This just happens to be the one Hellraiser entry that has been elusive to me. I've, regrettably, seen the entire series except for the third film. While Hellraiser was a tight and suspenseful thriller about the divide between the living and the dead--pleasure and pain--the sequels became progressively more absurd. Rules from the first film were thrust aside to create more cenobites (pleasure-driven demons), more gore, and more ways to reconfigure the Lemarchand puzzle box. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is no exception. This is a film that wants to be no less than three separate horror films and doesn't accomplish a single one well. A young reporter is haunted by nightmares of what happened to her late father in the Vietnam War. A club mogul buys a statue that begins to come to life in the presence of blood and pleasure. Pinhead, the head cenobite, plots to take over the world to create hell on earth. These are the main thrusts. There are others.
If you've ever seen any of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films, you know why the reporter is involved at all. She is connecting to something beyond the grave when she sleeps, so she is the link needed to keep hell and earth separate. The club mogul runs a club filled with horror and bondage art, so his connection to the series makes the most sense. Pinhead's plotting, however, is completely out of character and becomes the thrust of the rest of the series. He is not supposed to be plotting a takeover of earth; he's supposed to be teaching the willing his art of painful pleasure and pleasurable pain.
With that said, when hell does break loose in the third act, it's well done. The effects still hold up almost twenty years later due to clever editing and a top-knotch makeup team. There are quick flashes of destruction unlike anything I've ever seen in a horror film before. It's shocking in the best way possible.
If only the screenplay could actually live up to the staging of these gore and action scenes. The dialog is all very expository and gimmicky. Running gags are driven into the ground the first time they're mentioned. The humor is groan worthy and the plot reveals are telegraphed in the first three scenes.
It's the absolute worst kind of money-grabbing sequel. If you replaced Pinhead and the puzzle box with a generic demon character and any other portal to hell, the film would work better. You can't just set up a bunch of rules in two prior films and throw them all away because it's convenient in the third. That's just lazy.
The actors try their best to make the story work. Doug Bradley gets to do more dramatic acting out of Pinhead makeup here than in any other film. He's great. He comes very close to selling the ridiculous plot. Ashley Laurence, the original survivor of the series, comes back for one grainy scene that provides some of the only genuine tension in the film. Terry Farrel does what she can with the reporter character. Too bad she has the least to work with. Everyone else overplays caricatures of their type.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is a film that can be skipped by all but the horror series completists. It's dry, slow-moving, and completely removed from whatever interest was generated in far superior first and second films. Watch it if you think you have to or are particularly nostalgic for the original and first sequel.
Thoughts? Love to hear them.