I recently watched all the Hellraiser movies and typically I would put together a quick ranking and a machete style watching order, but I feel it is important to discuss these movies first in general to get a good idea why a ranking or a watch order is extremely difficult and basically useless.
Over the past 2 weeks I’ve watched all 10 of the Hellraiser films and I have no idea what this franchise is supposed to be about. Other franchises are clear, Jason likes killing people, Freddy wants revenge and most of the time, Michael Meyers wants to kill his family members. Hellraiser on the other hand is a confusing mind blogging journey that nails multiple different horror subgenres. A series which acts better as an anthology than a direct continuity series. It’s easy to rank a series of movies when they are all similar in their approach, it’s easy to provide a watch order when there is some continuity. Hellraiser doesn’t have this. Three of the films are deep, mind warping psychological thrillers. Two of them are almost noire style murder mysteries. Two of them are straight up Slashers, one of them is a Home Invasion Horror and another is a Sci-Fi Fantasy. You would expect this to be more of the case with horror franchises with the ever-changing cast of writers, directors and producers, but Hellraiser is the only one I can think of that has so many different twists, turns and methods of adaptation. The Hellraiser series is insanity but no worries, this guide will hopefully help you sort out that insanity.
Come, we have such sights to show you
Hellraiser: The Tale of Kirsty Cotton
The first dive we are going to take into the bloody waters of the Hellraiser franchise is into the only movies that have direct continuity with each other and tell the story of the main heroine, Kirsty Cotton:
2. Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
3. Hellraiser: Hellseeker.
The original classic Hellraiser tells the story of Larry and his new bride Julia who move into Larry’s brother’s house. Unbeknownst to them, brother Frank has been in contact with the Lament Configuration, a weird looking puzzle box that summons demons or something. Well, in their words, “Demons to some, angels to others”. I think that phrase really defines the famed villains, the Cenobites. Much like David Cronenberg, director of The Fly, who is famously an atheist and refuses to put anything supernatural into his horror movies for that reason, Hellraiser does an excellent job of dodging religious context in at least the first film. There are a few scenes which even seem to make this clear, that God cannot help because these are not your typical demons. The house has beautiful stained glass, like a church. there are random nuns who can’t do anything to help Kirsty and during the climax, Kirsty opens a door and a Jesus statue pops out. No one holds up a cross to ward off the BDSM demons, no one says any hail mary’s, no cults, no satan’s, just cenobites.
Larry, Kirsty’s father, cuts his finger in the attic and the blood droplet that hits the ground brings back to life creepy uncle Frank who Julia had been having an affair with. Uh, oh. The story continues with Julia seducing men to bring them to Frank to feast upon to rebuild his body. This movie isn’t exactly scary in the traditional sense, I see it more like the biggest influence on late 90’s early 2000’s horror which instead of relying on jumps scares and atmosphere, they relied on freaky imagery spliced into a weird story. There is a weird kissing scene, a weird maggot scene or two, a feather covered body with crying baby nightmare scene. Most scenes seem to have creepy eyes watching, including creepy bums, creepy uncles in the closet and even a creepy billboard that watches you. When Kirsty meets the Cenobites, there is a weird scene with flowers blooming and an exploding IV bag of blood, amongst other things. The freakiest of all is when Julia and Larry are trying to have sex, a skinless Frank who was watching from the closet jumps out and kills a rat while the sexing is going on. In the end, Kirsty gets her hands on the mystery puzzle box and sends Frank, now wearing her father’s skin, Julia and the Cenobites back to hell or where ever they came from.
The second movie Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 starts off immediately where the first movies ends. Where the original ignored any backstory and just said, “there’s a puzzle box with demons in it, deal with it”. The sequel tries to offer a glimpse at a back story of the Cenobites and the puzzle box. Try being the key word. #2 is basically a gender swap of #1 set in a mental hospital instead of a creepy old house. I have no idea why, but the gender swap makes it more terrifying. The scenes with skinless step-mother Julia seducing men and bringing them to her death bed to devour their flesh is more frightening that when Frank did the same thing. They insert a creepy doctor and a bunch of other puzzle boxes for no clear reason. There is a strange mute girl who plays with wooden versions of the puzzle box the whole movie and starts randomly talking for no apparent reason. This time around Kirsty enters the realm of the Cenobites to confront Pinhead and to save her father.
