Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)

Alan Smithee (Kevin Yagher and Joe Chapelle)

Bruce Ramsay - Philip LeMarchand/Dr. Paul Merchant/John Merchant
Doug Bradley - Pinhead
Valentina Vargas - Angelique
Kim Myers - Bobbi Merchant
Christine Hamos - Rimmer
Adam Scott - Jacques De L'Isle
Mickey Cotrell - Duc De L'Isle
Courtland Mead - Jack Merchant
Mark & Michael Polish - Twins
Charlotte Chatton - Genevieve

Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/Slasher/Supernatural/Demons

Running Time - 84 Minutes

On a space station named Minos in the year 2127, a scientist named John Merchant (Bruce Ramsey) is the last descendant of the man who created the Lament Configuration puzzle box - the portal to hell that sets the infamous Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his Cenobites free. Wanting to end Pinhead's reign of terror on his family and the world, he willingly opens the box to set him free in order to destroy him. Once Pinhead is freed, however, Merchant is taken prisoner by space marines who want to know what he's up to.

As Merchant is prisoner, he tells a marine (
Christine Hamos) about the history of his family and the puzzle box, starting way back in the 18th century. Supposedly, the box was unknowingly created to unleash hell on earth in the form of Angelique (Valentina Vargas) - a demon who enjoys seducing humans in order to feed and torture them. She's obsessed with the Merchant bloodline, following the family through 1996 and into the future. With Pinhead helping her in destroying the Merchant bloodline, can Dr. John figure out a way to stop Pinhead and Angelique? Or will the demons finally bring their "pleasures" to Earth?



- The intention and the concept. HELLRAISER IV: BLOODLINE continues the unfortunate decline of an original Clive Barker project that was considered special, due to it being very different from the slasher era that surrounded the film's release. Now, HELLRAISER has become a forced slasher franchise in its own right, diluting what made the first two films unique. However, I do respect and appreciate that BLOODLINE wanted to be its own film that would make it stand out from the previous entries.

BLOODLINE, written by Peter Atkins [who also wrote HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II and HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH], is sort of done in an anthology type of way - having three different timelines tell three different stories about the Lament Configuration's origin and the curse it has had on the Merchant bloodline [oh...that's where the title comes from!]. I'll get into the stories themselves shortly, but I thought it was an interesting storytelling tactic that separated itself from the previous installments. A lot of people complain about why an origin for the puzzle box was even needed, but where else could the franchise had gone at this point? We already knew about Pinhead's deal from HELLBOUND and HELL ON EARTH, so the logical step was to explain why this Lament Configuration is the gateway to Hell. It explains the strange final shot from HELL ON EARTH [the 1996 portion finally answers my question from the last HELLRAISER review I wrote] and actually makes this box feel important. In fact, the box is more dangerous than any of the Cenobites that come out of it. I liked that we saw three different time periods and how the box played in each one. I wish the execution was better [I read the original script to this film and it's a whole lot better than what we eventually got], but the intent and ambition was there. Too bad Miramax had to stick their greedy hands into the project and ruin it.

- The gore and SFX. While it's not the greatest special effects due to Miramax cutting the budget somewhat compared to HELL ON EARTH, it's not a surprise that they still manage to be a highlight when Kevin Yagher was on the project [at least for a while anyway]. Yagher is best known for his work on one or two of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels and he handled the looks of all the demonic characters here. Pinhead still looks great. Angelique, in demon form, looks pretty hot. The twin Cenobites look pretty awesome in my opinion. And while the demon dog is a silly addition, at least it looks pretty creative. The Cenobites looked closer to Barker's vision rather than the ridiculous ones of HELL ON EARTH. That's a good thing.

I also thought the gore was pretty nifty here. The melting of a space marine by the twin Cenobites is probably the memorable one in this film. Not sure how they managed to do that, but it looked awesome. A guy getting decapitated by a mirror he's stuck into is pretty cool. The twins merging into one is a visual highlight. And we get the usual bites, scratches, stabbings, and cool stuff like that.

The space CGI looked weak, but it was 1996 and CGI was still being developed and played around with. It looked like effects from a TV show, but that's the budget they had had to work with. So I'm okay with it. I didn't mind the SFX at all.

