Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hellraiser and Overselling Characters

Many movies have fallen short of a good rating from underdeveloped plots. Yet some critics would praise movies that go without explanation for certain events. It can be a tough decision for filmmakers to decide which plot details to include, and I’m no professional on that subject, but I’m going to explain how I decide if a movie explained enough of its plot.

The best example to use here is horror movies in general. To elaborate upon that general example, I’ll use horror movie franchises. No, that doesn’t really eliminate many, but it works out for the sake of argument. It’s often been noted in horror movies that it’s best to leave maniacal serial killers as just that: maniacal serial killers. You don’t know why they do what they do. All the movie gives you is a small hint that they may have some underlying cause for their insanity, but that cause doesn’t need to be known.

Pinhead, being my all-time favorite horror villain, shall serve as my primary example. He’s a demon, a servant from hell whose function is to ferry those who seek to reach ultimate pleasure and pain into his sadomasochistic domain. That’s it. He’s a sinister creature with a task and never strays from completing that task. It’s his only motivation, and that worked fine in the first two movies. Then the third movie came around, giving Pinhead his infamously debilitating backstory. At the end of the second movie, you learn that he used to be human, and that memory reverts him back to his original, human form. That worked for the conclusion of Kirsty’s story arc as well as the series as a whole.

Unfortunately, the incredible popularity of Pinhead’s character, as well as the one-track minds of those behind future projects (money, if you didn’t already know), the series, which well concluded itself after the second movie, ran for another six films. (In totality, there are actually nine, but I refuse to acknowledge the ninth as a Hellraiser film). Of those four, Inferno and Hellworld don’t truly feature Pinhead as a character, so those, too, are void.

So what about the other movies made them so painfully bad? They tried too hard to establish that Pinhead and his legions of demons had a past that stemmed far back into history. That much was already implicitly made known in the first two movies. What’s more important, the film gained a lot of intrigue from the mystery surrounded Pinhead and the puzzle box. Curious humans would stumble upon it and unleash hell’s demons; and when they did, you’d think to yourself, “No, don’t do it! You have no idea what you’re getting into!” But by the time you understand Pinhead and his loosely constructed history, people fumbling with the Lament Configuration is as common as breathing. Your reaction changes to something like, “Oh, someone else is gonna open it? Oh well.” You’re aware of what’s on the other side of the box. You know that Pinhead, for reasons that don’t quite compute, is dead-set on causing as much pain and torment as possible. See, you didn’t understand exactly what was going on in hell or with Pinhead in the first movies, “and you always fear what you don’t understand.” (Courtesy quote from Batman Begins). As the series continues, that fear gradually weakens, and Pinhead becomes exponentially more like your stock horror villain.

That pretty much sums up why giving characters who are tastefully made to be ambiguous origin stories detracts from their personalities. It moves them from whatever unique world they originated from into one dominated by all the clich├ęs in the field. People – or at least I – grow tired of seeing the same characters given different names. I want to see quirks that aren’t present in other films. In Pinhead’s case, that quirk was that he was just doing his job. For the first two movies, it really worked. He meant business, but he could be bartered with and manipulated. Yet, he also wouldn’t take no for an answer where work was concerned. It seems almost like a flaw, but it makes him that much more fearful. He might find a good reason to delay appointments, but he would always find time for you.