It's been 35 years since the first Hellraiser movie shocked and terrified audiences with what would become one of the longest-running horror franchises of them all.
For the uninitiated, Hellraiser was the directorial debut of horror writer Clive Barker and is based on his novel 'The Hellbound Heart.' In a nutshell, the story revolves around a puzzle box called 'The Lament Configuration' or 'LeMarchand's Box,' named after its creator, Philip LeMarchand- a French architect, designer, and artisan. There are several versions of LeMarchand's origins, most of them from fans' imaginations.
According to one of the urban legends, LeMarchand was a serial killer initially known for making bizarre and intricate puzzle/ music boxes, which were the rage in Europe in the 1800s. Upon solving the puzzle, its owner is rewarded with otherworldly carnal pleasures. LeMarchand's mysterious disappearance only added to the rumors that the puzzles were, in fact, a doorway to another dimension and that he eventually fell victim to his creations.
There would be other versions of LeMarchand's origins, but this is the most compelling. The fact that there are several versions of his origins is a testament to the success of the novel (and eventually the movie) in capturing the public's imagination.
Now that its 2022 remake is out, it's a good time to look back at all 11 films and find out which are pleasurable to watch and which are just pure torture.
Hellraiser (September 10, 1987)
Hellraiser made its big screen debut in 1987. It begins with a man named Frank Cotton, an unbridled hedonist whose search for new sensations brings him to Morocco. He buys a puzzle box that promises to open the door to another plane of existence and limitless carnal pleasures. He succeeds in solving the puzzle and proceeds to be savaged and torn apart by inter-dimensional beings called Cenobites. He is then dragged to hell screaming, where he will endure an eternity of extreme sado-masochism.
The movie introduced the world to Cenobites, androgynous demons clad in leather with a predilection for torture, and would capture the imagination of horror fans worldwide, particularly its leader, Pinhead.
Arguably the best movie in the franchise, it grossed $14.6 million worldwide and made Pinhead one of the genuinely terrifying antagonists in modern horror.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (December 23, 1988)
Cashing in on the success of the initial Hellraiser, 'Hellbound' was released a little over a year later. Fans agree that it's a worthy sequel, and the compelling dark mythos created by Barker has translated well so far onto the big screen.
The film picks up immediately where the last one left off, and we are introduced to Captain Elliot Spencer, a British officer disillusioned with life and humanity following his experiences serving in the first World War. He would wander the earth a jaded man, chasing his gratifications until he stumbles upon a Lament Configuration Box in British India. He would later become Pinhead, a Cenobite in the Order of the Gash.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (September 11, 1992)
Clive Barker returns as a producer for this third installment of the franchise. This time around, Pinhead finds himself torn between his human self and the fearsome Cenobite.
Trapped in limbo inside a statue known as the Pillar of Souls, Pinhead convinces its owner to bring him human sacrifices in exchange for pleasures beyond his expectations.
Pinhead's human side, in the meantime, reaches out to a journalist investigating one of the victims of the cenobites. In one of her nightmares, Pinhead implores her to help him reunite his fractured existence.
There are many cheesy but enjoyable deaths in the slasher horror tradition, and fans are treated to a new set of recruits to the Cenobite family.
Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (March 8, 1996)
This is the most ambitious of all Hellraiser movies in terms of plot. Fans are given three separate timelines, all of them tracing the bloodline of the puzzle maker. The first timeline begins in the year 2127. Dr. Paul Merchant is seen aboard a spaceship of his design, programming a robot to solve the Lament Configuration.
The second timeline is set in 1796. Philip LeMarchand, a French toy maker, is commissioned by a lecherous aristocrat to create a puzzle box, which, unbeknownst to him, is intended to open a portal to hell. Realizing what he has done, he tries to make an anti-Lament Configuration to close the portal, only to find out that his bloodline is now cursed.
The third timeline is set in the present (1996), where his descendant, John Merchant, has just finished building a new skyscraper that resembles the Lament Configuration.
The movie encountered many problems during production. Its critical and financial failure at the box office would make it the last Hellraiser movie to receive wide theatrical distribution. The script would be re-written several times (giving the film a happy ending), and new scenes shot upon the insistence of the film's distributor, Miramax, which happens to be owned by Disney. The film would also be the last Hellraiser where Clive Barker would have a hand in its creation.
Hellraiser: Inferno (October 3, 2000)
This is the first of the Hellraiser franchise to be released straight-to-video. Unlike previous Hellraiser films, there is no strong connection in terms of the storyline between this movie and the last.
Hardcore fans enjoyed this movie, despite the story being slightly derivative of the 1990 movie 'Jacob's Ladder.'
Hellraiser: Hellseeker (October 15, 2002)
An unscrupulous businessman suffering from amnesia attempts to piece together the details of a car crash that killed his wife, with only a mysterious puzzle box as a clue. The film is somewhat unremarkable until the mystery is revealed near the end.
It is the last Hellraiser Clive Barker would have any input on and has (wisely) remained uncredited in the film.
Hellraiser: Deader (June 7, 2005)
A reporter travels to Bucharest to investigate a cult called 'The Deaders' after watching a video where the group sacrifices an individual before bringing him back from the dead. The cult's leader, Winter LeMarchand, is a descendant of the maker of the Lament Configuration- the puzzle box that opens the doorway to hell and the Cenobites. Unable to solve and open the box, he begins collecting vulnerable people to sacrifice.
Predictably, the reporter becomes obsessed with the box and ends up summoning Pinhead. Hellraiser: Deader is the least favorite among fans, and we can't say we disagree.
Hellraiser: Hellworld (September 6, 2005)
The Hellraiser for the Z generation, the story is about a bunch of gamers obsessed with an MMORPG called 'Hellworld.' One takes the game too far and commits suicide, and his friends carry the burden of guilt for not trying to stop him. The friends get invited to a party years later by a mysterious host, where they each get picked off. Who is this host and what have they done to deserve death?
This is the last film where the actor playing Pinhead returns for his role, and is overall a predictable movie. A pity, as he deserved a better send-off. There is some note-worthy acting in this one, and we admit to squealing in delight as the cenobites tear these annoying gamers apart. The dated tech lingo and graphics are laughable as well!
Hellraiser: Revelations (March 18, 2011)
Unanimously considered the worst in the Hellraiser franchise (and there have been a LOT of bad ones!), only a true-blue masochist would watch it til the end. Creator Clive Barker himself disowned the embarrassing flop and let it all out on social media with a scathing tweet. At least the makeup effects weren't terrible.
Hellraiser: Judgement (February 13, 2018)
Two detectives are hunting a serial killer terrorizing the city and end up getting more than what they bargained for. The cinematography is stylish, and the shots are well-made. Fans consider it a return to form for the franchise, and the acting isn't half-bad, either.
Hulu's reboot of Hellraiser mainly received good reviews and managed to gain new fans. For starters, Pinhead is recast as a female and is a more complex character than the previous incarnation. While the uninitiated will wonder what all the fuss is about, old fans were excited about the somewhat traditional slasher horror turn the movie took. Whatever the case, the new Hellraiser is much better than everyone expected. Well worth a watch!