Better than I was expecting. Like Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four, this is a cinematic ashcan, made quickly and cheaply only so that Dimension wouldn't lose the rights. As such, production values are low and the overall feel of the film is only slightly more professional than a fanfilm.
Still, much to my surprise, its heart is in the right place. I credit this squarely to writer Gary J. Tunnicliffe, who has also been the special FX guy for the past five films. The script reaches way, way back and takes us into the Hellraiser universe we saw in part I and in the novella The Hellbound Heart. Finally, once again, the Cenobites are bent not on world domination or mental trickery, but on delivering physical sensations "beyond the limits." Finally, we get to see what the Cenobites do with people in Hell. Finally, the pleasure part of the "pain and pleasure, indivisible" thing is glimpsed. Just like the book, there's a tolling of a great bell when the box is being solved. Pinhead nailing bits of flesh to Cenobite Stephen's head reminded me of the great Epic comic series from the '90s. After two decades of wandering completely off the map Barker had drawn, we're finally back.
But, this is all really just lipstick on a pig. The new Pinhead is awful. Stephen Smith Collins spends much of his time as Pinhead with a sort of angry frown on his face. He just doesn't look right, all puffy-headed and out of proportion with a costume that appears to have giant shoulder pads sewn into it. I've seen plenty of fan costumes that were closer to Bradley's appearance than this. His voice, re-dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, is laughably bad, sounding like a teenager attempting to sound grown-up. Now, I'm not opposed to recasting classic monsters. If we want these characters to survive, this is necessary. Doug Bradley is human and cannot play the character forever. However, I think they could've chosen better. I had no complaints about Jackie Earle Haley in the new Elm Street and I'm sure they could've done better with Pinhead had they cared.
The other major problem with the movie is the script. As much as I enjoy the fact that it takes us back to part I, it's a wee too dependent on that movie. Many lines from the original film are reused verbatim. Many parts of the general plot are lifted wholesale from that film as well. A hedonist solves the box, is taken to Hell, and escapes using blood. A person who loves him kills more people to resurrect him. The hedonist then steals a skin and impersonates that person. Pinhead returns to claim the escapee. It's hard to see why the next movie needs to be a remake when this film already did it.
Despite being only 75 minutes long, there are some slow spots where it feels like the filmmakers didn't know what to do. Particularly, when Niko returns home wearing Stephen's skin, there's a lot of dead time with the family as we wait for interesting things to happen. And, c'mon: giving the two families the last names Bradley and Craven, and then giving them all bad ends? Very respectful, guys. And what the hell does Wes have to do with Hellraiser, anyway?
I will say that the acting is generally pretty good in the film and I kind of like the flashback structure as device to slowly reveal what happened to the two kids in Mexico. It's also very vicious in a way quite appropriate to the Hellraiser universe: Niko is implied to have killed a baby, Niko's dad gets his face savagely ripped up by the derelict/puzzle guardian and Stephen's innocent mom is taken to an eternity of torment in Niko's place. As far as Hollywood movies go, it didn't pull any punches.
However, the ending feels like a cheat. Suddenly, Pinhead is claiming that Emma has such dark desires in her that she will one day seek out the box on her own. That's fine, but we're never really shown any evidence of this. She spends most of the film being the horror damsel in distress, screaming and cowering. There's one scene in which she makes out with her brother... but it really wasn't her brother. It was her boyfriend, wearing her brother's skin. You could argue that she sensed this and didn't really have a perverse incest attraction going on. Regardless, the film really needed to develop Emma a lot more in order for us to buy the ending.
Had this spent more time in development and had a little bit bigger budget, this could've easily been the best sequel since II. I was so geeked to see the mythology return to its roots. Too bad this return to form was packaged in a such a hastily-made write-off. (5/10)