- The acting. This was a toss up for me. I didn't particularly find a lot of the actors inspiring, but I didn't think they were all that terrible either. And compared to a lot of other issues with BLOODLINE, the acting here was the least of the film's problems.

Bruce Ramsay played three roles in the film, all members of the Merchant bloodline. I personally thought he was a bit bland for the most part. I thought his performance in the 18th Century portion was his best and it just sort of deflated once the other sections presented themselves. He wasn't bad or anything, but he never had that heroic lead impression on me.

Valentina Vargas, however, was much better as the mysterious Angelique. She was definitely a seductive presence who just screamed "bad news" anytime she appeared. I loved her accent and I really thought she brought some interest into her role. Too bad once Pinhead appears, Vargas becomes a background player. But I really dug her.

Everyone else was decent. Kim Myers, best known as Lisa from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY'S REVENGE, is still a good actress and does her best with the role of Bobbi. Charlotte Chatton was cool as Genevieve. A young Adam Scott was good as Angelique's boy toy, Jacques De L'Isle. Even better was Mickey Cotrell as Duc De L'Isle, coming across as very maniacal. Christina Hamos didn't do much as Rimmer, but she was kind of cute.

And of course, we have Doug Bradley returning as Pinhead. He still brings a lot of passion and deviousness to the role. But he looks kind of bored by this point at times, as he isn't really given much to do but just stand around and play with doves. He still brings a presence to the film though, so it's okay.

- The 18th Century portion. Of the three different timelines in BLOODLINE, I found myself more glued to the past storyline where the Lament Configuation was actually created and used for evil. Learning that the box was never intended to be a gateway to Hell was interesting, and I liked the characters involved in making it happen. Duc and Jacques De L'Isle wanted the box and cast some sort of spell on it, allowing them to conjure up Angelique into the skin of a woman they had murdered [in a very cool moment]. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of the first two HELLRAISER films, with a human opening the box to gain some sort of power that he/she failed to understand. The presence of Angelique, using sex to seduce and torture her victims, reminded me of the more positive aspects of this franchise. I also thought the setting fit the Clive Barker vision of HELLRAISER very well and wish the entire film took place during this time period. Hell, I would have been happen if the portion was longer like it was in the original script [where character development and the motives of Angelique were presented more clearly]. But Miramax wanted Pinhead to appear sooner [he doesn't appear at all in the past story], so the best part of the film was edited down. Bastards.

- The 1996 and 2127 portions. Here is where the tone of HELLRAISER changes from supernatural/demonic story to full on slasher mode - losing me in the process. The 1996 portion is the soap opera part of the film, dealing with relationships between Merchant and his wife - as well as Pinhead and Angelique. Angelique is obsessed with Merchant for whatever reason. I wasn't sure if she wanted him to make a box that would open the pathway to Hell, or close it completely so she could remain on Earth in the guise of a human [which she seemed to enjoy]. But Pinhead appears, feeling that Angelique is wasting too much time seducing Merchant when she should be torturing him to get the job done. Angelique, who was an interesting addition to the story, now becomes a supporting player once Pinhead appears to speak monologues and one-liners. Pinhead also refers to Angelique as "Princess", I guess implying that she some sort of demonic princess in Hell. While the original script explores this more, the film never bothers to elaborate other than that.

We also get Pinhead turning twin guards into Cenobites [I guess he'll make anyone one these days - which goes against what was established in the earlier films], and Pinhead kidnapping Merchant's wife and son to get his attention to open up the pathway to Hell. Pinhead has now resorted to blackmail out of desperation. What the hell has happened to this character? Pinhead could just murder everyone if he wanted to with a single snap of his fingers. Now he's resorting to blackmail? And why is Pinhead taking care of a demonic dog and petting doves? What the hell am I watching here?

The future scenes are no better. It's just your generic slasher flick, with shallow characters getting murdered in various ways. Nothing here really captivated me. I could care less about these paper-thin space marines getting murdered by Pinhead and his Cenobites. Sure, the deaths were cool looking. But this goes against what HELLRAISER is about. And I won't even get to the film's ending. Just ridiculous.

The best thing I can say about these sections of the film is that they're not boring and never made me want to turn off the film. But once Miramax bought this franchise, HELLRAISER quickly became a shell of its former self. It starts out promising, but once we get to the present and future stuff, we're back to mediocrity. Such a shame.

