Unreleased, But Viewable: Hellraiser IV Bloodline - The Workprint Director's Cut

Mr. Jordan reviews the alternate cut of Hellraiser: Bloodline. 

doug bradley
"I have such sights to show you....
including this beautiful blue planet.
Join me on a tour."
Film history is full of notorious examples of movies that were taken away from their directors and heavily altered by their studios, to the point that the filmmakers disowned the films altogether, and wrote them off as lost. They are known as Alan Smithee films, after the traditional pseudonym that directors use to distance themselves from a work that they no longer see as their own. Most of the time, Alan Smithee films go down in history as huge flops, and their reputations more or less end there. But very rarely, we get a chance to see what might have been – a look at the director's original vision before the film was taken from them – and occasionally this allows a once-hated film to be reevaluated. One such case is the 1996 flop Hellraiser: Bloodline. No, a director's cut has never been released, and probably never will be. But thanks to a leaked workprint, a leaked shooting script, and some fan dedication, we can see a pretty accurate – if unfinished – representation of what Kevin Yagher's film should have been like, before it became an Alan Smithee movie. And if this version had been released in the first place, this sequel's reputation would be very different indeed.

Hellraiser: Bloodline is notorious as the flop that effectively killed the Hellraiser franchise. It was after this film's under-performance that Hellraiser went from a relatively big-budget, big-screen horror saga with an ever-expanding mythology to a string of cut-rate straight-to-video shockers that were mostly random unrelated scripts with Pinhead shoehorned in. This was also the last film in the series that Clive Barker had anything to do with, before be started increasingly distancing himself from the failing franchise. And in an era when it was a trend for horror sequels to look to the stars for some fresh ideas (see also Jason X, Leprechaun in Space, and Critters 4), Bloodline was mockingly written off by many as “Pinhead in Space.” It is no surprise that the film was so poorly received, though: the version that was released was a mess, with a muddled, half-baked plot; interesting ideas, maybe, but underdeveloped at best.

"Game of Resident Evil anyone?"
But it should have been so much more. Bloodline was written and shot as a highly ambitious and idea-filled, nearly two-hour-long exploration of the series' mythology, spanning centuries in the history of the Lament Configuration puzzle box. The problems came when Miramax/Dimension cynically came to the conclusion that horror fans are very dumb and have extremely short attention spans, and would rather watch a fast-paced movie with as few dialogue scenes and as many gore scenes as possible; never mind if it badly hurts the plot. The film was cut by over half an hour, the structure was completely changed to allow Pinhead to show up as early as possible, and re-shoots were ordered to make sense of it all. When director Kevin Yagher wouldn't make these harmful changes, he was forced off the project and replaced by Halloween 6's Joe Chappelle. Fortunately, someone close to the early stages of the project leaked both the final shooting script from before the changes began, and an early workprint version of the film from when Yagher was still on board. This still isn't the original version – changes had already been demanded in editing – but at least the missing pieces were mostly all there. Then, using Yagher's shooting script as a blueprint, a group of dedicated fans re-cut the footage into its proper order, using the higher-quality footage and audio from the theatrical version where possible. The result flows better, makes more sense, and actually succeeds in further developing the Hellraiser mythos.

The theatrical version was structured as a nonlinear, flashback/flashforward story – but since the script wasn't written that way, it felt very awkward and disorienting. This reconstructed director's cut restores the intended narrative style: an anthology film of three episodes that build off of each other. The stories follow three different generations of the cursed LeMarchand/Merchant family, who inadvertently helped create the Lament Configuration, and whose destiny is forever intertwined with that of the Cenobytes. The first segment is set in 18th Century France, and tells the origin story of the puzzle box. The second is set in the present day (ie, the '90s), connecting the story of the Merchants back up with the aftermath of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. And the third is set on a space station in the far future, as the latest in the Merchant line looks for a way to fix his family's mistakes. All three stories are far better developed in the rebuilt director's cut – especially the present and future stories, which are significantly longer.

