When you see Alan Smithee credited as the director then you know a film has had a problematic production history and in this film it really shows. Alan Smithee is a fake name used when a director has wanted to have the director’s credit removed. Someone who had a lot of respect for Barker’s original Hellraiser tried to create a film that did justice his vision but the editing and second shoots have compromised that film and we got this patchy incomplete product that tantalises us with what could have been.
This film is set in three time periods and is about three generations of the family of the creator of the Lament configuration musical puzzle box Phillip Le Merchant. The story is told by a descendant of his in the future Dr. Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) who is on a space station trying to convince an enforcement squad to allow him to complete his mission and destroy the demons from the box. so he tell them his family’s history with the box
In eighteenth century Paris Phillip L’Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) creates a musical puzzle box to precise specifications for the wealthy aristocrat Duc de Lisle (Mickey Cottrell) who is a student of the occult and practitioner in black magic. As soon it is complete he delivers it to De Lisle who has his servant Jacques (Adam Scott) bring him a homeless prostitute who they kill and carefully remove her skin. Then in a ritual involving the box and Latin incantations De Lisle calls up a demon which takes form inside the skin and once complete De Lisle shows her a mirror so she can see her face and calls her Angelique (Valentina Vargas). Jacques is afraid but De Lisle reminds him that whoever controls the magic controls the demon as long as they don’t stand in hell’s way. L’Merchant didn’t leave after delivering the box but stuck around to watch what happened and is shocked by what he witnessed. After discussing it with an old friend he works on a way to fix what he’s done by creating the puzzle box. He breaks in to De Lisle’s chateau to try to steal the box back but he finds a scene of carnage from a wild party that we clearly missed. De Lisle is mutilated and dying while Jacques is having noisy sex with Angelique next door. L’Merchant tries to grab the box but he gets caught.
The next story is contemporary, set some time after the events of the third film. John Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) is a successful award winning architect but he’s haunted by gory nightmares that feature a strange woman but we know it is Angelique. His dreams are what inspired his latest project, a building that is also a mobile art work. The design is very similar to the puzzle box and of course this no accident. Angelique and Jacques are still around in present day Paris and Angelique sees Merchant’s picture on the cover of a magazine. She wants to see him a New York, sensing that he has inherited his ancestor’s design genius. Jacques refuses to let her go and she tears out his heart to show him what happens when you stand in hell’s way
Merchant gets presented with an award at a banquet held in his new building. When Merchant is giving his acceptance speech he sees Angelique at the back of the room and has flashes of memories of his nightmares and forgets the speech he was going to give and just gives them a short thank you. I sense this scene has been cut because that was bit abrupt. Merchant leaves with his wife and that night has a sex dream starring Angelique.
Angelique is still back at the building where she chats up a pudgy middle-aged businessman who can’t believe his luck. She takes him down to a basement room where she recovers the puzzle box from the concrete pillar where it was dumped by Joey at the end of Hellraiser III. She gets the man to solve the puzzle so of course there’s suddenly chains and hooks and he gets dragged off to hell through a crack in the wall and Pinhead (Doug Bradley) comes through. He knows who Angelique is and tells her things have changed in her absence. Pinhead takes in his surroundings and sees the influence the puzzle box as if it has been recreated in the design of the building. Angelique tells him about Merchant and her plan to seduce the secret of the building from him. Pinhead is less than impressed by this subtle approach and he brings a pair of identical twin security guards to the room. In a drawn out scene the two men have their heads twisted together by an elaborate evil torture device and they get fused into a new cenobite. Pinhead favours pain over temptation.
Next day Angelique introduces herself to Merchant and from the start Angelique tells Merchant she knows about his dreams and he eagerly tells her everything about the building – it doesn’t look like he needed either pain or temptation to blab about his building secrets, he just needed someone to show an interest. Despite Angelique’s methods working perfectly Pinhead tells her that it is time try it his way by kidnapping Merchant’s son. In this scene there is no explanation of tension between Angelique and Pinhead and it feels like has been badly edited.
Pinhead gets the kid and grabs the wife too and holds them hostage at the building so of course Merchant has to come. Pinhead tells Merchant what he wants and after some chase scenes around the building this story climaxes in the control room with Merchant on a computer console putting his mobile design into action. Pinhead realises he’s been tricked and that Merchant’s device was designed to open a gate all right but only to drive them back and close it permanently. It doesn’t work and Pinhead decapitates Merchant. His wife uses the original puzzle box to send them all back.
Back at the space station Dr Paul Merchant brings his story right up to date, to the moment after he opened the box with a robot and called up the demons then got interrupted by the enforcement squad. He tries to convince them that they are in real danger and should leave but they don’t believe him and insist on exploring the station. The enforcement squad get killed by the four cenobites taking one each and leaving just a psychiatrist called Rimmer. Merchant starts his program to activate the space station which he designed as a giant trap with himself as bait to kill the cenobites and seal the door to hell closed.
This is such a frustrating film. It looks like it was a pretty good film that may have been better than the second film but it has been butchered into incoherence by the production company. There was whole sub-plot of a conflict between Angelique and Pinhead that seems to have been deleted and Angelique’s role has been reduced. There wasn’t nearly as much gore as the original and it didn’t quite have the same dark tone but it is a big improvement on the third film. The acting was pretty average especially Bruce Ramsay playing three members of the Merchant family..
This film’s lack of success seems to have led the production company to take a different tack with three subsequent direct to video sequels with standalone stories featuring Pinhead and the cenobites appearing in the role of the minions of hell punishing sin.