- Most of the visual presentation. The "Alan Smithee" name should give away that the direction is going to be an issue in BLOODLINE. Kevin Yagher planned for BLOODLINE to be his first directorial movie after mainly being a popular horror special effects artist. He had a pretty good script to work with, decent actors, and enough money to make his vision come to life. But then Miramax stepped in and started changing things. They slightly cut the budget. They eliminated certain things from the story, just so Pinhead could appear in the film sooner. They also didn't like the structure of the film either. Yagher tried to work with the studio, but eventually realized it was a losing battle. With reshoots and edits done behind his back, Yagher submitted the "Alan Smithee" pseudonym and left the project.

Miramax, needing the project completed, went to their go-to guy Joe Chapelle to finish BLOODLINE. Having already butchered the theater version of HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS, yet doing a decent film in PHANTOMS, Chapelle seemed to be the golden boy of Dimension. Rand Ravich, who would later direct THE ASTRONAUT'S WIFE, wrote the scenes that weren't filmed so Pinhead could be in them more. The project was obviously a behind-the-scenes mess, which results in a very confused sequel.

It's hard to say who directed what, although it's believed that Chapelle shot all the space scenes while Yagher directed everything else. Either way, the visual presentation doesn't click for the most part. The best scenes, like I mentioned, are the ones involving the 18th Century subplot. This portion feels like an actual HELLRAISER film and have a really surreal and bleak atmosphere that's welcomed. But then the rest of the film looks cheap, almost as if it were made for television rather than for the big screen.

It doesn't help that once the 18th Century stuff is over, the mood and atmosphere is all but gone. Sure, there are some nice shots and hints of style throughout the film. Hell, I thought the set for the space station looked pretty cool. But the editing is a bit off. The pacing has issues. And the mood is no longer there. BLOODLINE isn't sure what film it wants to be - an anthology film, a slasher film, or a moody supernatural film like the original HELLRAISER? This confusion bleeds into the direction, especially when two different directors that don't compliment each other are helming a single film. A nice looking film, sure. But nothing particularly interesting besides the expected gore scenes.


It's really sad what became of HELLRAISER IV: BLOODLINE. It has such a cool premise, yet the execution was severely flawed for two-thirds of it. It's a nice looking film. The acting is pretty decent. The special effects work. And the 18th Century portion was very interesting. But the visual presentation is suffering from schizophrenia and the other two portions within the film aren't as captivating as what was before it.

This was intended to be the final HELLRAISER film, yet it was only the final released in theaters as the sequels went straight to video. The film pretty much bombed at the box office and it's really no surprise - what brought people into HELLRAISER to begin with was pretty much gone by this point anyway. I totally blame Miramax and Dimension Films for sticking their noses where it didn't need to be. I get that they need to have some input, but not on the level that they had here. Those who read the original script know this sequel had so much potential and could have revived it for many. But the potential just got wasted over greed. Just a by-the-numbers sequel that isn't as bad as many say, but is nowhere close to the quality of the first two films. Time to stick this one back into the box until next month, where I'll begin the straight to video sequels with HELLRAISER: INFERNO - a film I haven't seen. That should be interesting - at least more interesting than what this sequel was.

1.5 Howls Outta 4


  1. I'm with you on this one, it feels good at times, at others it doesn't. I hate it when a studio messes with a film! I enjoyed the scenes where they go into how the lament configuration came to be, that part was cool. And I also enjoyed the actual bit about the spaceship being a giant lament configuration...but the lazer guns? What? This is Hellraiser for crying out loud not Star Crash! I want to re-watch this one, just to review it.

    1. I would really love to read your thoughts on this one. Yeah, it's a shame what happened to this film. It was delayed for a year due to Miramax putting their hands all over it, trying to make the film they wanted instead of the film that was intended. This could have been a cool film if they had just left it alone.

      And yeah, I should have mentioned the ship becoming the Lament Configuration at the end. It's a great image, but by that point, you don't really care anyway. And I hated the ending to this film. So weak. I thought the original script had a more interesting demise for Pinhead and the Cenobites. Just potential wasted here.

  2. i think i enjoyed this one, due to the amount of information it gave out... and i still think pinhead is still one creepy dude on earth, the underworld and hell in space. hell on earth was hollywood throwing money at it... made it to hollywood, but i believe that this one being scaled back went back to the eeriness of the first two...


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