Last summer, there was finally a new Halloween movie worth getting excited about, as Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (the guys behind the underrated Collector movies) would be putting together a new entry that went back to the original continuity, more or less picking up from the first two films - we would finally be getting a Halloween III with Michael Myers! Things were under way for a summer shoot, casting notices had gone out, the two men had started giving interviews (in one they said they hoped to cast Gillian Jacobs in a role - this movie was seemingly specifically designed to appease me), and, for once, fans had a reason to be hopeful about a new Halloween sequel from Dimension.
So of course, it fell apart.
I am not privy to all of the details, but from what I understand via official news reports as well as what I've picked up from a few folks in the know, Dimension's rights to the franchise ran out before they could actually get the movie going (their financial woes probably played a part as well), and now the rights are being shopped around to other studios. That means that the series will likely continue, but because they'd want to give whoever picked it up a clean slate, nothing in development would be carried along with it. I suppose it's possible the new owner could stick with Dunstan and Melton's version if they wanted, but I would assume any future movie would be a reset once again, using the name brand to introduce a new version of Michael Myers*. It's both good and bad news; obviously it would have been great to see Dunstan and Melton's seemingly promising version come to fruition, but Dimension is no longer calling the shots? That's a pretty thick silver lining.
For those who don't pay attention to these things, Dimension has been in control since Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. With ten films in the series (including the two Rob Zombie ones) they've not only produced half of the franchise, but they've also had those rights for twenty years - picking them up right after they obtained the rights to the Hellraiser series. In fact, 1992's Hellraiser III was the first Dimension theatrical release in the US (co-presented with Paramount), and by the time of 1996's Hellraiser: Bloodline (the series' last full theatrical release - more on that soon) the production company - headed by Bob Weinstein - had become a pretty frequent source of big-screen/low-budget horror: Halloween 6, The Prophecy, The Crow, From Dusk Till Dawn, etc. Not every film was a masterpiece, but at a time when all of the big studios had largely abandoned horror, they were the only ones consistently sticking by it, and it wouldn't be until the period between Halloween 6 and Hellraiser 4 that their penchant for micro-managing and reshooting against the wishes of the films' casts and crew would start to become synonymous with their productions. For Halloween, this just meant franchise whiplash, as the series would constantly be reinvented to fit whatever was in vogue at the time, i.e. H20 being sprinkled with the same winking attitude that proved to be so popular with Scream.
For Hellraiser, it just meant a series of increasingly worse films, all of which went direct to video. Hellraiser never had the same theatrical success as Halloween (its TOP grossing film was the original, with 14 million - for the Halloween series, only one film - H5 - grossed LESS than that) and Bloodline came in low even by those standards - and with Clive Barker stepping away, there was nothing to suggest a turnaround. So starting with 2000's Inferno (the directorial debut of Scott Derrickson, incidentally) the series bypassed theaters and showed up first on DVD, with Doug Bradley returning to his most famous role for usually brief appearances. This is something I always found ironic; many reviews lambasted the films for keeping Pinhead to the sidelines for so much of the runtime, but that's one of the few things they ever got RIGHT - he barely appears in the original, either. Hellraiser III was the first to try to turn him into a Freddy-level main attraction, and, if you need a reminder, that's the first one under Dimension's watch (it's also the weakest of the first four IMO). So they might have been bungling up just about everything else, and his limited appearance was probably dictated by budget instead of creative choice, but if nothing else, Pinhead's glorified cameos in most of these DTV entries were, in their own way, true to the series' roots.
But, you know, they suck. Each one has its own weird little hook that makes it worth a look (Ashley Laurence returns for part 6, and in Hellworld (part 8), where Pinhead kills off a bunch of video game players, we get to see a young Henry Cavill go through the motions), but there is zero reason to own these movies beyond typical horror-fan collectivism**. The last of the lot debuted in 2005, and it was in 2006 that Dimension first announced plans for a remake of the original, presumably ending the original series for good. But in 2010, a new film was announced, not a remake but another sequel, which left fans confused - why make this thing and not the remake we were promised? It wasn't long before we got the answer: Dimension had to make SOMETHING or their rights to the franchise would expire, and with the remake being a high profile project that needed to be done right (well, as right as anything can be done over there), they had no choice but to slap together another sequel, cheap and quick.
And when I say "cheap and quick" I mean exactly that; a friend was up to write it and they needed the script in 48 hours because the (very brief) shooting schedule was already locked for less than three weeks later (he didn't get the gig, for the record), and the budget was less than half of Barker's 1987 original - and that's not even factoring inflation! The resulting film was 75 minutes long, and featured a new Pinhead - Doug Bradley opted not to return after reading the script (which, in my opinion, was actually a stronger narrative than most of the ones that preceded it; the movie was really done in by the threadbare production and actor change). But despite the fact that the movie existed only to extend their hold on the series, Dimension gave it something no Hellraiser had gotten in 15 years - a theatrical release. Not a big one, mind you, but for one weekend in September, they played it in select theaters along with the (even worse) Zombie Diaries 2. And while I'm usually a champion of these ridiculous stunts, I wasn't there... because I had already seen it theatrically.
