Hellraiser Bloodline (1996) is the fourth film in the Hellraiser franchise. It was also the last to be released in theatres and the last to have Clive Barker as a writer, director or producer. Directed by “Alan Smithee”, actually Keven Yagher, who is primarily a makeup artist, and written by Peter Atkins, who also wrote the second and third films.
Hellraiser: Bloodline starts off promising, but dissolves into a mess. Lots of plot threads dangle, lots of things happen for no reason. Apparently, this was a troubled production, which would explain why the director took his name off the picture, replaced by the “Alan Smithee” credit.
It’s certainly an ambitious production, spanning from pre-Revolutionary France to a space station in the future. The first act shows how Phillippe Lemarchand made the first puzzle box for a decadent, murderous aristocrat, the Duc de L’Isle. The duke has already summoned and enslaved Angelique, a demon bound into the body of a human woman.
This is the most visually interesting and most thoughtful part. Angelique is set up as an interesting character, a temptress who nominally serves the humans who summoned her, but definitely tops from the bottom. She keeps her human “master” alive and young for 200 years, but kills him with little hesitation when he gets in her way.
The second act concerns Lemarchand’s descendant, John Merchant, who designed a building styled after the puzzle box (a nod to the ending of Hellraiser III). Angelique and Pinhead are fighting for control of John, to use the building as a larger puzzle box and control the portal to hell.
There are hints of Angelique being set up as some kind of foil/rival to Pinhead, the embodiments of temptation versus suffering. He tells her, “Hell is more ordered since your time, princess, and much less amusing.” Pinhead starts seducing Angelique, speaking to the demon in her. He speaks of “The beauty of suffering.” He cuts her with a hooked finger between her breasts, which she seems to enjoy. Later he tells her, “Temptation is worthless, princess. Suffering is the coin of the realm.”
The third act, the weakest, has another descendant, Dr. Merchant, summoning the Cenobites in an abandoned space station. Angelique is now a Cenobite, but there’s no explanation as to why she had become a Cenobite. (That she’s not a human, but a demon wearing a human’s skin, raises even more questions.) She doesn’t even get an intro shot. Pinhead villain-monologues about Earth. “A garden of Eden. A garden of flesh.”
It devolves into an Aliens knockoff with a bunch of soldier getting stalked and killed by the Cenobites, before Dr. Merchant reconfigures the entire station into a gigantic puzzle box and uses it to destroy the Cenobites.
While there are ten films in the Hellraiser franchise, Bloodline was the last to be released in theatres, and the last to have any involvement from Clive Barker. Reportedly, the six other films are pretty mediocre. I’m getting diminishing returns from the Hellraiser franchise. Whereas the original novella and the first film had some interesting ideas about temptation and the search for sensation, subsequent entries have inexorably moved towards standard slasher fare.
It’s hard to build a story around a nuanced concept, and always easier to fall back on standard tropes. Pinhead’s look is still derived from sadomasochism and modern primitivism, but he’s no longer a complex, alien and amoral being. He’s just a standard slasher/megalomaniac with the trapping of BDSM, much like the villains of Cruising, Tightrope and 8MM.