Creepy cenobite land looks a lot like an MC Escher drawing mixed with a weird funhouse and it is explained there is something to do with Leviathan, the God of Flesh? Or something? Doesn’t matter, it’s never mentioned again, throughout this series they try to explain things but none of it ever makes sense. Our good pal creepy Uncle Frank returns to try to have his way with niece Kirsty. There is a lot of over the top gore, a brain sucking cenobite who tries to take the reins of power from Pinhead and the puzzle box turns into a dagger for some reason. This is the first movie to list our main villain as Pinhead, in the 1st movie he was simply known as Lead Cenobite. Through a confusing series of events, Kirsty and the mute girl win vanquishing a now human pinhead and living happily ever after.
Fast Forward, skipping the next 3 films and we have Hellraiser: Hellseeker or if I was making the title, The Return of Kirsty Cotton. The movie opens with Kirsty and her husband driving along when suddenly the car crashes, flying off a bridge and sinking into the lake. Kirsty’s husband survives although the police are suspicious as to whether this was really an accident or not since her husband, Trevor, has no memory of the events that took place and Kirsty’s body is missing.
Throughout the movie Trevor is plagued by nasty headaches and occasionally pukes up water and bugs. As Trevor struggles to regain his memory, random women try to have sex with him. Apparently, Trevor cheated on his wife Kirsty a lot, but every time he tries to get it on, the cock blocking Cenobites appear, and ruin it by murdering his mistresses. Spoiler alert, it turns out Trevor isn’t alive after all, he’s in purgatory. He planned on killing Kirsty by having her open the puzzle box and summon the demons.
After her death, he would collect a hefty life insurance policy but Kirsty having dealt with Pinhead and his buddies before struck a deal to save her soul in exchange for 5 others and so she killed all the mistresses and shot Trevor in the head while they were driving, causing the car to crash into the lake. The whole movie turning out to be Trevor’s living hell, the gun shot to the head would certainly explain the headaches.
If you only want the pure Hellraiser experience, your best bet is to watch these 3 movies in this order. It is one continuity and for the most part puts a nice ribbon on the franchise. The rest of the movies have nothing to do with Kirsty Cotton, these movies in general or anything else at all.
Dial H for Hellraiser
The next batch of movies are a series of completely unrelated stories and some of the best of the Hellraiser series. These films play out much more like Murder Mysteries than they do anything else:
1. Hellraiser V: Inferno
2. Hellraiser VII: Deader
Let’s start with number 5 which is probably my favorite in the series. It brought the series back to life and was a great premise that was expanded upon in #6. Hellraiser: Inferno is like a 1940’s noire detective story with the gloomy narration and everything. It follows the story of Detective Joseph Thorne who is somewhat of a shady cop and a very shady husband as he searches for a mysterious killer named “The Engineer” who has kidnapped a little boy and is leaving the child’s fingers at various murder scenes.
Throughout his search, he encounters various seedy characters, including a bunch of gun toting cowboys who happen to be ninjas. I will repeat, he encounters various seedy characters, including a bunch of gun toting cowboys who happen to be ninjas. Now you make be thinking, “Uhm, did you watch the wrong movie? What does this have to do with Pinhead?” The answer is, nothing! And that’s what makes this entry so great. Instead of trying to complicate itself and make a story stretch out into non-sense world to keep a semblance of continuity, it took a different approach. It uses Hellraiser lore to make a story about sin and took a normal murder mystery and put it on its head with a wicked twist that I will not spoil. The 5th entry breathed new life into the series and took the remaining films in a different direction.
The seventh entry to the series, Hellraiser: Deader follows the story of an investigative reporter, Amy, tracking down the origins of a mysterious videotape depicting a ritualistic murder and reanimation by a cult named The Deaders. The movie weaves in and out of the real world with Amy delving into a weird sexual fetish cult underground and an ethereal dreamscape world where Amy must confront her past, and the memories of her father’s abuse and his subsequent murder by her hands. Other than the existence of the Lament Configuration puzzle box and the Cenobites, the only connection this film has with any of the others is the cult leader, who is a direct descendant of the original creator of the box, LeMarchand. This film has tons of creepy imagery and symbolism. It is one of the best in the series without question. The climatic end is dense with symbolism and beauty unmatched by the other films in the series.
