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John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (1992), Pinhead in the big city and the biggest action sequence of the franchise.

July 31, 2015


This article is rich with images you do not want your boss to see when he’s looking over your shoulder at work. View at your own risk.

MY CALL:  If Hellraiser was the Alien of the franchise and Hellbound the Aliens, then Hell on Earth falls somewhere in the Alien 3/Resurrection zone.  But just because Hell on Earth pales to its predecessors, it doesn’t mean we forget that it exists.  Not great, but worthy.  Whether you’ve been educating yourself with 80s and 90s horror or are simply revisiting your old favorites, don’t give up on this franchise just yet.  MOVIES LIKE Hellraiser:  Be sure to see Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) first, of course.  Then maybe Lord of Illusions (1995), Nightbreed (1990) and The Thing (1982) for more creepy practical effects.


Franchise background so far:  Whereas Hellraiser (1987) delivered credible character reactions to an incredible evil force, Hellbound yielded less plot credibility while delivering a vaster array of effects and revealing more about Hell and the Cenobites.  As such, I consider part 2 the point in the franchise when we stop using the word “film” and start calling it a “movie” however much I enjoyed the story.  Part 1 was more compact, being entirely based on illustrating one man’s escape from Hell and the temptations required to accomplish the task.  Hellbound addressed that component just in the first act and then moved swiftly on to exploring the Labyrinth and various personal Hells while being introduced to how Barker’s Hell works and is ruled.  We learned more about the background of the Cenobites and the mythology behind Barker’s Hellish Labyrinth.  It felt that perhaps the sequel’s director Tony Randel (Amityville: It’s About Time, Fist of the North Star) was trying a little too hard to fill Horror Master Clive Barker’s shoes.  The gore–which was already heavy, sloppily gross and pleasurably unique in part 1–was turned up to an “11” and the plot elements seemed to downshift in credibility.


A friendly warning: This movie gets a bit more sacrilegious than its predecessors.

In an obscure art gallery we find J. P. Monroe buying an infernally adorned pillar from a mysterious purveyor.  A connoisseur of macabre art, Monroe owns a huge night club that features an attached VIP penthouse, hair metal bands and death metal décor like baby dolls wrapped in barbed wire.  After a club-goer steals the Puzzle Box embedded in his “Pillar of Souls,” the thief is rushed to the hospital dragging behind him bloody chains.  This is witnessed by news reporter Joey (Terry Farrell; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) who is in need of a good lead and is now obsessed with discovering the story behind this strange “accident.”


Meanwhile back at the club, after a one-night stand with a bimbo he finds at his bar, Monroe’s date for the evening examines his new art purchase a bit too closely and, well, you know…something bad happens.  LOL.  Pinhead’s now lively face appears on the pillar, hooked chains harpoon the young girl and flay her skin, and the pillar basically eats her as a blood offering to Pinhead.  It’s actually a pretty cool scene.


When we last saw Pinhead, he had been killed by the Channard Cenobite in Hellbound.  Once something of a torture-master servant of Hell, in this movie Pinhead is introduced more as a desperate diabolical tempter.  So he gets Monroe to bring him more blood to make him whole again.  Monroe calls his ex-girlfriend Terri (Paula Marshall; Warlock: The Armageddon, Nip/Tuck).  The sacrifice doesn’t go very well and Monroe himself is consumed by Pinhead fueling his infernal resurrection.  The pillar turns into a collage of the animated flesh of trapped souls and begins to fragment, falling apart and oozing a slimy afterbirth.  Yet another gooey, memorably gory scene.  [Like its two predecessors, this movie will please gorehounds.]


Upon release, Pinhead goes on a metalhead killing spree, unleashing a storm of summoned hooks and chains from the club’s warehouse ceiling to rend and flay the panicking masses.  I’m assuming they’re not all heinous sinners, making this is the first of the Hellraiser movies in which Pinhead kills innocents having nothing to do with the Puzzle Box and, crueler yet, turns innocents into Cenobites!  Summoned in the same manner as Frank and Julia (in parts 1 and 2), Pinhead is now apparently free to roam the Earth!  It seems that the rules have changed and, now unbound by the laws of the Hell’s Labyrinth, he may wreak havoc as we wishes.  There’s one catch, though.  Just as the Puzzle Box opened Hell’s door to return Frank and Julia to Hell, it can do the same to him; he must destroy it!  It’s up to Joey to stop him.


The Cenobites are a bit less inspired. Look at the top right and note the Cenobite holding a drink shaker.  He was a bartender in life.
Then CDs in the head of the DJ and a camera through the eye of the cameraman.

In something of a side plot we learn that Captain Spencer (Doug Bradley), the man whose curiosities opened the Puzzle Box and transformed him into Pinhead, was not an evil man.  The evils inside him were sundered from the good, leaving his good-intentioned ghost and his evil-immersed Pinhead as two separate entities in Hell.  His ghost visits Joey in her dreams to warn her of Pinhead’s powers and intentions.


