Originally released straight to DVD in the year 2000, Hellraiser: Inferno was the fifth installment in the Hellraiser franchise. As written by Paul Harris Boardman (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and director Scott Derrickson (Deliver Us from Evil), Hellraiser: Inferno is an effective experiment in terror, where the lead character of Detective Joseph Thorne finds himself trapped within the confines of his own mind, which just happens to be its own very personal hell.
The links to the Hellraiser franchise consist of Lemarchand’s box and of course the lead cenobite Pinhead (once again essayed by the great Doug Bradley). The story focuses on Detective Joseph Thorne (played by Craig Sheffer, who played the lead role on Boone in Clive Barker’s Nightbreed), a man who lives two distinct lives and has a penchant for solving puzzles. On the one hand, Thorne is presented as a highly intelligent, resourceful police officer, husband, and father. On the other, he is a corrupt cop who is hooked on drugs and carries out a series of affairs with prostitutes with whom he exchanges sex for drugs.
Thorne’s world begins to unravel after a night of debauchery with a prostitute. When the prostitute is discovered dead, Thorne discovers a strange puzzle box at the crime scene—the box is none other than the Lament Configuration. Thorne takes the box home and appears to solve it quickly. However, at once Thorne’s world begins to unravel, with the detective experiencing a series of hallucinations that mix bizarre visions with everyday life. One of his most startling experiences is being seduced by a pair of hideous cenobite females and being pursued by the remains of the “Chatterer” cenobite, which is little more than a head and arms for legs.
While struggling through these hallucinations, Thorne begins to track down the key suspect of the murder, a serial killer and mastermind known as “The Engineer.” The Engineer begins to systematically kill Thorne’s acquaintances and friends, at each crime scene leaving behind a child’s finger. Realizing his own faults, Thorne promises that he will redeem himself by saving the child before he is mutilated any further.
Thorne’s flaws, however, turn out to be too great, and he soon finds that The Engineer understands them all too well and remains always several steps ahead of him. Thorne goes as far as to frame his partner, Detective Tony Nenonen (Nicolas Turturro) for one of the murders. As Thorne draws closer to The Engineer, his hallucinations become much worse, particularly when he discovers that the police psychiatrist is really none other than Pinhead himself. It turns out that Pinhead has orchestrated Thorne’s psychological descent into hell and that nothing is real anymore. Instead, Thorne is forever trapped within his own mind, with Pinhead as his manipulator. As for torment, Thorne’s flaws make for more exquisite torture.
Often misunderstood by viewers and critics alike, Hellraiser: Inferno remains one of the most effective sequels to the Hellraiser franchise. Although the story has little to do with Clive Barker’s original vision, the movie remains an effective experiment into the terrors of the human psyche and the ability of a human being to create his or her own personal hell. The nature of terror—not horror—is rarely explored well, but Hellraiser: Inferno manages to do so with solid aplomb.
Hardcore horror fans may not like that the film relies on dialogue to achieve its scenes of overt terror. There is little gore here and the scenes with the cenobites seem forced and sometimes out of place. This is particularly true of the Chatterer cenobite, which really does nothing, and the female cenobites, which I guess are there to represent the distortion of sexuality. Pinhead’s role as lead tormentor is effective, but the dialogue given to Doug Bradley remains amorphous and sometimes also feels contrived. However, all the actors turn in very good performances, with Craig Sheffer turning in a strong performance in the lead role. Director Scott Derrickson deserves special mention, as he capably handles much of the cerebral material presented in the script and manages to evoke tension from start to finish.
Fans interested in a film dedicated to terror rather than horror would do well to watch Hellraiser: Inferno. If you dispense with the mythology established by Clive Barker and simply let the story take its course, you may find it a rewarding if not disturbing experience.
I watched Hellraiser: Inferno off a Miramax Multi-Feature collection of four Hellraiser sequels.