After a four-year layoff, Bob and Harvey Weinstein wanted another Hellraiser flick. They also didn’t want to pay a lot of money for it, so they optioned a direct-to-video film. That meant no big stars, no big budget, and a script that was clearly written as a different film and reworked to insert iconic Hellraiser bad guy Pinhead (Doug Bradley) into some scenes.
From 2000, Hellraiser V: Inferno was directed by Scott Derrickson, from a screenplay by Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman. Craig Sheffer stars as police detective Joseph Thorne. He’s the protagonist of this film, but he’s not that good of a guy, which he admits in the film’s narration. He has a wife and kid at home, but rather than spend his off hours with them, he can be found trolling the streets of Denver, shaking down dealers for cocaine and paying for hookers with money stolen from the wallets of murder victims.
All of this catches up with Thorne when he’s assigned to a bizarre murder case wherein the victim was engaging in an occult ritual of some kind. Veterans of the Hellraiser franchise will know where this is going. One of the accoutrements of the ritual was, of course, the Lament Configuration, the puzzle box featured in the film series that summons demons to our plane of existence.
For some reason, Thorne is carrying this thing around while out on his nightly shenanigans, and he opens the box, setting off the events of the film.
It’s around here that the film strays far enough away from the source material that a viewer can tell this began life outside of the Hellraiser universe. Pinhead and the other Cenobites have always been peripheral characters in the Hellraiser films, but their presence hovers over events in a way that they just do not in this film. Rather, this film is a psychological horror story following Thorne as he struggles to piece events together and solve grisly murder after grisly murder. The kicker is that all the murders seem to point back to him. A guy he went to high school with, a hooker he slept with, a dealer he robbed. The closer Thorne gets to a mysterious underworld character known only as The Engineer, whom Thorne believes is connected to the box, the more people Thorne knows wind up dead. Even Thorne’s partner, Tony (Nicholas Turturro), is beginning to think Thorne might not be innocent of the crimes they are investigating.
For a direct-to-video film, this has an above average screenplay and execution (with the exception being a weak scene wherein James Remar provides way too much exposition). The clues scattered here and there throughout the film baffle viewer and Thorne alike, even though viewers know the nature of the puzzle box. The ending is a little confounding, but Derrickson and company did a good job keeping the wheels turning.
The problem is, it’s just not a Hellraiser flick. Viewers have been sold a false bill of goods. Pinhead is the only Cenobite in the film, and even he is barely in it. He shows up on occasion to spout some profundities and then it’s back to following Thorne’s descent into insanity and/or grim realization.
The Hellraiser series is about people getting more than they bargained for when they seek out the box. Thorne wasn’t looking for anything.
What we have, then, is a film that is a victim of the movie industry. It’s a sincere effort at telling a story, corrupted by a production company that jammed it into an existing property. It’s business, and realizing that hurts suspension of disbelief.
After the second film in the series, Hellraiser films did not find the stewardship they needed, resulting in consignment to the bargain rental rack at the video store. If ever there was a theme to Attack of the Franchise Sequels, it is that. Hellraiser V: Inferno, falls way down the Watchability Index, displacing Eye See You at #276.