One bonus review for Halloween! And it’s going to be the only time I look at this series as there’s really not any Hellraiser books. There were the Marvel comics Linkara covered and there’s the Boom series but all I have to say about that is it’s brilliant. There’s also of course the original novella and The Scarlet Gospels but those are the original canon. They don’t count.
And while I’m at it, should this count? This is a screenplay. Those aren’t really tie-ins. This is a core document. Well, my column, my rules. Besides, the logo at the top is why I’m doing this. I love Black Flame’s brief era. I’m happy to say we have a great successor.
So here’s what this is. In the mid 90s, Peter Atkins, writer/cowriter of the previous two Hellraiser films, was tapped to write an ambitious movie that told the saga of the LeMarchand/Merchant family over centuries. A director was hired. And before shooting could happen the studio interference began and wouldn’t stop. The budget was dramatically cut. The script wound up getting rewritten, initially by Atkins but eventually by another writer. Then the reshoots began and the initial director quit. The entire structure was put into a blender. The 110 minute movie was chopped to 85 minutes. The film was released as arguably the highest profile Alan Smithee film ever, with the director taking his name off. (Out of respect, I’ve refrained from naming him.) No actual original cut exists or could exist. And the franchise went DTV for the rest of its existence.
Now, 25 years later, we’re getting the chance to see what could have been. Atkins has released his original script in print and ebook through Encyclopocalypse Publications. It’s not a novelization, as Barker holds those rights and Atkins is respecting a friend he’s known since 1974, but it’s still a chance to experience what was planned. Is it a case like Zack Snyder’s Justice League where a grand epic was gutted or Highlander 2 where it could never work? That’s the question.
Normally I’d say the story is kind of the same as the theatrical cut. Except it isn’t. It’s nothing like it even through the basic pieces are there. But in theory it’s like it. There’s still the three stories of the Merchant family and the origins of the box. The big difference is for one thing it’s all told in a linear fashion. There’s no weird flashback structure. This is one straight go. Three distinct stories.
And wow is this just a phenomenal read. Yeah I’m only reviewing this because I read it and it blew my mind and I decided this deserved a writeup.
First off, put that this is a screenplay out of your mind. It’s a script, yes, but it’s a very visual script. Atkins is a very vivid writer and he paints clear concise images. This never feels like you’re adjusting your mind to the format. It’s a very good example of the form. You’re almost subconsciously watching the film.
This is a phenomenal story too. Atkins has crafted a genuine saga of the Lament Configuration from creation to destruction. We also see three very different reactions to temptation. A man too easily tempted, a man who fights temptation, and a man whose strength to resist temptation comes at the cost of his joy. There are real ideas reflected in the three part structure. It’s a rather sweeping story.
What I really responded to in this was the way the story flowed. This moves slowly–it would have to be at minimum a 2.25 hour film–but it means that each section has time to matter. We meet a lot of interesting characters in each moment. Each world is well etched. Atkins puts weight to a universe he poured so much of himself into. This really does feel like Atkins trying to create a grand finale to the saga.
Atkins also manages to fix one of the more frustrating things about the series, that it got away from the fascinating nature of hell as a choice. He restores moral ambiguity to hell through Angelique who represents the classic lusty side that led to the first film having such power. The idea of the conflict between Pinhead and Angelique winds up representing passive evil vs active. It’s fascinating.
There’s also just so many good things here. The idea of demons already extant on Earth makes the device feel like just one of many ways evil seeps through. The demonic commedia dell’arte characters representing proto-Cenobites is amazing. There’s lots of good kills and imagery, very little of which made it onscreen. Atkins is a beast of a dialogue writer.
But what about the legendary issue of this script: The absence of Pinhead until 40 minutes in? :shrug: I really don’t subscribe to the theory Pinhead is the entire franchise. Pinhead is the face but he’s not the series and his shoehorned presence in the sequels that follow is a giant issue. I don’t care that he’s absent until then and I wouldn’t have cared watching. Angelique is a great villain and the origin of the box is fascinating.
Ultimately I have to feel like this is a great lost film that sadly never will be. But it excites me to see a company stepping up and releasing this. And they’re doing others. They’ve rereleased the novelizations to Hardcore, Fright Night, and Re-Animator. They’re doing audiobooks of the history of Full Moon Features, Halloween, Freddy vs Jason, and more. They’re doing original horror books. And they’re creating new novelizations for films like Atkins’ own Wishmaster, my review of which is on Amazon.
I am all the way in on supporting a company that cares and gets it. I highly, highly recommend this book and company.