Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 01:23PM
Ian Simmons in Hellraiser: Revelations [2011]

It's Not the End of the World

I've gotta make this quick.

The air is thick with torch smoke, and the angry mob heading up my street is screaming things that should never be heard in a neighborhood full of children. In a matter of minutes, these maniacs will bust in here and take away my "horror fan" card.

Apparently, someone found out that I'd planned to write a positive review of the newest direct-to-video Hellraiser sequel, Revelations.

Maybe Clive Barker ratted me out for endorsing a movie he recently described as "not even from my butt-hole". The series' creator very publicly distanced himself from the quick, contract-fulfilling product that Dimension Films rushed out in order to retain its franchise rights.

But I'll stand up for director Victor Garcia and screenwriter Gary J. Tunnicliffe. Sometimes artists do their best work under pressure. And while Revelations is no one's idea of a masterpiece, it certainly doesn't deserve the hate it's received. The filmmakers seem to be bearing the brunt of two major strikes against their movie that soured fans before it was even released.

First, the trailer is one of the worst things I've ever seen. Really, it's an anti-trailer, and after watching it a month ago I was ready for Revelations to be a laugh-riot. Even now that I've seen the movie, I can't believe how badly Dimension messed up that promo.

The second problem is that Revelations is the first Hellraiser movie not to feature Doug Bradley as the melancholy demon, Pinhead. For whatever reason, Dimension dumped the guy who'd weathered eight films over nearly a quarter-century, handing the iconic role to an actor who looks like he was pulled off the floor at Comic-Con. I guarantee that if Bradley had returned, no one would have batted an eye at Revelations--they would've quietly ignored it, as they had every sequel since Hellraiser in Space.

So, external issues aside, how's the movie? It's a bit better than alright; great in some places, lousy in others. What sets it apart from the previous non-theatrical entries is its ambition. Tunnicliffe and Garcia attempt to bring the series back to its roots, crafting a film about family secrets and the kind of profound malaise that can lead a person to do just about anything for kicks. Revelations isn't a gimmick picture ("Look! It's Pinhead on the Internet!") and it's not a remake. But there's a definite feeling of rebirth here, as if the filmmakers said to Dimension, "Since we're clinging to this license, let's at least try to do something interesting with it."

The movie gets off to a rough start, with what looks to be a found-footage account of two spoiled teens named Nico (Jay Gillespie) and Steven (Nick Eversman) documenting their road-trip to Mexico. As the video cuts from the guys drinking and driving to picking up a prostitute in Tijuana to Nico "accidentally" killing said hooker after a bathroom-stall quickie, I found myself alternately annoyed and engrossed by the characters' adventures. Like Paranormal Activity, Revelations feeds on the audience's desire to see awful things happen to awful people, and does so with sufficient style and solid pacing.

The footage cuts from the bathroom where Nico and Steven are freaking out and planning their escape to a dingy hotel room, where Nico kneels on the floor. He's manipulating the familiar wood-and-brass puzzle box, which begins to glow and change the atmosphere. Soon, both boys are yelling at Pinhead, who has emerged from the shadows with his patented, "You opened it, we came" schtick.

In the next instant, the scene folds shut, cluing us into the fact that this is really an omniscient-perspective film. Steven's mother, Sarah (Devon Sorvari), has been watching the video on her missing son's camera for the umpteenth time since the boys disappeared. We meet Steven's sister, Emma (Tracey Fairaway)--who had also been dating Nico and was unaware of his rampant infidelity--and Sarah's husband, Ross (Steven Brand). The family has invited Nico's parents over for dinner, an event that sets the stage for a night of terror and, yes, revelations.

Let's take a sidebar to talk about Necessary Information. Fillmakers, if you want your audience to focus on the story at hand, it's important to divulge Necessary Information at the exact right time. In this case, we never find out how long Nico and Steven have been missing. A week? Two months? Three years? Did the families hold funerals for them? In his quest to cleverly jump between storytelling modes, Tunnicliffe leaves out a key piece of information that bugged me for almost the entire rest of the picture.

Emma storms off in the middle of dinner, angry that the adults have seemingly moved on with their lives. She finds the puzzle box in Steven's bag (which, I guess, had been returned to the family at some point during the investigation) and starts monkeying with it. Moments later, Steven reappears, accompanied by the reality-shifting properties of an open hell-mouth (weird, blue lights; disappearing cars; and no cell phone reception). From here, Revelations alternates between flashbacks explaining how the boys came into possession of the box in Mexico and the families' struggle to fend off the encroaching forces of evil (both from within and without).

I don't want to give any more away because, believe it or not, I think this really is a film worth seeing--especially for Hellraiser fans. Sure, it's annoying that Tunnicliffe and Garcia throw in tropes from the first couple of films that really have nothing to do with the Hellraiser aesthetic generally or Revelations specifically (slow-motion falling feathers again? Really?). But there's enough unexpected, messed up stuff here to surprise even the most jaded Cenobite-head (When was the last time one of these movies delivered both super-hot incest and an off-screen baby-murder?).

Another plus is Revelations' use of good, old-fashioned practical gore effects. From the face-ripping chains to the familiar skinless men hobbling around in search of streetwalker blood, the movie drips with violence that is at the same time realistic and over-the-top. I especially liked the inclusion of the new, young Cenobite that Pinhead has taken under his wing. He doesn't talk much, except to scream when his master nails another flap of innocent-victim-flesh to his glistening skull.

I've read complaints on-line that the acting is terrible. I submit that anyone who says that about this movie has never seen a film by The Asylum. There's a huge difference between bad acting, great acting in service of bad material, and great acting in service of solid-but-annoying material. Revelations sits firmly in the third camp. All of the human characters are pretty disgusting, though many of them start out as sympathetic. My only gripe is with Brand, a Scotish actor who doesn't quite pull off Upper-class American Dad. But he's balanced out with Eversman, who, in running the full gamut of emotions and likeability, is a real discovery in a movie that almost doesn't deserve him.

As for the non-human characters, I guess we should talk about the new Pinhead. Stephan Smith Collins was going to have a rough go of things regardless of how well he did stepping into Doug Bradley's considerable shoes. But I'm sad to say that the criticism is warranted in his case. Not only is it jarring to see a much younger incarnation of the Lead Cenobite (whose previous identity was that of a World War I British Captain), but he sounds like a horror-movie fan doing a poor imitation of Pinhead's voice. It's a shame that Bradley either bowed out of--or was not called back to--the first movie in almost twenty years in which Pinhead is given something cool to do. I missed him dearly.

There you have Hellraiser: Revelations in a very wordy nutshell. Despite a handful of really distracting detours (in a hip nod to the horror community--and perhaps a middle finger to the original Pinhead--Steven and Nico's last names are "Craven" and "Bradley", respectively), the movie gives fans of the series what they've allegedly been seeking for a long time: a fresh take on the material. The film could have used another pass, maybe two, to iron out some of the wonky bits, but overall, I think this is a step in the right direction. If ILM could somehow insert Doug Bradley into a new cut of this movie, I'd definitely watch it again soon--were I not already late for an appointment with a stake and some gasoline.

Is It Just Me? Or does Jay Gillespie look uncannily like How I Met Your Mother star, Josh Radnor?

Article originally appeared on Kicking the Seat (http://www.kickseat.com/).
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