Face-Off: Phantoms vs. Hellraiser: Hellworld

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

The film choices for this Face-Off were inspired by the fact that Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill will be facing off on the big screen this weekend in BATMAN V. SUPERMAN. The actors playing the titular characters in that superhero clash have a small number of horror credits to their names, but they did both do some time in the Dimension trenches – Affleck played a role in the 1998 Dean Koontz adaptation PHANTOMS, while Cavill appeared in the eighth installment in the HELLRAISER franchise, 2005’s HELLRAISER: HELLWORLD. This could almost be considered a “skeletons in the closet” edition of Face-Off, but thanks to Kevin Smith PHANTOMS is a very poorly concealed skeleton in Affleck’s past. It’s not likely that BATMAN V. SUPERMAN will have a clear winner, we know they’ll be teaming up by the end, but let’s find out what the outcome is when the battle is PHANTOMS V. HELLRAISER: HELLWORLD.
Written by Dean Koontz from his own novel, PHANTOMS begins with Doctor Jennifer Pailey and her teenage sister arriving in the small town of Snowfield, Colorado to find that the place is almost entirely empty of living human beings. It’s quite full of severed body parts, though. To survive the night, the sisters have to team with a trio of police officers, a paleobiologist-turned-tabloid writer, and bio-suit wearing soldiers to take on an ancient evil.
Devotees of a computer game called Hellworld, based on the HELLRAISER mythology, are invited to a party at a former convent that was designed by the maker of the legendary, demon-summoning puzzle box. Soon things have gotten very weird, as the hallucinating youths find themselves getting knocked off by the mysterious host of the party and the Cenobites. To survive, they have to figure out what’s really happening.
The monster we’re dealing with here is like a mixture of THE THING and THE BLOB with a God complex. Not that it has reason to be humble – this creature has been responsible for mass disappearances going back maybe millions of years. It could have been what wiped out the dinosaurs. Despite that, this black goo that can take any form it wants to really can’t live up to the monsters that preceded it to the screen. This is supposed to be the greatest threat imaginable, but it comes off like a poor imitation.
HELLWORLD has an advantage in this category in that it features creatures that are icons of the horror genre, the Cenobites, including what may be Doug Bradley’s last performance as the face of the franchise, Pinhead. Sure, this movie handles them all wrong – these aren’t the intriguing, intelligently-written demons/angels of the earlier films, the Cenobites here are just blade-wielding slashers. Still, they remain captivating.
Ben Affleck plays Sheriff Bryce Hammond, and although he does well with the dramatic scenes and with battling the creatures, the baby-faced early-twenties actor comes off as being a decade too young for his role. Hammond was an FBI agent who left the bureau after killing a young boy during a raid, now he’s a life-hardened police officer… but Affleck looks like he could still be in high school.
Most of the young actors in this film are playing to the back rows, and Henry Cavill is no exception as his party-loving cannon fodder character Mike. In fact, with his goofy expressions he may be the worst offender of the bunch. He even goes so far as to look directly into the camera lens and smile while receiving a blowjob. Mike survives too long for my taste, I’m not sorry when he’s finally dispatched.
Somehow Peter O’Toole got roped into this one, and does his best to make a meal of the bountiful exposition he was given to deliver. Joanna Going makes for a strong but bland heroine. The presence of Rose McGowan is always welcome, even if she is slightly too old to be playing her character. That’s the opposite issue from the too-young police officers, portrayed by Affleck, Nicky Katt (gone too soon), and Liev Schreiber. Schreiber’s off-balance character goes a bit too crazy too quickly, but he is truly the highlight of the film, even if he’s given moments to play that make you feel sorry for the actor.
Khary Payton and Anna Tolputt did their best to make their characters likeable by playing them up, but I still didn’t connect with any of the characters on any level. The group is cut down to Katheryn Winnick as Chelsea and Christopher Jacot as Jake, the dullest final two team you could hope to see. The only actor/character to make any sort of impression is Lance Henriksen as The Host. The Host is written in an old school horror star way, and when you need a modern actor to step in for the likes of Vincent Price, Henriksen is one of the best choices you could make.
Most horror fans who have seen HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS would probably not be quick to recommend director Joe Chappelle for other jobs, but Dimension seemed fond of him, hiring him to handle reshoots on HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE and giving him this movie. At first, PHANTOMS feels like a movie that’s playing out in fast forward, but it slows down to a drag in the back end. What should be frightening tends to come off as rather cheesy, and at times Chappelle goes overboard with the strobe lights, much like he did during that operating room massacre in HALLOWEEN 6.
I suppose Rick Bota did the best he could do with the material he was handed. He keeps the pace fast and the scenes trippy as he knocks things out in a capable manner. HELLRAISER: HELLWORLD was just a poorly conceived sequel from the ground up, dropping HELLRAISER mythology and Cenobites into a film that really isn’t HELLRAISER at all until the final scenes. If you removed the HELLRAISER elements it would have almost zero impact on the overall story, but it benefits from their inclusion simply because it adds appeal to what would have otherwise been a long-forgotten slasher.
As different as they are, PHANTOMS and HELLRAISER: HELLWORLD also have a lot in common, being subpar films that don’t live up to the source material. Dean Koontz’s novel could have been made into a much better film, and HELLWORLD shouldn’t be a HELLRAISER movie. But in a head-to-head battle, it’s PHANTOMS that comes out the victor as an underwhelming but more well crafted tale. In the words of Jay, “Affleck, you da bomb in PHANTOMS, yo!”

What do you think of the outcome of this Face-Off? Did Batman deserve the win, or do you prefer Superman’s movie? Let us know by leaving a comment below. If you have any suggestions for future match-ups, I would be glad to consider them. You can send them to me at [email protected].

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of JoBlo.com, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.