “House on Haunted Hill” remake. The whole thing just looks more fun, and it better, because this one is 95% party.
The movie starts out ominously enough; a bare-chested, blood-streaked guy digging, probably a grave, appropriately chilling choral music, and then some murmured exposition among your standard slasher movie set of thirty-something teenagers at a closed casket funeral. Actually, I don’t know that they’re supposed to be teenagers. You just assume that because they seem to be living at home and paired off for snuggling and play video games a lot, but maybe they all were English majors and work at the same restaurant.
The funeral is for their common friend Adam, and the picture by the casket is of the guy we saw digging before someone turned the Chant album on. We learn through the furtive whispers of his buddies that Adam killed himself, apparently because he got too into a game they all enjoy playing called Hellworld. Hellworld is clearly based off the Hellraiser franchise, so we’re in deep meta waters here, kids.
Anyway, his friends blame themselves, to varying degrees, that they didn’t see Adam’s self-slaughter coming. They also note how he has no family at his own funeral, which seems like it might be as much a contributing factor to suicide as anything powered by a 386 Pentium chip.
Speaking of Pentiums, as an authentic gamer and nerd from back when those things meant you were lonely and pathetic AND WE LIKED IT THAT WAY, the days before cute Doctors Who, when anime was called Japanimation and you could only find one half of a shelf of it in your most specialty video store, and when all comic book movies sucked direct to video, I need to call this movie out. I can deal with gorgeous teens who don’t wear braces or break out; that’s common cultural currency. And yeah, the term geek in just the last ten years has gone from something that left deep psychological welts to an effective branding tool, but these people are Abercrombie models. I can smell the guys’ Cool Water through the Netflix stream. And it makes me wonder, since the people who make movies, especially horror movies, are usually a little nerdy, why the nerds of this film are so Bayside High? Was it some sort of ironic commentary? Is it possible none of the creatives on “Hellworld” knew what a gamer was?
None of it matters, of course. “Hellraiser: Hellworld” is just looking for a way to get cute actors into gory set pieces, and the gaming and Hellraiser aspects are as incidental to how this happens as actual intake procedures at a female prison are to a porn setup.
OK, so now that I’ve done my gatekeeping, let’s get to the movie. After the funeral, the kids or whatever they are all wind up playing Hellworld again, although you don’t see much gameplay beyond opening a virtual version of the box. And one by one they win invitations to a big Hellworld party. More of a frat party than a LAN party, as it turns out. There’s some hemming and hawing about going from Chelsea, and this makes her instantly recognizable as our Final Girl. She also wears leather pants and is blonde, so you can think of her as a Buffy proxy. Jake, the shoegazey one, is also reluctant, blaming himself and the others extra hard for Adam’s death, but he ends up coming, too. There is also a Fairuza Balk-y one, the as-yet unknown Henry Cavill one, and a token person of color one. Try not to get attached.
The Scoobies arrive at the party, and it’s fully House on Horny Hill, with raucous metal banging, full frontal boobs, a dance floor crowded with plain white masks doing the Monster Mash, and Lance Henriksen parting the nubile crowd with a cryptic smile.
Our host – and that’s all the name you get from him, the Host — Lance is playfully sinister as he tours the kids through the house. First he shows them tons of Hellraiser memorabilia and talks about the history of the house, originally a convent turned asylum built by Phillipe Lemerchand. The kids occasionally insist that Hellraiser is just fiction, but Lance soldiers on with the unwavering confidence of a Creationist or an ancient aliens theorist, a sly smile suggesting that he’s read further in the script than they have. He looks like he’s having fun, and I hope he was, because he’s the only decent actor in this thing and I don’t think we could tell if he were screaming on the inside. I found this part of the movie quite pleasant, but I always enjoy the setting up the dominos part of slasher movies.
At the end of the tour, Lance presents each of the Scoobies with plain white masks with numbers on the forehead and a Nokia. The numbers on the masks correspond to the number to dial on the cell phones, the better to anonymously hook up with you, my dear. He excuses himself with a twinkle in his eye. (Don’t go, Lance! Take me with you!)
With Lance sadly gone, time to watch these idiots get perished. Each of our Scoobies obligingly wanders off to get isolated and culled according to formula. It will surprise no one when Lance shows up for these murders, but Pinhead does, too, and this was the point when Miguel and I started throwing popcorn at the screen, because Pinhead would not waste a victim on simple executions the way we see here. Of course, since this is a post-Scream slasher flick, there’s a twist.
Twist or not, nothing makes much sense once body parts start flying, but it doesn’t matter. Just go with it and watch the meta crap and don’t hope for anything else. In the beginning, it seems like the movie might be doing something clever and consciously referencing the Hellraiser series in a way that is particularized and special, but it’s not. It’s just a big, dumb, sloppy slasher flick, and it should be better, but it could be worse. Oh, look, there’s Lance. Man, Lance is awesome. So cool.
Watch the trailer to “Hellraiser: Hellworld”