Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
WRITER: Peter Atkins
DIRECTOR: Alan Smithee
STARRING: Bruce Ramsay as Phillip L'Merchant/John Merchant/Dr. Paul Merchant
Valentina Vargas as Angelique
Kim Myers as Bobbi Merchant
Christine Harnos as Rimmer
Charlotte Chatton as Genevieve L'Merchant
Paul Perri as Edwards/Skinless Parker
Mickey Cotrell as Duc de L'Isle
Louis Mustillo as Sharpe
Louis Turene as Auguste
Adam Scott as Jaques
Pat Skipper as Carducci
Wren Brown as Parker
Doug Bradley as Pinhead
QUICK CUT: A space station is stolen, and it's up to a ragtag band of mercenaries to get it back, before its creator can put it to use in his nefarious purpose; creating multiple flashback stories!
Paul Merchant - A driven engineer, who is struggling to save his family's legacy and soul. He has a drive to charge against Hell itself, and will not be stopped, no matter the consequences, and his morals start to be more questionable than the rest of his family. Even if he's doing them for good reasons. He remains unable to sacrifice most people for his cause though.
John Merchant - A family man, a good person, and willing to do anything for his family. The only reason he's less driven than his descendant is because he only knows about Hell for a short period of time.
Phillip L'Merchant - The originator, the toymaker. A good man, like the rest of his family at their core, but when a job comes along, he is unable to say no, just to feed himself and his wife. He is brilliant, inventive, and these are all traits that pass down through the bloodline.
Angelique - A 'princess' of Hell, a demon of much power, from before the time of Pinhead. She is shoved into a meatsack, and used as a means to a person's own personal genie. But she wants to return to Hell, and she wants to bring Hell to Earth. Pick one!
Pinhead - is Pinhead.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions! I am writing this on Eclipse Day, and what better time to watch a Hellraiser movie?? I mean, it's not like eclipses are omens or mystical or anything...right? Anyways, as I said, it is time to get back to Hellraiser, with #4 in the series, Bloodline. This is also doubling as my anthology movie this year, although it is a bit of a non-traditional anthology. All the stories are interconnected, and just set in different time periods, telling parts of the same story. But, each period remains distinct and is a story and encounter to Pinhead/agents of Hell in and of itself.
We kick off with our wraparound story, on Space Station Minos, in the year 2525, if Pinhead is still alive...er, 2127. Yes, that's right, it's the fourth movie in the franchise, so it must be time for...HELLRASIER...IIIIN...SPAAAAAACE. And oh no, this is directed by Alan Smithee. That's never a good sign. Really it's by Kevin Yagher. He hasn't really done much in the way of writing or directing besides this, and returned to his roots as a makeup artist. But more about that later...
The movie introduces us to Doctor Paul Merchant as he wanders around the space station, and sets up his pet robot to open up the familiar puzzle box. Meanwhile, some mercenaries come barging in to try and stop him.
Merchant slips on his power gloves so he can manipulate the box with the robot, hopefully before the mercs bust down the door.
The scene of the robot's hands manipulating the box are horribly dated 1990s CGI, and they make me so angry. Was that really necessary?
But in short order, the box is opened, and poor MARK 13 goes 'splodey as Pinhead and friends arrive on Minos. But before you get too excited, don't bother. We go back in time pretty quickly and don't get real Pinhead content for a long time.
The team grabs Merchant, and we find out he built the station, and stole it from the company he built it for, for as yet undetermined purposes. But it's gotta be worse than playing Rubik's Cube with your pet robot. Purposes that involved the puzzle box, but just what is going on, remain unclear. We also meet the team, but they're largely canon fodder for incoming Cenobites. But one of them is named Rimmer, which is killing the Red Dwarf fan in me.
Rimmer sits down to interrogate Merchant and find out why he did what he did, and we start our first vignette, going back to 1700s era France, and Phillip L'Merchant, Merchant's ancestor, and the creator of the original puzzle box. I love seeing that it was a very mundane creation, just a man creating a toy on commission...by an occultist, but still.
I also love when he shows off his masterpiece to his wife, that it just clicks open, rotates, and closes...she is less than impressed. It's very much a "That's IT?? That's...nice, dear." reaction.
