With the apparent closure of Hell in the previous instalment, Pinhead (Doug Bradley) looks to circumvent the rules of the Lament Configuration and walk the earth with impunity. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth originally had Tony Randel return as director until producers replaced him with Anthony Hickox as they felt Randel’s vision was too bleak. On what was becoming a tradition for the franchise, Peter Atkins would write a script adapted from the previous director’s story. Barker himself had little to no involvement during production however was attached as an executive producer.
Trapped in the Pillar of Souls at the end of Hellbound, Pinhead must feast on the flesh and souls of humans to be resurrected. He enlists the assistance of J.P. Munroe (Kevin Bernhardt), a sleazy nightclub owner, to bring him fresh meat. While he plots his resurrection, his human spirit, Elliot Spencer, reaches out to reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) in her dreams to warn her of what’s coming. As Joey finds herself the only one that can stop Hell, she finds herself battling Pinhead in reality and in her dreams.
Hell on Earth is a sharp departure from the previous films. With filming relocated to America, the third entry gets a transatlantic makeover whith any lingering British influences removed. The sense of dread and terror is substituted for an increased body count as Pinhead massacres clubbers with ease. There are distinct Freddy Krueger vibes at work as Pinhead makes a few quips and gets creative with his kills. Hickox was from a comedy background with Barker believing he was the wrong choice to take the reins. To be fair, the director doesn’t play it for laughs although a few cringe worthy puns do make it into the final product.
Ashley Laurence reprises her role in a cameo with Bradley the only returning actor to have a prominent role. With the story focused on him, he’s given much more dialogue to play with. Bradley is so comfortable as Pinhead that he manages to make even the worst of it work, each line dripping with malevolence even if it is a cheap attack on Christ. Farrell will go on to better roles and suffers from being lumbered with a less interesting character than what Kirsty Cotton was. Pinhead, in many ways, is a fish out of water as Bradley carries himself with dignity in world, and movie, that has none.
What was a grotesque and cerebral horror is reduced to a slasher movie. That’s not to say Hell on Earth doesn’t have its moments. Bradley as ever is on form and the battle against his human self makes for an intriguing concept and an interesting dynamic. The new Cenobites, by Pinhead’s own admission, are inferior creations. They’re neither frightening or alluring, instead they’re comical thanks to their 20th Century makeover. Bernhardt’s Monroe is Frank Cotton in steroids and Viagra, an amusing and hateful figure, his is a demise you root for.
A blood splattered hack and slash sequel, Hell on Earth is fun for the most part while marking a severe decrease in quality. It proves that less is more, with Pinhead untethered from the box and free to do as he pleases, it only highlights how important the rules established in earlier films are. Original for the franchise, clichéd as a horror film. It hasn’t aged well yet retains a place in the black hearts of fans.