Home > Reviews > HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH – Randy Miller



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the most popular and successful horror franchises of the 1980s and 1990s was Hellraiser, based on Clive Barker’s groundbreaking but somewhat controversial 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart. The first film based on the story was released in 1987 and introduced the iconic Pinhead character to the pantheon of horror movie monsters: an inter-dimensional ‘cenobite’ traveler who ensnares unwary souls with his cryptic puzzle box, and then sentences them to a lifetime of torture that blurs the lines between pain and pleasure. A sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, was released in 1988, which expanded on the mythos of the cenobites, and was mostly well received by audiences. This second sequel, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, marked the end of the series of ‘good’ Hellraiser movies – from this point on, through seven further interminable entries, the franchise became worse and worse, to the point where Hellraiser fans essentially consider this to be the conclusion of the story.

The film is directed by Anthony Hickox and picks up the story immediately after the conclusion of Hellraiser II, which saw Pinhead defeated and his personality essentially split into two – British Army captain Elliot Spencer, his original human form, is trapped in a sort of limbo, while Pinhead is trapped within an intricately carved column called the Pillar of Souls. When the Pillar of Souls resurfaces in a New York nightclub owned by the amoral JP Monroe, the ‘essence of Pinhead’ manipulates events so that he is released back into the world, free to wreak havoc as he sees fit, free of any influence Elliot may have had over him. Later, reporter Joanne Summerskill encounters one of Pinhead’s victims in a hospital, starts to investigate what happened to her, and of course finds more than she bargains for – and eventually has to find a way to contact Elliot in order to stop Pinhead’s new terrestrial reign of terror. The film again stars Doug Bradley as Pinhead/Elliott, along with franchise newcomers Terry Farrell, Paula Marshall, and Kevin Bernhardt.

The first two Hellraiser films were famously scored by Christopher Young. His music for them is rightly considered among the best and most accomplished horror scores, not just of the 1980s, but of all time – a pair of enormous, brilliant, overwhelmingly Gothic celebrations of the genre. By the time the third film came around Young had moved on to pastures new, so the producers turned to a relative newcomer for the music: Randy Miller. Hailing from New York, Miller cut his teeth as a keyboardist/arranger at resort hotels in the Catskills Mountains, before moving to Los Angeles to study film scoring at the University of Southern California. His first gigs were as an assistant to composer Robert Folk, orchestrating and writing additional music for films such as Police Academy 6: City Under Siege, The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter, Tremors, and Toy Soldiers, while also orchestrating on projects for composers such as David Newman and Alan Silvestri. Hellraiser III was the first solo project of any significance in Miller’s career, and he grasped the opportunity to impress with both hands.

Hellraiser III very much follows in the footsteps of the style and approach set out by Christopher Young in the first two films, but also allowed Miller to develop some new ideas related to the change in location (New York vs England), and the fact that a lot of the film takes place in a nightclub and uses hard rock tracks as source music; as such, Miller’s score had to weave in and around music by bands like Motörhead, Triumph, and the Chainsaw Kittens, maintaining a certain consistency with that sound, but also making its own statement. However, budget constraints meant that, rather than use a Hollywood studio orchestra, Miller and his team had to decamp to Moscow and record with the Mosfilm State Orchestra and Choir. They acquit themselves adequately, but do tend to seem somewhat underpowered and hesitant when compared to the bombastic powerhouse of the first two scores. Despite this, there is still a great deal of impressive music waiting to be discovered.

Right from the outset of the first cue, “Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth,” there is an immediate difference in Miller’s personal style; the spiky, aggressive, slashing strings and pulsating brass clusters actually sound more like vintage Alan Silvestri than anything Christopher Young wrote for the first two films – some of the writing in this cue, and elsewhere, reminds me more of scores like Predator, or the action parts of The Abyss, than anything from the Young canon. However, as the piece progresses, Miller produces some impressive moments of brass-led carnage and choral melodrama, before presenting the first of many variations on Young’s main theme from Hellraiser II.

As the score develops Miller takes pains to include lots of Christopher Young in the score – additional statements of and allusions to specific themes, little compositional touches, and some familiar orchestrations including the use of rattling metallic percussion, tolling bells, and more. Cues like “Back to Hell,” “Gothic Rebirth,” and the impressive “Emergency Room” adopt an intense Gothic horror attitude, and are filled with rampant clattering percussive patterns underneath swirling string figures, and bold brassy outbursts. The music for Pinhead and the Cenobites in particular is interesting, and quite different from the chain-rattling, eerily abstract sounds Young used to depict them in the first two scores; the “Cenobites Death Danse” offers a creepy variation on Young’s main theme filled with unnerving metallic textures, gasping and growling voices, a screeching choir, and a peculiar classical waltz-like rhythmic element which has circus-like leaps and swoops and which gives the whole piece a feeling of almost demented comedy.

