Attack of the Franchise Sequels: Hellraiser IV: Bloodline

It’s Hellraiser…in SPAAAAACE!. Sort of. Unlike the other franchises that have sent their killer antagonists into the future, Hellraiser IV: Bloodline, the 1996 entry in the Hellraiser series, only takes place partially out in the black. Most of the film takes place either in 18th century France, or contemporary New York City. It would be disappointing, as I was looking forward to watching Hellraiser turn into an Alien ripoff, but this is one ambitious shitty movie, so not all was lost.

Bloodline had a checkered path to the silver screen. There were many creative disputes, crew dismissals, and general miserableness. To add to the troubles, after the film was delivered to Miramax, reshoots were demanded, and the film’s director, Kevin Yagher, quit. When the film was finally released, Yagher didn’t want his name on it, so the film’s credited director is Alan Smithee, that wonderful DGA pseudonym for directors who went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came home.

The film follows three generations of LeMarchand patriarchs, all played by Bruce Ramsay. In the 18th century, he is French toymaker Phillip Le Marchand, commissioned by a Marquis deSade-type to construct the Lament Configuration — the iconic puzzle box used by characters in the series to summon the Cenobites. In the 20th century, he is artist and architect John Merchant, who, through Hellraiser IV: Bloodline movie postersome form of supernatural memory, is compelled to make an art installation that is a scaled-up version of the puzzle box. Finally, in the future, Ramsay is Dr. Paul Merchant, an engineer who has designed a space station meant to capture the Cenobites and rid the world of their evil influence.

Three generations, three connected stories. There were some big ideas behind this film, but Miramax was unwilling to finance them, so what viewers are left with is a shell. It’s obvious that something once lived there, but not anymore.

The cheapness is apparent as the film opens. Before getting to the main stories, viewers are treated to an introductory scene with some bad CGI showing the space station floating in a sea of stars, and it is bargain basement work. The interior of the space station is akin to any anonymous direct-to-video sci-fi cheapie or Roger Corman flick. Should one pay close attention, the space station set looks to have originally been meant as an underground location, as there is the occasional exposed rock wall.

Dr. Merchant is halted in his efforts by a commando squad of some sort, and after he is captured, he beings to relate the tales of his ancestors.

The first vignette is the one in France, and it’s the best of the bunch. We see LeMarchand build the box (the prop even looks cheap) and deliver it to the Duc de L’Isle (Mickey Cottrell), who, with his assistant, Jacques (Adam Scott, in his first big film role) use the box to trap a demon inside the body of beautiful Angelique (Valentina Vargas).

Afterwards, it’s on to 1996 New York, where the box makes its next appearance, and John Merchant must deal not only with Angelique, who has been waiting 200 years for the next toymaker to appear, but Pinhead (Doug Bradley, of course), film’s ultimate sado-masochist.

The results of these two stories don’t have much of an effect on the climax of the film, back aboard the space station. Dr. Merchant seems ill-advised summoning Pinhead aboard the station, as he could have just left well enough alone and saved himself the trouble. But, then, we wouldn’t have a movie.

The unnecessary events of the plot point to script shenanigans caused by Miramax’s unwillingness to go all-in with this movie. The ambition of the story was scaled back, with the result being that the separate stories of the LeMarchand’s stay too separate. There are threads, but little weaving going on.

And that’s too bad. There is a good movie in here. What made the screen, however, is not.

As for the performances, Cottrell’s role is over much too soon, as he was the most enthusiastic of the cast. Bradley was ever-reliable behind the Pinhead makeup, even in the moments where his character had to speak hilariously profound proclamations. It’s a feature of the Hellraiser series, so it can be forgiven. The first film had, “We’ll tear your soul apart!” This one has, “I am pain!”

The rest of the cast is unremarkable. Scott was a generic 20-something, Vargas was dubbed, I think, and the rest fit right in with the budget. Ramsay was in over his head, lacking the age and gravitas the part required. In his first expository scene, I couldn’t help picturing Brad Dourif in the role, and that stuck with me for the rest of the film. He would have been perfect. Alas…

Hellraiser IV: Bloodline, is a missed opportunity. Miramax treated it like a red-headed stepchild, and it shows. It shines at points, and then it falls into the dregs of B-cinema. At least it’s not unwatchable, slotting into the middle of the Index at #200, displacing Return of the Living Dead Part II.

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