Bizarrely, when Miramax/Dimension recut the film, their idea of speeding up the pace was to cut literally the most crucial pieces of dialogue from each of the film's chapters. Seriously – the key scenes that bring the whole plot together wound up on the cutting room floor; the studio must really have thought that the gore was literally all the fans cared about. You don't even have to have seen the theatrical version to appreciate this: in this reconstructed version, the theatrical footage is used wherever possible, so the film cuts to VHS workprint quality only for the missing scenes. This makes Miramax/Dimension's stupidity incredibly obvious: for the most part, the workprint scenes are the most narratively interesting ones. With at least a couple really important scenes restored to each of the three “episodes,” the story actually makes sense, and takes on the grand scope that Yagher was going for. The expanded ending packs a lot more punch, Pinhead gets some extra creepy monologues (“Do I look like someone who cares what God thinks?”), and there is also an entire subplot that barely even made it to the theatrical version, about a power-struggle in Hell between Pinhead and the demon princess Angelique.

"Stop staring at my box."
While Hellbound: Hellraiser II still sets the standard for the most spectacular and nightmarish visuals in the franchise, Bloodline is one cool-looking movie. The visual theme of architecture inspired by the Lament Configuration makes for some very impressive set-pieces, and two of the new Cenobytes – Angelique and a creepy dog monster – are quite well designed. A special effects artist long before (and after) he was a director, Yagher designed Pinhead's nasty pet, and it is a great display of how good practical effects technology got before the advent of CGI. Some CGI was used throughout the film, though, and it naturally is missing from the workprint sequences: when CGI would have been required, on-screen text notes what effects were to be put in during post-production. Fortunately most of the effects in the film were practical, so the workprint scenes don't seem too terribly incomplete. At any rate, the improved plot and structure is well worth dealing with the eccentricities of unfinished scenes.

While this version is a big improvement, it must be said that Hellraiser: Bloodline remains a flawed sequel. The script has a few awkward moments, and its narrative ambition does sometimes exceed the actual writing skill level of screenwriter Peter Atkins. Kevin Yagher does a solid job directing, but you can sometimes tell that he is a first-time director who still has a few things to learn. He shows promise, though, and I suspect he would have grown into a strong filmmaker; too bad the experience of making Bloodline was so negative that he never directed again. The cast is fairly uneven too, with a few pretty wooden key actors. One of those wooden actors, sadly, is star Bruce Ramsay, who plays all three generations of the LeMarchand/Merchant family. He's decent enough, especially in the present-day storyline where he clearly feels most at home, but the film would have benefited from a stronger lead. But really, these are criticisms that could be made against any of the Hellraiser films, including the much-loved first two. Uneven scripts, flawed direction, and wooden acting are sort of business as usual for this series, which never fails to deliver loads of promise that it can't quite live up to. Even with these flaws, this reconstructed director's cut of Bloodline is at the very least the second-best sequel in the series, after the wonderfully nightmarish Hellbound, and it effortlessly blows Hell on Earth out of the water.

This reconstructed director's cut can be found on YouTube, in nine chunks, under the title Hellraiser IV – Bloodline Reconstruction Workprint. For the most part, the fans who put it together did a fantastic job: while cutting between an HD film transfer and a workprint VHS will inevitably be a little awkward, they made the assembly as smooth as possible, doing an impressive amount of color-correction and audio mixing on the workprint scenes. But there is one part where they tried way too hard to create the ultimate Bloodline experience, sabotaging themselves in the process: a far-too-long, Sims-style animated recreation of a chunk of the 18th Century script that was never filmed. Just skip that part: it doesn't have any information that you can't get from the filmed scenes, and it is all sorts of awkward. Beyond that, though, this cut really does serve as a faithful fan-sourced remaster of what exists of Yagher's version; it is not just some fan-edit. Unless a company like Scream Factory actually finds the surviving film elements, brings Yagher back to do a director's cut, and coughs up the money for all the unfinished CGI and audio work, this will probably remain the definitive version of Hellraiser: Bloodline that is widely available to us. And what a different version it is: far from being the flop that killed the franchise, we can now appreciate Bloodline as a flawed but solid, admirably ambitious entry in the series.

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-Christopher S. Jordan