One morning in March of 2011, my good friend Ryan Turek called with some very important news to share - that night, they would be showing the film (along with Children of the Corn: Genesis, another rights-extension exercise) at the Rave Cinema in LA. Not a test screening or a premiere - you could buy a ticket on Fandango and everything. The two of us (and Fearnet's Lawrence Raffel) raced down there to see what we were sure would be the film's only theatrical showing, with a couple of friends even doubling down and watching the Corn movie too. A lot of the cast (including faux Pinhead) were there, as well as several of the Dimension regulars we knew from the 3rd season of Project Greenlight (the one that launched Dunstan and Melton - full circle!). It was a glorious time! The movie was terrible (best part is when someone looks up "Cenobite" in the dictionary), so the lot of us were giggling through the whole thing, and after the credits they showed deleted scenes from the movie, as if to reiterate how low-rent the whole affair was by simulating the at-home DVD experience (indeed, the disc's only extra is that same deleted scene collection). But by then we knew what it was and why it existed, so it was hard to really get angry about it like we normally would for a bad entry in a beloved franchise (plus, at this point, the series had more bad movies than good anyway). We laughed and made our jokes on Twitter, and then the conversation turned to the remake, which would certainly be the next movie in the series.
A few weeks back, horror fans got a strong sense of deja vu, when it was announced that Heather Langenkamp would be starring in the new Hellraiser movie that would be shooting the following week. Doug Bradley took to his Facebook to stress that he wasn't involved (this time he didn't even get to read the script; he was asked to sign an NDA swearing he wouldn't make fun of it if he chose not to participate, so he rightfully told them to sod off), a new actor was hired (not the same guy from Revelations), and the shooting schedule/budget seemed to reflect that of a film no one was meant to really take seriously. This one's called Hellraiser: Judgement (yes, with an "E" - going with the UK spelling to appease original fans, I assume?) and while writer/director Gary Tunnicliffe has assured us that it's a legit film and will make the fans happy, it is literally the same situation: a movie shot quick and cheap, cynically produced for no other reason than to keep Pinhead from slipping away, I sincerely wish Tunnicliffe and his crew the best and hope the movie is good, but we've been down this road before - and I doubt even he thought we'd be on it again. It's sad enough that they already had to make one throwaway movie just to hold on to these rights while they try to get the remake off the ground, but the fact that they're doing it again exactly five years later is just depressing. Shouldn't there have been a REAL movie by now?
As for why they didn't ever do this for Halloween, your guess is as good as mine. I can only assume that since that series is still a viable theatrical property, they didn't want to risk its relative good name by slapping something together on the quick and dumping it out for whoever wanted to look for it. Also, Halloween has a sort of night watchman overseeing it: Malek Akkad, who took over from his father Moustapha after his tragic death in 2005. The Akkad family has been involved in every Halloween movie so far (Moustapha was the one to put up the money for the original), and presumably have veto power should Dimension try anything funny. The Hellraiser series, alas, doesn't have an equivalent - Clive Barker hasn't been involved since Bloodline beyond presumably getting a check every time they trot out his creation (and there's no love lost; when he announced The Scarlet Gospels Barker said he wanted to kill Pinhead and "send him someplace where Dimension can never find him"). If they wanted to make a Hellraiser movie where Pinhead does nothing but read grocery lists, I don't think there's anything that can stop them, except maybe the embarrassment that such a film would still be better than any of the ones they've made in the past decade.
Because of this, and what has to be the major sting of losing Halloween, I don't see Dimension ever losing control of the series any more than I could see Fox allowing the X-Men to go back to Marvel. It's a damn shame, too; the series COULD be one of the most visually inventive and mythology-driven horror franchise we have (even more so if they could, like the books, bring Harry D'Amour into the mix), but it's forever stuck with a company that seemingly can't afford to spend more than a few hundred grand on each entry, shooting them in bland locations over two week periods while hoping to improve the next time around. The best we can hope for is that one of their other releases (probably not the Amityville sequel they just shuttled off to January, after several other delays) makes a ton of money and fills their bank account enough to risk spending more than most films' catering budgets on Pinhead's next wacky adventure. But I wouldn't hold my breath. See you again in 2021, Mr. Spencer?
* OR, if you ask me, and no one is - they could use the Halloween brand itself to finally fulfill Carpenter's plan of an anthology series. With American Horror Story and Fargo doing so well, it seems the world might be ready for it this time.
** I own them all. But I bought them used at least!