TV reporter saves the world from 'Hellraisers' in NYC


September 12, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

What can be done about Clive Barker? He's the entrepreneur of the forbidden, the purveyor of damnation, a one-man blasphemy band. He shows you things beyond your imagination, no matter how sick a pup you are, and he seems to be having so much damned . . . fun!

Now comes his third production, "Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth," as executive produced and supervised by himself and directed by Anthony Hickox, and it could literally be described as a hellazapoppin' extravaganza. Its thesis: Hell is busting out all over, all over the meadow and the glen.

There's only one problem. This is happening in New York. OK, the smart guy in the back row wants to know: how could they tell? Usher, throw that man out!

I couldn't begin to summarize the plot, much less relate it to the previous "Hellraisers." I would have no better luck explaining it, and even suspect that much of "Hellraiser III" is beyond explanation, at least in outdated mode of language.

It's one of those numbers where, somehow, the entire structure of the universe comes to depend on the shoulders of one television popsie. In this case, she's a young reporter looking for a big story who happens to be in an emergency ward one night when a refugee from hell explodes on the operating table. Intrigued, she backtracks, and locates the gate to the hot place, in the form of a giant bas-relief statue, in an S-M nightclub that's all the rage in decadent New York.

Let's skip a couple of reels. . . . Ultimately the Pinheaded Guy who is the Esky or the Eustice Tilly of the Barker carnival explodes out of the stone and unleashes his legions of leather-commandos to do nasty things uptown, downtown, all around the town. Everybody's going to die. The TV reporter has this box -- trust me, it's a box -- that stops all this, because in her dreams, she's met an earlier version of the pin-headed guy back when he was a World War I officer.

Story doesn't matter to Barker. What matters is using film as a medium by which to bring imagery from the darkest part of the libido into the daylight of suburban mall movie complexes. He's a secret agent from reptile land, and his imagery is syphoned out of the sewer where sex and pain commingle, or the places where men come together in fields or trenches to ram bayonets or bullets into each others bodies. Thus his films are front-loaded with pasty-face leatherboys who enjoy hurting themselves as much as others and who giggle nastily all the while. Self-mutilation is the fashion of the piece, done with a kind of butcher's pride.

Doug Bradley is back as Pinhead, and he's a stage-trained Brit with a commanding presence and a sense of high irony. Terry Farrell plays the reporter and if she ain't Meryl Streep, let me tell you, she could have been a whole lot worse than she is. The whole thing manages that strangest of brews: it's sick and untired. Think of a child molester with a really funny sense of humor, and you get the picture. If you want it.

'Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth'

Starring Doug Bradley and Terry Farrell

Directed by Anthony Hickox

Released by Miramax

Rated R

** 1/2 stars

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