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Stream to Scream: “HELLRAISER V: INFERNO”

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For a franchise nine films deep, it’s surprising that there are so few universally beloved HELLRAISER films. Aside from the undeniably frightening original and, arguably, the nightmarish fever dream of HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, each HELLRAISER film has a critically polarizing stance among fright fans, especially once the series’ transparent status of “existing scripts refashioned for HELLRAISER” comes into play. However, the first sequel to undergo said process is also one of the strongest of the HELLRAISER sequels, trading in a big-screen budget for a genuinely creepy and stylish affair that introduced the world to SINISTER/EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE director Scott Derrickson.

HELLRAISER V: INFERNO is a much simpler tale than the universe-expanding sequels that came before it, but in doing so, fans are treated to a sense of intimacy unseen since Ashley Laurence’s Kristy left the franchise in HELLBOUND. INFERNO follows a corrupt and sleazy detective (played by NIGHTBREED star Craig Sheffer) who uncovers the Lament Configuration at a brutal crime scene and finds himself in a missing persons case that tears apart his mind, body and soul. And while the film inevitably goes in a direction that very few HELLRAISER fans will find unpredictable, the journey to that end point is one hell of a psychological thrill-ride, painted in stark colors and bloody grue in the spirit of Clive Barker’s original vision, albeit less fantastical and more rooted in horror.

Of course, much of this comes courtesy of director/co-writer Derrickson, who interweaves the HELLRAISER elements into his petrifying procedural effectively. Rather than try to emulate Barker’s style or the scope of the sequels, Derrickson creates a lean and mean monster out of INFERNO, taking us through the nightmare one step at a time while delivering an interesting and engaging narrative that feels organic to the HELLRAISER universe. In fact, Derrickson seems to genuinely care about the HELLRAISER parts of INFERNO: the appearances of Cenobites throughout rarely feel like throwaways, even Pinhead whose pride in his cerebral horrors feels true to his previous depictions. And Derrickson also shows an incredible sense of restraint in INFERNO as well: some of the scariest and gruesome moments in the film are left to the viewer’s imagination, which is even more effective once other character’s posit it may all be in the detective’s fragile head.

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However, even if you’re not a fan of psychological horror, the SFX from Gary Tunnicliffe is incredibly effective throughout INFERNO as well, giving gorehounds a reason to keep their eyes on the action as well. Gruesome crime scenes, nightmarish visions and death sequences come plentifully throughout INFERNO, and their viscera never goes to waste, even during more of the complicated and surreal sequences. And when those infamous hooks show up once again, INFERNO does not disappoint in giving Pinhead the grisly last laugh once again.

INFERNO also sports some incredibly impressive and grounded performances, the latter being fairly uncommon in the more fantastical entries in the franchise beforehand. Craig Sheffer is excellent as Joe Thorne, offering both emotional craze and physical gravitas in spades as he once again how comfortable he can navigate throughout a Barker-influenced universe. James Remar and Nicholas Turturro are equally great as Sheffer’s confidantes, both providing intriguing takes on archetypal procedural roles that have their own interesting twists and turns throughout INFERNO. And, of course, Doug Bradley is simply excellent as Pinhead again, going at the role with a theatrical sense gusto and confidence that makes the most of his limited screentime.

While the later HELLRAISER sequels are often scrutinized by overcritical HELLRAISER purists, there is much to love in HELLRAISER V: INFERNO should fans give the film another shot. Between the spectacular gore, the spine-tingling story, the better-than-expected performances and the occasional Lynchian descent into weirdness (Ninja Cowboys, anyone?), INFERNO is among the most solid and scary HELLRAISER films, and remains miles better than its immediate predecessor and sequels. And from all the impressive genre work he’s crafted since, it’s still somewhat of a trip to see the formative Derrickson at work here, and the terrifying trademarks he’d later cultivate to become one of the strongest fright filmmakers working today.

HELLRAISER V: INFERNO is currently streaming on Netflix Instant.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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