You can easily watch these two films without any previous knowledge of any of the others. They are stand alone endeavors and should be treated as such. As sequels they make no sense as they are in no way connected but as separate things, they are amazing.
Nightmare on Hellraiser Street
The next batch of flicks play out more like traditional slashers than they do supernatural horrors or tight thrillers like some other entries in the series, these films include:
1. Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth
2. Hellraiser 8: Hellworld
I’ll be blunt. Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth is trash. But the good kind of trash that we horror fans love. It, much like #7, follows the story of a reporter investigating a mysterious murder. This movie has a lot going on in it, and the future films draw heavily upon some of the concepts explored in this film. The Cenobites have strange dream powers, they can come to earth, you don’t need to touch the box to be a target and the bizarre weaving in and out of reality really begins here. Other than that, this movie is an insane mess. There is an extended dream sequence where an un-pinned Pinhead gives a great deal of exposition about the lament configuration, leviathan and the nature of the cenobites. Which is never referenced again.
There is a bar where the band Armored Saint is always playing, and all the bartenders are way too overdressed.Pinhead makes his way to earth slaughtering literally 100’s of people with ice cubes, CDs, pool balls and flying meat hooks.This gives birth to numerous new Cenobites including a fat, barbed wire covered, martini shaker carrying, fire breathing Cenobite.There is also a Video Camera Cenobite and a CD-ROM player Cenobite.Yeah, it gets absurd.So absurd that they start dropping corny one-liners and give up completely on the plot in favor of blowing shit up.Finally, good guy un-pinned Pinhead and bad guy Pinhead fight, merge and explode and the film ends with Motorhead playing Hellraiser. Don’t go into this film expecting a detailed story although one kind of exists, its just buried under nonsense, franchise experimentation and Michael Bay style exploding everything.
The eighth installment, Hellraiser: Hellworld is a huge change in direction from the previous three films and is the closest to a slasher as any of these movies get including a slow walking, stalking, knife wielding Pinhead. The premise of the movie dips a little bit into meta-horror as Hellworld is a video game that depicts the lament configuration and the Cenobites. A group of friends who are avid players of the game are invited to a house party shortly after the suicide of one of their friends who was addicted to the game. From there everything gets weird. The main characters start getting stalked and murdered one by one and they somehow become invisible to the other party goers. It turns out the party’s host, Horror Legend Lance Henrikson, is the father of the dead friend and blames the group of friends for his son’s death. Because of that he dosed them with a psychedelic and buried them alive, this whole movie being an illusion of their drugged-up state. Nice use of the old Deus ex Machina, it’s surprising it took eight films before they needed to use one but it’s the best use case possible. The movie ends happily without an appearance by the real cenobites until the very end where the gracious host is seen drinking in a motel messing around with the lament configuration.
These movies, like the murder mystery batch, can be watched solo without any regard for any other film in the series. However, unlike the murder mysteries, watching the previous films can be an enhancement. I highly suggest watching 1, 2, 3 and 8 as a little mini marathon.
The latest two installments of the franchise are difficult to classify. One of the movies plays like a home invasion horror and the other one is a mix of Saw and Seven with 20 gallons of blood. Overall, they don’t fall into any of the other buckets:
1. Hellraiser 9: Revelation
2. Hellraiser 10: Judgement
By the time we get to the ninth entry, Hellraiser: Revelations, the series has done just about every horror genre except found footage and home invasion. Surprise! This movie has both! The found footage aspect provides the back story of two young bros who are going to Tijuana for a weekend of drunken debauchery. The bros go missing and all that is left is a video tape showing one of the boys opening the lament configuration. The story centers on a suburban house party with the families of the two young lads mourning over their loss when suddenly, one of the boys reappears. The phones stop working, there is no cell service and the cars disappear. Yeah, they fucking vanish. The folks inside board the doors and windows and try to wait out the night. But, SPOILER ALERT, it turns out the boy who returned is not who he says he is. What follows is a tense home invasion horror flick which provides all the necessary plot details to put the whole story together. This film is very much in line with the mythos of the original 2 films with a skinless demonic escapee of the Cenobites using a human to provide victims that he can consume to rebuild his body. There are a few subtle homages to the original, little things you notice when you watch all the movies in close succession. This is the first film without the infamous Douglas Bradley in the role of Pinhead, the recast wasn’t the best, but if the Wikipedia is any indication, it’s the best they could do on extremely short notice.
