Hellraiser 4 & 5

As far as I'm concerned, there are five Hellraiser films that are worth having in your collection.  Every single one is at least worth a watch once, as a curiosity piece; but now that I've seen, for instance, Hellraiser: Hellworld, I hope never to see it again.  And while none of the sequels are in the same league as the original, the first four I'll revisit.  And I've already covered the first three in the series, so it was only a question of opportunity as to when I'd tackle parts 4 and 5.

Now, my initial impulse was to hold off writing about these two until better HD options surfaced.  But despite the odd, overseas and overpriced media-book, it doesn't look like anything better's coming down the pipeline.  Considering the current state of Miramax and the not particularly high regard these films are held in, even by Hellraiser aficionados, We may well be living in the final chapter.  So let's at least examine what we've got.
1996's Hellraiser IV: Bloodline is a huge mess.  To give you an idea, special effects artist turned one time director Kevin Yagher took his name off this, something the man behind Hellworld didn't even do.  Although that's largely because this film involved a second director coming in and reshooting a lot of Yagher's material, substantially changing the story.  But it's still a wonderfully ambitious mess that holds a strong appeal for fans who can see the intention behind the missteps on the screen.  I once spent a long time personally re-editing this film with the workprint, trying to bring it back as much as I could do the original script.  And that did yield a better version, but so many key scenes and effects don't seem to have ever been shot, so unfortunately I don't believe a director's cut would be possible, even imaging a scenario where that could get funded.  So the film as we have it is just a tool for us to help picture screenwriter Peter Atkins' vision in our minds' eye.
Best known for being the "Hellraiser in space" movie, Bloodline almost takes on the format of an anthology, telling the ongoing saga of the L'Merchant (inventor of Hellraiser's signature puzzle box) family line over three different generations.  So one is a period piece set in 18th century France, one's in contemporary US (ostensibly taking place in the location established at the end of Hellraiser 3), and one in far flung the future, in outer space.  Unfortunately, budget cuts and studio interference lead to the film getting bogged down in the space station material, with a bunch of generic space marines wandering around bland, dark hallways, and the French stuff is given the shortest shrift.  But there's still plenty of entertaining costumes, locations and new cenobites.  And the ideas in the story are interesting, if not always fully serviced, and stay stay truer to the classic Hellraiser ethos than the previous film, which was more fun and coherent, but at the cost of taking the series somewhat of the rails.
Hellraiser 4 came out on DVD in 2000 from Dimension/ Buena Vista, and as you might expect from an Alan Smithee film, it's barebones.  As an extra bonus, it's also non-anamorphic, so it was desperately in need of an upgrade.  And that came along eventually, in the form of blu-rays from Echo Bridge, who packaged it separately, as a split release with Hellraiser 5, or as a Hellraiser 4-pack (all still on one disc), with parts 5, 6 and 8.  I went with the double feature.  Now I mentioned mediabooks, and there are some slightly intriguing import releases.  There's a German set that includes a DVD of the workprint, for instance.  But nobody's making any new masters.  Well, there is an Australian disc with a scan of a film print that reportedly looks worse than the US discs, but at least it's an effort.  Everybody else is just passing around the same old master.  But hey, maybe that master isn't so terrible.
2000 US Dimension DVD top; 2011 US Echo Bridge BD bottom.
Well, it's a much bigger improvement over the DVD than I was expecting!  Granted, the fact that the DVD is non-anamorphic handed Echo Bridge the easy win.  But even besides that, the colors are much bolder and the AR is slightly adjusted from 1.81:1 to 1.78:1 (except for a few special effects shots that are inexplicably matted to 1.82:1) but is reframed to reveal an unexpected amount of additional picture.  Detail and is clear and the film grain looks surprisingly natural.  There's no DNR, edge enhancement or any other unwanted tweaking I'd been dreading before popping this in.  It's no cutting edge 4k spectacular, but Echo Bridge's blu looks surprisingly good.  The stereo mix is even in lossless DTS-HD.  Now, there are absolutely no frills, not even a trailer or subtitles (despite the latter being present on the DVD), but it's a perfectly respectable presentation of the film itself.
Now, Bloodline is the last film Clive Barker lent his name to, and upon its release, he seemed pretty dead set against Inferno.  But now looking at the long line of films, it may not just be the best of the post-Barker sequels, but in some ways better than one or two of the Barker-produced entries.  The acting has certainly improved over Bloodline, and it manages to avoid the cornier aspects of Hell On Earth (i.e. no CD-Head equivalent).  Rather than furthering the story of Pinhead, Inferno - probably wisely - is a smaller story, one that actually harkens back to the original Hellraiser graphic novels from the late 80s and early 90s, where new characters would encounter their own gateways to Hell, and face their own inner demons.  Doug Bradley's still in it, but he's returned to a very background role, as he was in the original story.  Despite the lack of Barker's endorsement, it feels like these guys got the intentions of the original writing more than Atkins and Co.
That said, it falls short in its own ways.  It obviously suffers from a very constricted budget, and the decision to make this a police procedural isn't the worst idea for an entry in this saga, but does make it feel like typical television fare.  And casting Nick Turturro straight out of NYPD Blue didn't help.  Nightbreed's Craig Sheffer helps us feel like we're still in the Barkerverse, but at the cost of a better performance another actor would've given us.  And the fact that the Hell factor has been dialed down definitely detracts from the thrills the previous four films delivered.  It feels like episode 1 of the Hellraiser cable TV show, rather than another film, and as the first of many Hellraisers to go direct-to-video, I guess that's not too far off the mark.  The cenobites look cool when we see them, but they only get a handful of minutes' screen time.  But still, Scott Derrickson, who's gone on to commandeer Marvel's current Doctor Strange flicks, has restored a degree of quality that it's kind of a bummer Clive never recognized.
2000 US Dimension DVD top; 2011 US Echo Bridge BD bottom.
I've seen some confusion over whether Echo Bridge's blu is 1080p or 1080i and now I see why.  I was pleasantly surprised with Bloodline; I definitely wasn't expecting one film to be interlaced and one not.  But that's the case here; The Inferno blu is riddled with combing, which also gives an ugly juttering effect to camera pans and movement.  The DVD wasn't even interlaced!  The framing is ever so slightly fixed from 1.77:1 to 1.78:1, adding slivers of picture along the top and bottom.  And the blu is a little crisper than the DVD, which is slightly compressed to a softer feel.  But it's very subtle.  And the colors and everything else are unchanged.  This isn't an upscale, but it's a very slight boost in clarity, and taking into account the interlacing, this is arguably a downgrade.  Personally, I'd rate it as a side-grade.

But again, the blu is again barebones.  The DVD at least had minimal extras: a six minute interview with Doug Bradley, an even shorter featurette where Gary Tunnicliffe gives us a look at the effects for the puzzle box and Pinhead's pins, and the trailer for Hellraiser 4.  So we've also lost those.
So Echo Bridge's release is actually a satisfying and entirely valid upgrade for the Bloodline DVD.  But for Inferno?  It's a tough call if the DVD is actually better or worse, all things considered.  But again, there are import blus.  And while, like I said about Bloodline, none of them are forging new masters, but by not being interlaced, you would genuinely do better by going for the German (which has the Doug Bradley but not the Tunnicliffe interview) or Japanese (barebones) BDs.  The only question is if it's worth the trouble.  Because, boy are the US blu-rays prevalent and cheap, and they're perfectly fine for Bloodline.  But I don't see remasters for either film anywhere in our future, so it's just a question of importing to fix Inferno's combing issue.  That's a call you guys are gonna have to make for yourselves.

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