Phillip takes the box to the man who commissioned it and his associate Adam Scott. And I wish I was more familiar with Adam Scott's career, because seeing him here at the start of it is a perfect time for jokes. Le sigh.
But like all good occultists, these two love the finer things in life, from food to sex to all kinds of debauchery and darkness. Which is right in line with the Hellraiser notion of Hell. Pain and pleasure in equal parts, pushing at the extremes of experiences.
Adam brings in a lowly peasant woman, whom they end up sacrificing to the box and their dark deities and demons. They skin her, hang the skin with hooks that are straight out of the Pinhead playbook, and summon forth the demon princess Angelique to inhabit the flesh.
L'Merchant watches their dark rituals after delivering the box, and his conscience sits ill at ease with it. Unable to let this stand, he tries to do SOMEthing but it does not end well for him. But it will continue forward through his line, as his family spends lifetimes trying to correct Phillip's original sin.
But before following that, we do learn from the occultists that 'he who summons the magic commands the magic' as long as they don't stand in Hell's way. Which, in my opinion, is pretty vague. It's surprising that Adam managed to not stumble into Hell's way for 200 years.
So, L'Merchant designs a device that will put Hell back into the figurative box, but he needs the actual box as part of the design, as well as some other things he just can't pull off on his own. That's why he fails, and the duty passes down the line.
I like how the fourth movie, what is really the FINAL movie in the opening sequence of movies, and should serve as the end for Pinhead, but it also goes back to the beginning. I appreciate the symmetry, and is a good way to tell the story. The middle sequence also follows along the path of the first three movies, so it really is the beginning, the now, and the end.
Anyways, L'Merchant tries to steal the box, finds that Adam has killed his mentor, and he is discovered pretty quickly. Angelique tortures him for a bit then lets him go to die.
Future Merchant continues his story, jumping ahead to the next significant point in his family's history with John Merchant, the architect, who designed a certain building where a certain redhead left a certain puzzle box in a certain construction site. Yep, they actually follow up on that cliffhanger, another thing I appreciate. It wasn't necessary, the box could've been found anywhere, and since it's a macguffin, it would be fine.
Angelique sees the familiar face of the Merchant family, and decides she wants to go see America. Adam has zero interest in that, and flatly says no. Aaaand he dies. Silly mortal. Again, how did he last this long?
So, John Merchant is having nightmares of Angelique, so he is unsurprisingly caught off guard when the figure from his dreams appears when he gets an award for designing Hell Plaza.
After John leaves with his family, Angie still has business to attend to, and literally runs into some poor schmuck to drag him along in her caper.
She leads him to the basement, and punches her way into a column, pulling out the puzzle box Joey thought she had cleverly hidden forever. So much for that!
Angelique hands him the box so the foolish mortal can open it, and for some reason he needs to be shirtless. All the better for the hooks to shoot out and grab him, I guess.
But his sacrifice is not in vain, as Pinhead finally arrives to the movie, 15 minutes late and with Starbucks. Now the real fun can begin. The two check out Hell Plaza, and Pinhead sees the potential of a giant puzzle box at last opening up a giant portal to Hell instead of coming through onesie-twosies.
Angelique goes to properly meet the toymaker mark 2, and she sees L'Merchant's sketch for his grand design. John has been working on the latest iteration of it with modern technology, but hasn't quite figured it out, but he knows it can be used to create 'perpetual light'. For now though, all it does is last for a few seconds and fizzles out.
She tries to seduce John to get what she wants, and Pinhead is quickly bored by this. Dude, it's been a few hours. Chill. But, this does serve to highlight the two different eras of Hell. Angelique, the ways of the old, with seduction and temptation and time and plotting, and the modern era with torture and intimidation and now now now.
We run into a pair of twin security guards checking out the new building, and not suspecting what they're gonna run into. They see a strange door that's not on the map, and go to check it out and run into strange noises, then bounce between wanting to run and wanting to do their jobs. Either way, they declare they're always together and have each other's backs...be careful what you wish for, boys.
