With phenomenal series entries in “Hellraiser,” and “Hellbound: Hellraiser II,” 1992 horror film “Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth” is a decided step down from its predecessors. Although “Hell on Earth” further probes the Cenobite mythos, as well as lead Cenobite Pinhead’s (Doug Bradley) backstory, it’s ultimately a fun, but forgettable, romp.
With the conclusion of “Hellbound: Hellraiser II” forcing Pinhead to realize his former humanity, the Cenobite now exists as two distinct entities. One is his earlier human self, World War I British Army Captain Elliot Spencer (Bradley). The other, Pinhead, but lacking the humanity of Spencer to bring order to the Cenobite. Spencer remains trapped in limbo, while Pinhead is relegated to the Pillar of Souls.
Sleazy, successful mogul and nightclub owner J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt) purchases the Pillar of Souls, believing it a fitting decoration for his popular club the Boiler Room. Motivated young TV reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell), during a mundane shoot at a hospital, discovers a clubgoer being ripped to shreds by chains from the Lament Configuration, or Lemarchand’s Box, a mysterious puzzle box which opens the doorway to the Cenobites’ realm. Her investigation leads her to a young woman, Terri (Paula Marshall), one of Monroe’s former girlfriends. Additionally, Joey begins learning more about both the puzzle box, and Pinhead.
Unlike “Hellraiser” and “Hellbound: Hellraiser II,” there’s little continuity between the films. Pinhead’s revelation of his former humanity, causing a rift between Spencer and his ID, provides the sole unifying factor. Aside from that, it’s an entirely new set of characters. It’s this concept of Pinhead without the humanity of Spencer, which drives “Hellraiser III.” Whereas Pinhead with a human side remains balanced, abiding by a code of honor, Pinhead sans Spencer is pure wrath. It’s neat witnessing the Cenobite unleashing his powers in a whirlwind of destruction.
However, most of “Hell on Earth,” falters. Aside from Joey, most of the characters are unlikable. Monroe in particular is such a caricature that it’s difficult to take him seriously. Whether the comedic aspects of “Hellraiser III” are intentional or not is unclear. Director Anthony Hickox rose to prominence with horror-comedy titles such as “Waxwork,” and “Waxwork II: Lost in Time.” Indeed, later in the film there’s a Freddy Krueger vibe with a smattering of super cheesy one-liners. “Ready for your close up Joey?” taunts cameraman Doc (Ken Carpenter) after his transformation into a Cenobite.
There’s a running war motif which appears similar to “Apocalypse Now.” Though this is explained, it just doesn’t quite seem to gel with the rest of the film. Coupled with the both intentional, and unintentional goofiness, it’s a drastic departure from “Hellraiser” and “Hellraiser II.” Nevertheless, “Hell on Earth” does have its moments. Primarily, the dichotomy of Elliot Spencer and his ID, manifested by Pinhead, makes for a neat subplot. Furthermore, it probes the Cenobite mythos, explaining that the humanity of Cenobites keeps the creatures in check. In the finale, a few creative Cenobites spawn. Doc morphs into a Cenobite with a camera head, and the DJ from the Boiler Room becomes a CD-hurling Cenobite (Brent Bolthouse).
“Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth” is a mixed experience. On the one hand, it dives deeper into Spencer’s origin story, and the Cenobite existence. But gone is the juxtaposition of pain and pleasure, so inherent in the series. “Hellraiser III” arrives as a straightforward horror flick, and its mundane nature combined with largely flat characters prevents it from rising above its predecessors.