Now in our third installment, Clive Barker’s (Nightbreed, Hellraiser) infernal art and brilliant storytelling are behind us now.  This third film finds a third director (Anthony Hickox; Waxwork) and a third set of writers—contrary to Hellraiser which was written and directed by Barker himself and Hellbound which involved Barker in the story development.  This film continues a very engaging story (the ongoing franchise story) but is cheapened a bit by falling into some 90s horror trope snags.

I just want to pause here and say that I really enjoyed this movie.  So whatever you read below, just now that I’m not hating.  I’m simply being critical.

In the first film the Cenobites seemed to be demons from Hell intent on torturing souls for eternity.  Their mutilations and appearance were suggestive of their sins.  Hellbound then revealed that the Cenobites were once human and we see Dr. Channard transformed into a Cenobite (and an irregularly tough one at that!) in Leviathan’s “Instant Cenobite Chamber.”  So we added substance to the Cenobite mythology illustrating that they were the creation of the God of Hell, but cheapened the entity with the creation of a new one in less time than a “7 Minute Abs” workout and more like “The Clapper.”  In this third film we find Pinhead himself creating Cenobites left and right.  Further cheapening the Cenobites is that our new demons lack mutilations indicative of their sins in life or torture in Hell.  Instead their appearance is consistent with how they were killed onscreen…impalement by CDs in the mouth and head, constricting a head with barbed wire, jamming pistons through a head (and WTF was up with those pistons coming out of the Hell pillar sculpture anyway!?!?!).  Oh, and while easily killed in Hellbound, these Cenobites are totally bulletproof.  You can only kill them with glowing Atari videogame lasers fired from the Puzzle Box.  All that said, they were still fun to watch, rather menacing and born of gory means.



Another major flaw would be the writing.  The story is fine, but EVERYTHING is over-explained in such fine detail that it feels like listening to SAT test prep instructions or a “Do It Yourself” audiobook.  I found myself a bit exhausted as the ghost of Captain Spencer directed, warned, instructed and taught Joey about the Puzzle Box, its history and importance, Pinhead, what he wants, how he’ll get it and how to defeat him.

The acting is fine—nothing spectacular but everything that we need.  The effects and gore are satisfactory and abundant, although not as wowing as the first two films.  This movie seemed to approach gore with the “more is better” mentality.  I certainly enjoyed it, though.  What holds this film together is our fear of Pinhead and what happens if he is free to wander the Earth.

Hell on Earth Terri Cenobite

Yup.  This is clearly the influence of the 90s, a decade known for the dark humorization of horror and over-exposition.  The Freddy and Jason of the 80s could be funny, but Pinhead is darker and should stay that way.  Thankfully, outside of the annoyingly instructional dialogue, the uninspired Cenobite mutilations (which were entertaining in their own right) and a few grotesquely lame one-liners (“ready for your close-up?”) reminiscent of a mid-franchise Freddy Krueger, this film’s tone remains quite dire.  That’s what makes this third film work despite its shortcomings.  But it has lost its once truly surreal luster and now simply feels murderous…which is probably why this was the last Hellraiser movie to hit theaters, leaving only direct-to-DVD films in its wake.


Yes, this movie has many faults.  But it was also exciting and perhaps the only film in the franchise that felt like it “starred” Pinhead.  What we learn about Captain Spencer’s ghost also adds to the developing mythology.

Hellraiser was the Alien of the franchise, Hellbound the Aliens, and Hell on Earth falls somewhere in the Alien 3/Resurrection zone.  Just because Hell on Earth pales to its predecessors, it doesn’t mean we forget that it exists.  It remains worthy.  Whether you’ve been educating yourself with 80s and 90s horror or are simply revisiting your old favorites, don’t give up on this franchise just yet.


18 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2015 11:48 am

    Great review! Hellraiser III is far from perfect, but its still quite a good film. I like how Pinhead manages to escape from the pillar and makes a load of new Cenobites to work for him. That scene where Pinhead storms into the Church is a brilliant moment, you really get a sense of this creatures vast power, and I think its one of the most memorable moments in the franchise! Overall, Hellraiser III was fairly good, it expanded the mythology, and was really action packed!

    • John Leavengood permalink
      August 8, 2015 10:27 am

      Strangely enough, that church scene was actually the only time I the franchise had been blatantly (almost uncomfortably) sacrilegious in the first three films. I’m both glad they gave us a taste of it, and also glad they don’t do more of it. Too much of it might have pushed the franchise into obscurity.

      • August 9, 2015 8:14 am

        I certainly was a standout moment in the series, but I agree, it works in the context of this film, but glad they didn’t do too much like this.

  2. John Leavengood permalink
    October 4, 2018 11:21 am

    I enjoyed the We Hate Movies podcast on Hell on Earth:


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