By Jerome Reuter
2016 marks the 20th anniversary of Hellraiser IV: Bloodline. It was the last entry in the series to be given a theatrical release, and did nothing to further the mythology Clive Barker created in his novella The Hellbound Heart, or the first two films for that matter. Following the unmitigated disaster of Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, a new vision was desperately needed. The previous installment had morphed the mythology into a franchise, and turned the Hell priest (aka Pinhead) into a comical slasher villain.
In 1996, special effects mastermind Kevin Yagher would try his hand at the card game. Yagher had previously established himself as one of the genres leading effects technicians. His credits included a good amount of the Nightmare On Elm Street films, the Crypt keeper from Tales From The Crypt, and even Childs Play. Bloodline was plagued with production troubles, and Yagher would even leave before the project was fully completed. Not even wanting to be associated with the finished film, he would credit himself as Alan Smithee. (An alias used by several directors when they’re aware of just how bad the end result will be.)
When you cut right to it, this actually isn’t a horrible film. It’s not a great work, yet it still has a bit of a charm to it. Considering what it preceded, and what it had to live up to, the series certainly had a lot riding on its success. If anything, this is a mass of wasted potential. This is an effort that might have been one of the more interesting entries, but fell short of the mark.
Bloodline addresses the origins of the lament configuration, the puzzle box that summons the Cenobites from their lair in Hell. Which could have been great, if it were executed properly. It’s been established by Barker that the Marquis De Sade once owned the puzzle box, a fitting possession for the undisputed master of depravity and excess. The box itself is quite possibly the most important part of the whole Hellraiser mythos. It’s mysterious, alluring, and has captivated us since we saw Frank Cotton purchase it in the first film.
To find out the origins of the configuration and its owner is enough to spark any fans interest. As the old saying in real estate goes: buyers beware. The story was one that could have possessed a great deal of fascination and awe. The end result was poorly executed, and at times, downright laughable. To the films credit, they got the time period correct; Libertine era-France, where De Sade was most prevalent in his influence. However, that’s one of the few things that was executed well.
Our story is told in 3 sequences: past, present, and the future, with the descendants of the box’s creator doing battle with Hell’s cruelest minions. Of course, Doug Bradley reprises his role as the Hell priest. If there’s another positive thing to be said about Bloodline, it’s Bradley’s performance. In ever single entry, no mater how lackluster they may be; Bradley always delivers. It’s impossible to overlook the poor design of the new cenobites and campy one-liners. To its credit, it attempts to tell a story that’s original, and not a recycled plot that some of the other sequels would gush out.
Despite its massive amount of flaws, Bloodline does deserve more credit than it sometimes receives. It certainly had potential to take things in a new direction, and give the series some much-needed momentum. That’s the thing with backstories; some things are better left to the imagination. A waste of potential? Possibly. If you can’t find integrity, then look to ambition.