Elsewhere, in cues like “Come to Daddy” and “The Pillar,” Miller gives Pinhead in particular an enticing quality, delving deeper into the idea that the Cenobites are ‘angels to some, demons to others,’ and that some may actually find the delights he offers dangerously appealing. The music in these cues is a slow burn, moody, and filled with quiet tension, but with an alluring influence that must have been a difficult balance to pull off.

This is counterbalanced by the music for Pinhead’s ‘good side’ in the shape of Captain Spencer, which is more thematic, more elegant, almost warmly romantic in places, and uses strings in combination with piano and choir to capture the essence of perhaps the ultimate tortured soul. These ideas are explored initially in “Mind Invasion,” and then come to a head in “Elliot’s Story,” which gives a full and more detailed explanation of who he was, and how he became Pinhead in the first place. To capture the duality of the character Miller takes the elegant writing of Elliot’s theme, with its moments of tenderness and poignancy, and weaves it together with quiet statements of the Hellraiser fanfare for soft strings, woodwinds, and magical chimes. As the cue progresses, and the circumstances of Elliot’s transformation into Pinhead are revealed, Young’s rattling chains can be heard ominously in the background, and eventually the main Hellraiser theme starts to dominate. It’s a clever, poignant depiction of the origin story of one of horror’s most iconic villains.

The score’s main set piece is “Pinhead’s Protégés/The Devil’s Mass,” an extended 13-minute sequence which underscores the dramatic scenes where Pinhead uses his powers to transform numerous unsuspecting individuals into brand new cenobites – including one with barbed wire wrapped around his head, one with a camera embedded into his eye socket, one with a jackhammer piston through his skull, and an unfortunate female one who retains all of her human memories – and then unleashes them to wreak havoc on the citizens of New York. The piece is Miller’s moment to shine, and he doesn’t disappoint – it’s full of abstract horror textures, choral outbursts, and more allusions to Young’s main Hellraiser themes, but also features long sequences of sinister underscore full of shifting string chords, rumbling percussion, and occasional loud crescendos. The action music around the 4-minute mark again has a distinct Alan Silvestri flavor, and there are several terrific sequences of agitated brass writing, big throaty exclamations of horror and carnage bolstered by strident strings and pulsating drums. The massive statement of Young’s main theme from Hellraiser II in the finale is especially satisfying.

The conclusive “Shall We Begin” ends the score with one final thrilling explosion of Gothic power, more of that superb tumultuous orchestral action in the Alan Silvestri style, and a final rousing reprise of the main Hellraiser fanfare.

While it’s probably true that Randy Miller’s music for Hellraiser III is less distinctive than the music from the first two films, and relies more on traditionally bombastic orchestral carnage than Christopher Young did, this is still a score that impresses on several fronts. Miller is a talented composer with a superb command of the orchestra and a knack for pulling striking sounds from a smaller ensemble, and the intelligent way he combines elements of the first two scores with his new material is impressive, especially in the scenes exploring the duality of Pinhead and Elliot Spencer.

It’s a shame that Miller’s career as a solo composer never really took off in the wake of this; aside from a few minor efforts like Pirates of the Plain in 1999 and Spartacus in 2004, as well as his collaborations with Japanese composer Kitaro on Heaven & Earth in 1993 and The Soong Sisters in 1997, he rarely gets a chance to show what he can do on major projects these days, and in recent years he has established himself instead as an in-demand conductor and orchestrator, working on projects for Cliff Martinez, Marcelo Zarvos, and Brian Transeau, among many others.

As I mentioned earlier, this also marks the last worthwhile entry in the Hellraiser series, both cinematically and musically – future installments would be scored by composers such as Walter Werzowa, Stephen Edwards, Henning Lohner, and Lars Anderson, none of which hold a candle to anything from the original trilogy. In fact, it’s probably best to ignore those subsequent films entirely, and concentrate only on these initial entries – and if you do that, you’ll have a trio of films and scores that contain a great deal of powerful Gothic horror music, a true celebration of the genre, and an excellent depiction of one of the most popular anti-heroes in horror movie history.

Buy the Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (2:12)
  • Back to Hell (4:39)
  • Cenobites Death Danse (2:31)
  • Pinhead’s Protégés/The Devil’s Mass (12:50)
  • Come to Daddy (2:43)
  • Gothic Rebirth (1:03)
  • Emergency Room (6:32)
  • Mind Invasion (2:42)
  • The Pillar (4:10)
  • Elliot’s Story (5:14)
  • Shall We Begin (2:04)

Running Time: 46 minutes 40 seconds

GNP Crescendo Records GNPD 8033 (1992)

Music composed by Randy Miller. Conducted by Sergei Scripka. Performed by the Mosfilm State Orchestra and Choir. Orchestrations by Randy Miller, Jon Kull and Pete Tomashek. Original Hellraiser themes by Christopher Young. Recorded and mixed by Vladimir Vinogradov. Edited by Doug Lackey and Carl Swartz. Album produced by Randy Miller.

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