After finding some puddles of blood, they finally run into Pinhead and Angelique, and actually stand up to Spikey McLeatherfetish. They're shitting themselves at the same time, but credit for not just running away. Sadly, staying just leads to them getting chained up and Cenobitten.
Pinhead decides to enact his own plan, and grabs John's son to use as bait and a bargaining chip. He also grabs Merchant's wife because why not?
John follows the kidnapping back to Hell Plaza, and finds his family...and a giant chatterer dog. I swear, someone involved in all these movies had a set of chattering teeth as a kid that traumatised them for life.
Merchant agrees to play along for now, but takes the first opportunity to run, and get his family to safety. He then returns to Pinhead to get this over with, at least.
His wife is running around on her own, distracting the Devil Dog, and eventually finds the box. Somehow she opens it and uses it to send the beastie back to Hell. I guess?
We all end up in the lobby, with Angelique urging him to open the portal. When Pinhead arrives, she urges Merchant to use his ancestor's design, and just the few seconds of captured sunlight removes Pinhead from the playing field. There's clearly a conflict between the two guardians of hell, but it was poorly set up, I think. There could have been something there, but it really boils down to Pinhead just suddenly going, WELL I AM BORED NOW.
The program churns along, and before it can reach fruition, Pinhead kills the architect, and finally the light sends all the demons back to Hell, with a little help from the puzzle box's timely arrival.
Which brings us back to Minos Station and the finale of the anthology. Jack tells a brief version of his own history, which is pretty much the same as before, and says "My blood is speaking to me in my dreams." Saying what? Eat more tuna?
The movie flashes back a little ways to fill in the gaps after the MARK 13 android went boom, and Merchant 3.0 chatting up Pinhead upon his arrival to the 22nd century.
Rimmer says she doesn't believe in Hell, but Merchant says that doesn't matter, and tries to urge the her to leave before Hell can use their ship to escape into the universe, and before they all got slaughtered.
Spoiler: They all get slaughtered.
Merchant was smart enough to use the remote control robot to open the box in a sealed room, where they would remain locked up until his Grand Design came to fruition. So of course the soldiers are here to screw all that up and blast the door open when they hear cries within the vault.
I'm not gonna run through all the deaths, suffice to say the entire squad save for Rimmer and Merchant get killed in most creative ways. I don't really care about them though, since we spent zero time with them. The best one though, has to be the guy that is tempted by Angelique's former human form, trapped in a mirror, and he gets pulled through and sliced in half by the glass.
Rimmer finally releases Merchant once she sees her team dropping like flies. While he plots and plans, he sends the last soldier after the puzzle box with tales of it being able to protect him. He fails to open the box, and there's a great moment with Angelique sighing about "thank god for men of reason' and his lack of faith and questioning keeping him from using the box.
But we do get to see the Cenobitten twins at last, as they split up and devour Carducci. Nom nom nom.
Finally, Merchant and Pinhead come to their final confrontation, and he hales the family as being worthy opponents. There's a bit more taunting and chasing, and Rimmer gets to the shuttle before everything goes boom, and waits for Merchant.
The shuttle launches as the two ancient enemies chat, and Pinhead claims he can't die. He thinks he's won, or at least has Merchant right where he wants him, and the engineer blinks out, just a hologram set to stall Pinhead.
And that's when Merchant enacts his plan, safely aboard the shuttle. The space station starts to fold up like a Magic Snake puzzle cube, refracting light and energy from giant mirrors, and it is the universe's biggest puzzle box, pulling together lifetimes of knowledge, to create the greatest trap ever.
I love, love love LOVE the space station folding up into a giant puzzle box. It is such a great reveal of where this has all been going, and great visual, and using the sun's light as the final piece of the puzzle (box) that L'Merchant could not figure out, actually makes going to space WORTH it and it makes sense to go there from a storytelling point of view. Plus it's a logical progression from handheld box, to the box the building became, to an entire space station. I will celebrate this movie for having big ideas, if nothing else
It's almost a worthy end to Pinhead, really capping off his story, and showing even his own hubris can be a demon's own downfall.
For a long time, I've been a defender of Hellraiser 3 and 4, and I had forgotten just HOW good Bloodline is. The last two are terrible compared to the first two, but they are absolutely solid stories. Good horror, meh Hellraisers, I guess.
