Like the previous three films in the Hellraiser franchise, Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld, did not begin life as a Hellraiser story. Unlike the previous three, however, Hellworld was not a rewritten spec screenplay, but an adaptation of the short story Dark Can’t Breathe by Joel Soisson, with screenwriter Carl V. Dupré shoving in all the necessary Hellraiser bits, in the form of the puzzle box and Pinhead (Doug Bradley). So, even though the source material was different, the process was relatively the same. What’s most surprising about this flick, though, is that it feels much more like a natural Hellraiser story, rather than a cut and paste job, than any of the last three flicks. Nice job, Dupré.
Rick Bota, director of the two previous Hellraiser flicks, returns to helm this one. Bota didn’t even have to check out of his hotel in Romania, as filming commenced right after Hellraiser VII: Deader wrapped.
Hellworld follows a group of twenty-somethings who had been playing an online role-playing game, appropriately named Hellworld, based on the legend of the demonic Cenobites and the Lament Configuration, the puzzle box that, when opened, summons the Cenobites to the earthly realm. This film doesn’t break the fourth wall, or anything like that. In this film’s universe, someone, somewhere, had enough knowledge of the box and what it summons to make a videogame that contains all the sundries and lore, and released it upon the populace. We never learn who that is, or what their motivations are. What this film focuses on are five expert players who, because of their skill, are invited to a mysterious Hellworld-themed party, hosted by the equally mysterious Host, played by Lance Henriksen.
The partygoers are: Katheryn Winnick as Chelsea, whom the film sets up early as the final girl; Anna Tolputt as Allison; Khary Payton as Derrick; Christoper Jacot as Jake; and Henry Cavill as Mike. Winnick, Payton, and Jacot have since gone on to successful television careers, while Cavill has been trapped in the DC Extended Universe for the better part of the last decade.
The house where the big bash is taking place has been filled top to bottom with Hellworld memorabilia, as the Host paints himself as the ultimate Hellword fanatic. He maintains that the lore of the game is real. That there really was a toymaker named LeMarchand in revolutionary France who designed and built the puzzle box. In addition, the huge house where the party is happening was also designed by LeMarchand as a convent, and was later used as an insane asylum. It’s just atmosphere. Don’t think about that too much.
The house, however, is not what it seems. One by one the group of gamers are confronted by Pinhead, and bad things happen to them.
The setting and the events of the film are more tied to Hellraiser than the previous entries, but it still travels far from the seminal first two films. One thing that has never been part of the franchise is a sense of lightheartedness or fun. In fact, the neo-noir sensibilities of recent entries were massive bummers. This flick gets away from that by adding fun house aspects. If anything, this flick is a ripoff of Night of the Demons, or, worse, a ripoff of the remake of Night of the Demons. Like that film, this one could at least afford extras for the party scenes.
And what party scenes they are. In between isolating characters so they might meet their grisly ends, audiences are treated to much debauchery, featuring sleaze and gratuitous nudity galore, courtesy of Romanian extras. It’s just so silly. But, at least it’s fun! This franchise was suffering from such ruthless fatigue by this point that a little fun was welcome, even if it might have been the most blasphemous thing to introduce to the franchise. This being a shitty movie, I reveled in the silliness.
My favorite aspect of this movie, though, is that it is one gigantic anachronism. It was released in 2005, but if I had not known better, I would have assumed this flick had been in the can since 1998. Seven years is not a long time, but it’s an age in things like fashion and tech. What few shots we see of the Hellworld game look as if they were made circa Windows 95, and the atmosphere of the party is very late 20th century. It’s bizarre, like Beatniks showing up at Woodstock.
This shitty movie is a much better watch than what audiences had been getting from the Hellraiser franchise. The acting is better, the plot is more coherent, and it even throws in a huge twist at the end, which was very chic in movies of the time. This whole package shot for the stars, missed in glorious fashion, and left viewers with a flick slightly more watchable than The Skeptic, which it replaces in the Index at #180.