Nightclub owner J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt) visits a gallery of modern art, seeking an addition to his collection. Inside, a grizzled-looking man offers him a grotesque, sculpted pillar for how ever much he thinks it's worth, and Monroe accepts the deal. Elsewhere in the city, aspiring television reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) has been let down on her search for a newsworthy story at the hospital until her cameraman leaves her to work on something else, when suddenly a man is brought down the corridor on a trolley, screaming and dragging chains behind him. Joey follows, and sees the man's head explode while on the operating table - now that's a story.
For the third instalment in the Hellraiser series, written by Peter Atkins from his and Tony Randel's story, there was basically one returning character, and he was Pinhead (Doug Bradley). Not only nicknamed Pinhead by the fans, but now actually called Pinhead in the film, he was the star of the show this time around, and obviously designed to appeal to the same moviegoers who enjoyed the antics of Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees, complete with oneliners and preposterous ways of killing off his victims. Yes, Hellraiser had become a slasher franchise of the kind that the original had supposedly been a reaction against.
There has been a witness to what happened to the exploding man, and her name is Terri (Paula Marshall), so Joey tracks her down to the nightclub of the obnoxious Monroe, the Boiler Room. The nervous Terri strikes up a tentative friendship with Joey, staying over with her at her apartment while she explains what she knows, and produces a certain puzzle box which she has liberated from the pillar sculpture. However, it's not a sculpture at all, as Monroe discovers when he gets bitten by a crazed rat, and his blood is splattered onto the object. Amazed, he watches as the blood is soaked up, but that's nothing compared to what happens when he brings back his next conquest to his room where the pillar sits.
The trouble with a sequel this far into the run is that even if you haven't seen the first two, you'll have a pretty good idea of what will happen anyway. It's simply a matter of waiting until the heroine catches up with you, which she does with the help of an unlikely source: Pinhead's good alter ego. Visiting her in dreams she has of her father's death in the Vietnam War, he tells her his name (disappointing to find out he's really called Elliot Spencer), and informs her the puzzle box is the way to send the villain back to Hell. Now it's a race against time as Pinhead absorbs a few bodies and makes a comeback in the real world, enjoying a massacre of the clubgoers in the process.
Pinhead is a cut above the usual stalk and slash baddie, having a sense of good breeding and urbanity, even if he does slaughter innocents, cheerfully commit blasphemy and laugh just a little too much. And so it is that Bradley easily carries the film over the serviceable but uninspiring acting of the rest of the cast, as Pinhead creates a new breed of Cenobites from what materials he has to hand. These demons are an inferior bunch - a bloke with a camera in his head, a compact disc flinging killer, a woman whose weapon is cigarette burns (!) - and there's something about these films in that they don't pick names for the heroines that sound menacing when spoken in a deep voice, but Hellraiser III is not a bad way to pass the time for addicts. Watch out for Kirsty on blurry video tape. Music by Randy Miller, along with borrowings from Christopher Young.
[Hellraiser III is available as part of an Anchor Bay special edition box set of the first three Hellraiser movies, including interviews, a trailer and a chatty commentary with star Doug Bradley and director Anthony Hickox, complete with sound effects of cigarettes being lit and drinks being poured.]