The movie franchise is the ultimate goal for many filmmakers. It creates a brand name comprised of characters and situations that have become familiar to the audience negating the need for lengthy exposition. This permits the artist to expand the story in existence given the audience more of what they have demonstrated is highly entertaining to them. This can be a very powerful technique to expand an existing story without the necessity of reinventing the foundation from the start. Unfortunately there is a downside to the franchise; it can be over used dragging a tale out well beyond anything new being added. The phase "beating a dead horse" come to mind in such instances. While this has happened in most movie genres it seems to afflict horror flicks at a higher rate. It occurs with such frequency that it has become a tongue in cheek joke among fans. The ‘Hellraiser’ series, commonly referred to by fan as the ‘Pinhead’ flicks, is such a franchise. It started off strongly back in 1987 helping to establish one of the great masters of horror, Clive Barker on his frightening career. Over the course of nine movies the terror diminishes steadily teasing fans with the possibility that the series will regain the terror it once generated. Like a drug addict constantly chasing the euphoria of that initial high the fan will never achieve the elusive goal. The ninth, and in all probability last, of the franchise if ‘Hellraiser: Revelations’. Appending the word ‘revelation’ to the primary title further enticing the remaining fans with a movie that will reveal and mysteries remaining. Credit must be given to the director Victor García and his screenwriter, Gary J. Tunnicliffe, for making an honest attempt to revitalize the fallen horror movies. After a few declining sequels and the mandatory prequel the franchise began to abandon the central themes and just placed the primary demonic villain, ‘Pinhead’, into non sequitur situations devoid of connection to the circumstances created by Clive Barker. With this installment the filmmakers returned to an original script based on the circumstances set up at the beginning; the puzzle cube and sadomasochistic Cenobites, the twisted inhabitants of an evil realm.
Steven Craven (Steven Brand) and Nico Bradley (Jay Gillespie) are best friends that take off from their hometown traveling to Mexico for a thrill or two. After a night of drunken revelry they collapse back into their room only to be brutally attacked. Their assailant was bizarre to the pair but very familiar to the audience; a tall man with pins embedded all over his face and head. In a notable departure from the rest of the series this is the only movie in the set that Doug Bradley did not reprise his iconic role of Pinhead. His absence was reportedly a byproduct of the accelerated production schedule and the actor’s unavailability. The pair of Americans is not at the top of priorities for the local police but eventually the belongings are returned to the parents. The items included a video tape supposedly of the pair’s last moments. The circumstances of their disappearance are still cloaked in enigmatic murkiness unsettling the families. Steve’s parents, Ross (Steven Brand) and Sara (Devon Sorvari) are at dinner with Nico’s folks, Peter (Sebastien Roberts) and Kate (Sanny Van Heteren) along with Steve’s sister, Emma (Tracey Fairaway). She is doubly invested in finding the guts; she was dating Nico. In all this time Sara has been covertly watching the tape found in Steve’s camera not permitting anyone else to view it. Emma’s curiosity finally gets the better of her and she sneaks a viewing of the tape, initially it is pretty much what a couple of young men from the States would be up to, picking up a hooker. That was upsetting enough for Emma but she was unprepared for Nico brutally murdering the woman while having sex with her in a bar’s lavatory. The most frightening aspect of this was the nonchalant fashion he snuffed out the prostitute’s life. The tape continues with Nico blackmailing Steven into extending their vacation.in the last seconds of the tape an odd puzzle box is seen. Searching through the rest of Steve’s things Emma find the golden cube, she starts to fiddle with t when suddenly Steve appears out of thin air, covered in blood although no injuries are visible. The attempt to rush him to a hospital are thwarted when the cars are gone from the drive way and the phone lines dead to outgoing calls. The only explanation Steve can offer his family is he has escaped the ‘Cenobites’.
The film continues through an alternating series of flashbacks and the present. In both parts of the timeline the story takes suitably creepy aspects with the box affecting Emma with an uncontrollable increase in libido an Steve being revealed to actually be Nico who has skinned his friend and now wears his flash as a ‘Steve‘ disguise. Nico appears to specialize in the practice as demonstrated by his skinning a woman and her baby. There is something especial heinous about peeling the flesh from a person. It is primitive, visceral, harkening back to violent cultures or how hunters fully utilize their kills. It dehumanizes the victim reducing them to strips of bloody skin. Emma’s reaction to the puzzle box and the Cenobites is a heightening of another limbic response, sexual arousal. It takes her away from any reason leaving her in a state of pure lust. The Cenobites have always represented a twisted braid of sexuality, torture and death. This movie moved the creatures, including Pinhead, back to their SM driven roots.
While the attempt was in the right direction the franchise has fallen too far to rescue at this point. If the horror film trend continues it is reasonably certain there will be a reboot at some point but this line is at its end, or at least should be. Barker did tap into something dark and primal in his original film which was subsequently eroded until all that remained was a self-parody. The core themes are, however, intrinsically ensconced in our minds and will resurface at some point. This ninth film tried but was caught in a quagmire that came before it.