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John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), an anthology that is so much more than simply Pinhead in space.

August 4, 2015

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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:  A nice change of pace as the franchise reviews the past and future of the Puzzle Box in this anthology of sorts. This franchise remains worthy through the fourth film, even if pale in comparison to the first two films.  MOVIES LIKE Hellraiser:  Be sure to see Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) first, of course. Then maybe Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (1992).  Also try Lord of Illusions (1995) and Nightbreed (1990) for more creepy practical effects reminiscent of the first two Hellraiser films.


Jason X (2001) took Jason Voorhees to space, as did Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996). I think we can all agree these were bad, but fun and campy ideas. Thankfully Pinhead’s (Doug Bradley) legacy retains some value as this film actually rights its swervingly uncertain path in the wake of Hell on Earth (1992) and returns the franchise to a more worthy storyline than Pinhead on a killing spree or simply giving us “Pinhead in Space.” Yuck. If you want Hell in space, you want Event Horizon (1997). Period.


Entering the fourth installment of the franchise, Bloodline opens on a 22nd century space station where Dr. Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay; Alive, Continuum) uses what I can only describe as a 1990s Nintendo PowerGlove operating a robot to open the Puzzle Box. A team of “space marines” manages detain him (after he opened the box), and he reveals that the Puzzle Box has been in his family for centuries and he must put an end to its lineage of terror. As he explains, we are told of two past generations in his bloodline that possessed the very same infernal artifact.

I was most pleased with the very different approach in storytelling in this movie. This film is essentially an anthology in which the space station story wraps around two other stories within, all three being of different time periods; past, present and future.


Merchant explains (in the first encapsulated story) that in the 18th century, his toymaker ancestor Phillip L’Merchant (also played by Bruce Ramsay) commissioned the Puzzle Box for a twisted cultist magician who, along with his young assistant (Adam Scott; Piranha 3D), used this device to summon a demon. They skinned a young woman as a sacrifice such that the demon Angelique (Valentina Vargas; Faces in the Crowd) may inhabit her skin and walk the Earth. Contrary to past Hellraiser canon, if you summon a demon you control that demon “as long as you don’t stand between the demon and Hell.”

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Part 3 (Hell on Earth) ended with the Puzzle Box being dropped in wet cement, which was revealed to be the foundation of a business class skyscraper with the interior decorated with the famous Puzzle Box design all over the walls like modern art. Accordingly our second encapsulated story advances Angelique and her master to present day (1996) as she “senses” the presence of the Puzzle Box and is drawn to America where another of Merchant’s ancestors has been inspired by the designs of the box.

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Angelique makes some temptations and summons Pinhead who. as usual, wants the box.  Thankfully, Merchant successfully thwarts Pinhead, Angelique (now in Cenobite form) and their newly created “Twin Cenobites” but the box remains in the wake to threaten future generations.



I was pleased with the stories underlying all of the Hellraiser films so far. Even though Hell on Earth felt too much like an action horror with some silly troped-up components, I remain pleased with it as it refrained from the all too often exploited cartoonishness of 90s horror. It remained dire and creepy with a rich story leading up to the “Pinhead action sequence.” A major fault of Hell on Earth was the blatant over-exposition. While this fault did not keep me from enjoying the movie, it is a bit frustrating nonetheless, and we find this fault here in Hellraiser IV. Directly paralleling the degree of over-exposition is the drop in acting quality of these two movies.  It’s worst in the opening space station sequence but becomes more tolerable later on.


An interesting notion in this story is that the rules continue to change from film to film. Or, if they haven’t changed, then they’re not being properly explained. In 18th century Paris, he who summoned the demon controlled the demon. I’ll bet Hellraiser‘s Kirsty wished someone had told Pinhead that in 1987! And, like in all the sequels, innocent people grow less safe with each movie. In Hellbound the Channard Cenobite goes on a mental patient killing spree, in Hell on Earth Pinhead tries to kill EVERYONE, and now Pinhead continues to kill without reservation once summoned and converts Cenobites at will. Back in the original Hellraiser, Pinhead couldn’t touch anyone unless he at least believed that their “desire” was behind opening the box. My, how times have changed with now a fourth director and set of writers for as many films.




The effects remain entertaining and gory. The Cenobites have a more traditional appearance again, except for the Cenobite dog (where did that thing come from; did Cujo open the Puzzle Box and go to Hell?) and the franchise mythology continues to expand our interest in the Puzzle Box.

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Our story finally returns us to the space station where Pinhead now wanders. In the end Pinhead is perhaps permanently deported to Hell in an interesting and clever story development involving the space station itself, which Merchant designed. Lucky for us, this is about 200 years in the future. So we’re good for as many sequels as they want to make until then.


Perhaps nothing in comparison to the first two films, I still consider that this film (and part 3 as well) remains worthy for viewing pleasure.

37 Comments leave one →
  1. August 4, 2015 1:26 pm

    Hellraiser Bloodline is a really good instalment in the series. I actually think this fourth film is much better than the third Hellraiser film. I really like how Bloodline shows how the puzzle box was made and how the knowledge of the Toymaker has been passed down through the generations. The whole Pinhead in space concept seems a bit wacky, but it really works, and takes the series in a completely new direction. Pinhead is as regal and menacing as ever, he seems even more powerful than before, and he’s got a new group of Cenobites with interesting abilities as well. A good film and a worthy addition to the Hellraiser films.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      August 8, 2015 10:29 am

      Agreed on every single account. I really liked this anthological approach rich with storytelling. I actually heard (on the @DeadasHell podcast) that there was originally a much longer cut spending more time in 18th century Paris and what we got was actually heavily edited down. I want to see that cut!

      • August 9, 2015 8:15 am

        I’d heard that. I’m not sure if there is an extended cut of this film. Maybe there are extra / cut scenes featured on the DVD maybe? It wold certainly add a lot to the film to discover more about the 18th century section of the film.


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