Hellraiser: Inferno (Scott Derrickson, 2000)
[originally posted 13Oct2000]
As I sat watching Derrickson’s morality play, the fifth in the Hellraiser series of films, I kept wondering which of last night’s two choices was more disappointing—Fight Club for the inestimable letdown at the end, or Inferno, which was just plain mediocre all the way through?
I do have to say, I went into this with higher hopes than usual for the nth film in a series the original director and writer disowned years ago, mostly because Derrickson directed the critically-acclaimed short Love in the Ruins back in ’95, and the film actually drew some decent B-list names in Craig Sheffer (Fire with Fire, Nightbreed, A River Runs Through It) and Nicholas Turturro (NYPD Blue and a number of Spike Lee joints). Add in Flora and Fauna from Addams Family Values as the newest (and most creative since the first film) pair of Cenobites, and how bad could it be, really?
In all honesty, it wasn’t thoroughly awful. Derrickson gave the film a cheesily earnest naivete that’s charming to watch, in places, and once you’ve figured out that what you’ve got here is the quintessential medieval morality play (which most viewers will have gotten in the first five minutes; Derrickson uses the first two scenes to paint “corrupt cop” in huge red letters), you can half-pretend Chaucer wrote the original script, and Derrickson has just updated it with the proper amount of gore for a Hellraiser-series film, and the whole thing becomes somewhat ludicrous, in a dreamlike way. And the ending really does work quite nicely, as far as medieval morality plays go. I’d probably not have noticed the film’s real failing had I not just watched Fight Club.
But still, you throw the dice and they fall how they fall. Michael Shamus Wiles, for example, plays a key role in one portion of the film (coincidentally, he’s also the bartender wearing the head brace towards the end of Fight Club!), and the way in which he delivers his last line, “that, I expect, is the object of the game,” is a cut below the way it would have been delivered by a top-notch actor along the lines of Norton or Pitt. It’s a small thing, one of a number of small things that combine to drop this film below the level it could have been. All the small things add up. **