So the station explodes, ending the threat of Pinhead and Angelique once and for all, except for the 150 or so years between now and then, leaving plenty of room for sequels to tell more stories. Noooo.
Video: I'm not happy, as always, with the video being letterboxed 16:9 and not proper anamorphic widescreen. That said, I was surprised how good it looked, even with that limitation that tends to lower the quality.
Audio: Solid enough.
Sound Bite: "Do I look like someone who cares what God thinks??" Sums up Pinhead's entire existence.
Body Count: Hell throws another party, and with three stories being told, it brings a decent body count to things.
1 - The original body inside Angelique's skin around 13 minutes in.
2 - Man who comissioned the box is found dead.
3 - L'Merchand is killed.
4 - Adam Scott dies for getting in Hell's way.
5 - Random man gets the old hook and hell treatment after opening the box.
6 and 7 - The Twin Cops die and get merged and Ceonbitten
8 - John Merchant's head gets removed by Pinhead
9 - I believe it's insinuated Merchant's wife goes boom with the building.
10 - Soldier Parker gets murdered by Pinhead
11 - Another soldier gets guillotined in a mirror
12 - Chamberlain gets eaten by the devil dog.
13 - Another soldier gets squished inbetween the Twins.
14 - Pinhead gets exploded by the sun.
15 - Angelique theoretically goes up too, along with any other Cenobite.
Best Corpse: I *want* to say the guy who gets sucked into the mirror and sliced into mercenary bits, but it all happens so fast. I have to go with the twins being cenobitten.
Blood Type - C+: Some good bits of blood here and there, especially during Angelique's origins. The effects are pretty solid too, for this lower budget affair. The Cenobites are creepy and look great, and aren't silly cameras and CD players. My one big complaint is, Pinhead's lines seem to be just drawn on, and have lost a lot of depth.
Sex Appeal: That would be almost all at the hands of Angelique...which gets weird when she goes full Cenobite.
Drink Up! Every time someone says Toymaker.
Video Nasties: I may have passed on it being my favourite death, but I'll share the mirror slicing here!
Movie Review: Okay, get comfy, I'm gonna defend this movie. Yes, as I've said, the second pair of sequels, 3 and 4, have drifted away from the gothic horror of the original two movies. They've drifted away from that whole notion of pain and pleasure and dichotomy and a lot of the atmosphere. Yes, #3 is more of a standard horror movie, and #4 is strangely scifi and an anthology type movie, making them sit strangely next to the other two. But I will maintain these two movies are only TERRIBLE in comparison to other Hellraiser movies. They are absolutely fine horror movies on their own. I love the storytelling device in this one, as I've said, and how it starts in the past, picks up on threads in the present, and rockets into the future into a time where the threat of the puzzle boxes can at last be destroyed for all time. It makes SENSE, and it has some genuinely good horror, and inventive uses of storytelling. It's a shame this is an "Alan Smithee" movie, because that always denotes a certain level of quality, that this movie does NOT deserve. I absolutely understand Yagher's distaste and reasons for wanting his name off this movie though, for all the meddling that was done. Still, this remains a well made movie, with a good story, and good scares. Four out of five exploding robots.
Entertainment Value: I know it gets a lot of shit, and is often joked about series EVENTUALLY going to space...there is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with horror and science fiction cohabiting in a movie. Look at Event Horizon. Or don't, if you're missing you're eyes. The biggest flaw with doing that in THIS movie, is that the budget did NOT support it. The sets LOOKS like sets, or some back hallways no one was using dressed up, or refugees from Doctor Who. The production values hurt the look of this movie, and having it all look cheap and fake does not help sell the world. A world which is already fantastical, and if you can't sell the reality, it can be hard to hold attention. That aside, the story is solid enough, but the acting lacks at times. Doug Bradley is, as always, a treat to watch as Pinhead. And he plays off Angelique so very well. They both have such different energies and are from such different times, that the two warring versions of Hell comes off nicely, even if it could have been better. Ultimately an enjoyable, if faltering attempt that is more watchable than you might remember. Three out of five space station puzzle boxes.