Hellraiser 4: Bloodline (1996) Movie Review

You know a movie is in trouble when more than one person is credited as director. But when the original director tries to uncredit himself, that trouble has just doubled. Kevin Yagher, whose only directorial credit was an episode of the TV show “Tales from the Crypt”, opted for the “Hollywood way of saying I was never here” moniker “Alan Smithee” instead of having his name attached to “Bloodline”. It’s not too hard to guess what happened: Yagher had one idea for the movie, but the studio had other ideas. And in a tussle between a director with no movie credit to his name and a big, powerful studio, there’s no doubt who wins.

“Bloodline” tells the tale of the Merchant family over, I believe, 400 years. It’s actually three separate stories told in 3 separate eras, starting in 18th century France where Merchant, who is a toymaker, first created the box that Pinhead and his fellow Cenobites come out of — i.e. the gate to Hell. It’s also here that a sadistic French aristocrat summons the demon Angelique (Valentina Vargas) into the world for, we assume, sadistic purposes. Incidentally, Angelique is some sort of Hell Princess that once ruled Hell, or something like that. Fast forward to 1996, where another Merchant, now an architect, has built a building patterned after the box, although he doesn’t know why until Pinhead shows up and tries to kill his son.

The third segment takes place in the 22nd century, where Mad Scientist Merchant has created a death trap for Pinhead when he’s suddenly interrupted by a group of space soldiers sent to recover a mining ship that Merchant has commandeered. The space segment actually opens up “Bloodline”, and it’s through Merchant, who narrates for space soldier Rimmer (Christine Harnos), that the movie explains the origin of the Merchant family and the box. Actor Bruce Ramsay also plays all 3 Merchants with the help of two different wigs.

It’s interesting to note that 1996’s “Bloodline” fits into a weird little category among horror franchises. It was in the ’90s that the studios thought up this groovy idea of killing off all of the horror franchises’ main bad guys (Jason, Freddy, and now Pinhead), in some concerted effort to “start fresh”. It was a good idea at the time, or so it seemed, because since then the studios have all continued with their individual horror franchises as if they had never gotten the bright idea to kill off their main bad guys in the first place.

“Bloodline” was clearly intended to be the final installment in the flailing “Hellraiser” saga, but as we can clearly see from the most recent two sequels, the oddball murder-mystery “Inferno” and the most recent “Hellseeker”, killing off Pinhead didn’t really make a dent in the franchise. Although since “Bloodline” supposedly kills off Pinhead in the 22nd century, who is to say that the events of “Inferno” and “Hellseeker” are somehow detouring from the movie’s main timeline as revealed in “Bloodline”?

There really isn’t anything in “Bloodline” for anyone who isn’t a fan of the franchise. There are the requisite bloody deaths by way of flying chains, and Pinhead does groovy and perverted things to his victims, like joining twins and turning a dog into a sort of demon dog. I commend franchise writer Peter Atkins (who is also responsible for the “Wishmaster” franchise) for trying to close out the series with an ambitious story. Unfortunately he’s trying to squeeze at least 2 movies into one here, and the result is unconvincing narrative and flat acting work. The only thing “Bloodline” does well is its vast amount of gore. The movie certainly lives up to its “Hellraiser” lineage.

So is “Bloodline” so bad that director Kevin Yagher would throw away his first feature length directorial credit in order to rail against? Perhaps. I don’t think it’s absolutely terrible, especially taking into consideration that it’s a horror sequel. Although it’s interesting to note that “Inferno”, the 2000 sequel, looks absolutely nothing like the rest of the franchise for much of its running length, and as a result it is — dare I say it? — a much better movie for it.

Kevin Yagher (as Alan Smithee), Joe Chappelle (uncredited) (director) / Peter Atkins (screenplay)
CAST: Bruce Ramsay …. Merchant
Valentina Vargas …. Angelique
Doug Bradley …. Pinhead
Kim Myers …. Bobbi Merchant
Christine Harnos …. Rimmer

Buy Hellraiser 4: Bloodline on DVD