When I first watched this movie, I felt the director was quite justified in choosing the Alan Smithee moniker for himself. After a second viewing, I find myself much more favorably inclined toward this fourth film in the Hellraiser series. It's still somewhat disappointing, but it is not unwatchable; if nothing else, Pinhead gets more great lines than ever before. Long before Jason journeyed into space, Pinhead was there. Bloodlines opens in the year 2127; Dr. Merchant, descendant of the man who created the diabolical puzzle box, has hijacked the space station he designed and has just summoned Pinhead and his diabolical minions into his trap when the station is boarded by the military and the doctor taken prisoner. With demons roaming free on the station and time running out for Merchant to complete his plans, he tells the story of his family to a young female soldier named Rimmer in an effort to convince her to let him finish his work.
We are transported back to what I assume to be 18th century France, where a toy maker named L'Merchant has been commissioned to design a puzzle box for famed magician/occultist M. de L'isle. The toy maker watches from outside as de L'isle and an assistant kill and skin a young woman and use her, in conjunction with the powerful box, to summon a demon. Realizing that he is responsible for creating a means of opening the gates of hell, L'Merchant sets about designing a machine to destroy demons such as the beguilingly beautiful enchantress Angelique. He does not live long enough to succeed, but the curse and the memories of what he has done are imbedded in his bloodline. The story then jumps to 1996, where architect John Merchant has designed a huge room intriguingly similar to the puzzle box. Angelique soon arrives and summons Pinhead. The Merchant bloodline is doubly important to the Cenobites-while it holds the danger of building a machine to defeat the demons, it also holds the secret for opening a permanent doorway to hell. Now things start to get interesting, as Pinhead soon tires of Angelique's reliance on temptation; to him human acquiescence is much more easily obtained by terror. The culmination of this part of the history is quite satisfying; declaring that "I am pain," Pinhead goes about proving the deep truth of his assertion. Finally, we return back to the future space station and watch the ultimate culmination of events set in motion hundreds of years earlier, the final showdown between the L'Merchant bloodline and the demons the family unwittingly invoked.
Although the story has multiple weak spots, some delectable gore somewhat offsets it. One of the two decapitations here is particularly impressive, as is the blood that flows freely in the home of the mad M. de L'isle. The demon princess Angelique is a captivating counterpart to the familiar Pinhead, although I agree with Pinhead that terror is much more effective (not to mention entertaining) than temptation. Bruce Ramsey plays three members of the Merchant family, but I think the roles would have been better played by three actors. Doug Bradley is, of course, wonderful as Pinhead, and I was quite glad to see him get so many lines this time around. His musings on suffering and pain are music to my horror-attuned ears, none more so than his impassioned reaction to the pitiful pleas for divine mercy of ridiculously cast and incredibly annoying identical twin security guards: "Do I look like someone who cares what God thinks?" One almost feels compelled to applaud when Pinhead states the obvious fact that "I am so exquisitely empty."
This movie is much less carnally gripping than the first two Hellraiser films, but do not dismiss it out of hand. I actually find it more enjoyable than Hellraiser 3. What initially seemed to me to be quite awful has now become a film I appreciate and take delight in. Just don't take this movie too seriously; after all, it is just a game, and it is most definitely time to play.