What in the exact fuck? A homeless guy gets a note telling him to go to an abandoned house for an interview. A German guy with a disfigured face documents on an old typewriter the homeless man’s account of a child molestation that he had committed and says his judgement will be referred to an auditor. The auditor, a weird fat guy, cuts up the paper the German typed, douses it in a liquid he calls child’s tears and eats it. He then pukes this up into a funnel that leads into another room in which three naked, busty blondes with their faces sliced off, stick their hands in the puke and return a judgment of guilty. The homeless guy is then strapped to a table and picked apart by three older, chubby ladies and finally a big ol’ fat guy walks into the room with a baby mask on who has a bondage freak in his back pack who jumps out, slices the guy up with these golden blades, and peels his skin off. The three busty blondes enter the room and bathe themselves in the homeless guys blood.
Queue the opening credits for Hellraiser: Judgement
I debated adding this to the Murder Mystery section, but there is just so much more going on here that I just cannot. Also, since it’s so recent I’ll leave my overview of it limited to the opening sequence and to let you know it is a wild ride in which I think Pinhead kills God? Maybe? The re-recast of Pinhead is amazing, the implementation of religion into the story was surprising and the film overall is bloody, gruesome fun.
Honestly, based off these last 2 outings I am excited to see where the story goes from here. Now as you’re reading this you may be thinking, “Hey, there are 10 Hellraiser films, you’ve only covered 9, What Gives!!” Well, buckle up, we’re going to space….
The worst of the 10 movies gets its own section and that is Hellraiser: Bloodline and oh fuck, we’re in space. This movie is bad, bad, bad and that’s not just my opinion. The director, Kevin Yagher, filmed this under the pseudonym Alan Smithee which is a name used when the director wants to disown a movie. Did I mention this is Pinhead in space?
Yeah, and in the future too, the year 2157. Also, it’s set in the 1600’s and depicts the creation of the Lament configuration by a guy named LaMarchand never mentioned again except briefly in Hellraiser 7. Yup, a whole lot is going on here, including a Cenobite dog. This is the winding story of the LeMarchand family who created the box in the 1600’s and the family has been working to put the Cenobites back ever since, over multiple generations. Including the 1996 version of LeMarchand and the 2157 version as well.
Yeah, it’s confusing and makes no sense at all. Most of the movie is set in 1996 and honestly, they could have used flashbacks to 1600’s and completely ignored the space stuff but they didn’t. This movie is a wreck. They just throw in tons of random stuff for no reason at all. For instance, suddenly there are two random twin cops searching a building where Pinhead is. They eventually are turned into a double headed Cenobite that separates at the first chance they get and then kill people by making them a third body to their double body, or something. There is some bizarre premise about a machine to lock up the Cenobites for good which involves letting them out? So, they use a terminator robot to let them out, which Pinhead explodes? And then finally the spaceship folds up into a giant Lament configuration space station? There is so much going on and its so sloppily put together no wonder the director distanced himself from it.
This movie is a tangled mess that fits in nowhere else and is of a quality so far below the other Hellraiser movies that watching in any sequence would diminish the other movies. If you are going to watch Bloodline, watch it last as the final scenes ensure us that the Cenobites will never return.
No matter which subsection of Hellraiser movies you choose to watch (The Tale of Kirsty Cotton, Dial H for Hellraiser, Nightmare on Hellraiser Street or Hellraiser Returns!) make sure you end each sequence with a viewing of Hellraiser: Bloodline. It’s only redeeming quality is that it can be called the end to a great franchise.
Overall, the Hellraiser franchise is one of the best in horror history. These movies always seem like 2nd tier with horror fans but I really hope a reexamination of the later entries will bring more love to this franchise. As it hits every main sub-genre of horror there is certainly something for everyone.
1. Hellraiser: Inferno (5)
2. Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
4. Hellraiser: Deader (7)
5. Hellraiser: Judgement (10)
6. Hellraiser: Hellseeker (6)
7. Hellraiser: Revelations (9)
8. Hellraiser: Hellworld (8)
9. Hellraiser: Hell on Earth (3)
10. Hellraiser: Bloodline (4)
My suggestion? WATCH THEM ALL
Curious about the book the original movie is based on? Check out our review HERE.
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