The Vault: A revolutionary escapes from his cell in a South American prison, leaving behind only the mysterious puzzle box. Discovering how he escaped and what hand the box had in it becomes an obsession for the warden, and he tries to force another prisoner--the leader of the revolution--to solve the puzzle, leading to predictably disastrous results. Not a favorite of mine, and maybe it was a result of the murky artwork, but I could scarcely even follow the story.
Divers Hands: Mary, the new nurse at the Carrboro Hansen's Disease Center, is immediately drawn to Vincent, the withered Leprosy patient who carries around a strange box with him at all times. Despite being warned by her boss that she's spending too much time with a single patient, she still lingers around him until he tells his story about seeking out the Cenobites' help with his condition. Having lost his fingers, he is unable to work the puzzle...but convinces her that she can do it for him.
The artwork is wispy and watery, with a sense of romance to it. The main Cenobite in the story is named Hunger, and he looks like a hungry refugee from Mars Attacks sporting a vintage Kiss costume. Pretty damn good with a nice twist ending, and a reference to the architect descendent of L'Merchant from elsewhere in the mythos.
Writers Lament: This story starts with a very Twilight Zone-like opening, introducing us to Max Wayne, who was a freelance writer in life, and a freelance writer in death. He's working on a project in Hell, and although I don't really understand how a writer creates a living breathing thing, Max creates...a baby. He takes it to his editor, who proceeds to tear his work apart, all too literally.
This story is short, relatively pointless and doesn't make a ton of sense. However, this is probably the only place you will see someone dismember a baby. Not that it is something you've ever wanted to see. I get that it works on an allegorical level--a writer's work being hacked apart by his editor--but this is part of a franchise and a mythology, not a place for allegory.
The Threshold: A sadistic scientist, using a virtual reality program bestowed upon him by a reclusive genius, subjects a homeless man in a vegetative state to endless VR torture in hopes of discovering what lies beyond the threshold of pain. What lies beyond it, of course, is Hell.
The artwork here is simultaneously cartoonish and hyper realistic, like you would find in any issue of Heavy Metal. The story has potential, but would have been better suited in long form--as with much of the tales in these issues.
The Pleasures of Deception: An artist whose work is in desperate need of rejuvenation seeks out the puzzle box, and suddenly his art is refreshed and more powerful than ever before. Such talent comes at a price, though. It always, always comes at a price.
FINALLY, a story that lives up to its potential. Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I'm a sucker for Mad Artist tales, or maybe it was the long-delayed appearance of Pinhead himself that won me over. Whatever the case, this was my favorite story in the series thus far.
The artwork is done in a scratchy expressionistic style, much like the paintings of our star. It is dark and twisted, and although it occasionally makes it difficult to tell exactly what is unfolding, it works in its favor here. This is much in the surrealistic vein of Hellraiser 5 and 6, which brought the franchise to a new level of weird.