Hollywood loves a good franchise. The movie-going public does too. Horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, western, no genre is safe. And any film, no matter how seemingly stand-alone, conclusive, or inappropriate to sequel, could generate an expansive franchise. They are legion. We are surrounded. But a champion has risen from the rabble to defend us. Me. I have donned my sweats and taken up cinema’s gauntlet. Don’t try this at home. I am a professional.
The Franchise: Hellraiser — concerning a supernatural puzzle box (and those humans foolish/unlucky enough to solve it) that opens a doorway to the hellish dimension of Pinhead, the most prominent member of the Cenobites, powerful beings who desire human souls for sadomasochistic experiments. Adapted from Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, the franchise spans nine films, from 1987 to 2011.
The Installment: Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
Oh look! Kirsty is back. Yay? Well, she’s not back for long. We join Kirsty riding in the car with her husband, Trevor (30 Rock‘s Dean Winters). Within moments they pull a Beetlejuice and swerve off a bridge into a river. The accident leaves Trevor with some memory issues, but he swears that Kirsty became trapped in the car and drown. Yet, no body. The police suspect foul play; they suspect Trevor. Meanwhile, Trevor is having nutty hallucinations and his world seems to be crumbling around him, and a dude with pins in his head keeps showing up to harass him. As Trevor’s memories slowly return, he recalls buying a certain puzzle box to give to his wife as a present. What better way to tell your wife you love her than by giving the gift of eternal soul mutilation?
Dean Winters is a good actor, and he’s a good actor for the kind of film Hellseeker wants to be. So kudos on casting him Hellseeker.
The movie has an ideal amount of Pinhead, and his scenes aren’t awful. I like the idea of a Pinhead/acupuncture scene. Seems natural.
Bringing back Kirsty at some point was a logical move, and here in the sixth installment feels about right. We’ve had just enough time away from her to maybe start to miss her a little, and even get curious about what sort of life she’s been living since her previous Cenboite episode. And I’ll give the filmmakers this — they smartly realized that simply doing yet another movie in which Kirsty battles the Cenobites would not have been very interesting. Hellbound already took her into hell itself searching for her dad, and it definitely seemed like she learned that wasn’t a great idea by the end of the film. Plus, with the lesser production values of these straight-to-video sequels, there was just no way they’d be able to do anything coming close to the sights we were shown in Hellbound. Screenwriters Carl V. Dupré and Tim Day hit upon a novel idea; that once more Kirsty makes a deal with Pinhead to exchange her soul for that of another. Last time it was for the soul of villainous Frank. Now she wickedly makes the deal to exchange her own soul for that of five random others. Now she’s villainous. This is a really great idea for a Hellraiser movie. Only…
What Doesn’t Work:
…that’s not at all what the film is about.
You’ll note that I didn’t mention any of that evil Kirsty stuff in my summary. That is because all that Kirsty stuff is a fucking twist ending. Booooooo! Hisssss! I’m not a twist hater, but I sure am when the twist is the only good part of a film. And even more so when the twist represents a huge missed opportunity to tell a unique story. The Hellraiser franchise has already had a lot of misfires, but Hellseeker is the first film to truly shit the bed. Most notably, it has the dubious distinction of being the first installment that I desperately wanted to stop watching. Something I know is only going to get worse as the franchise continues. Leviathan, save me!
Inferno was a good fresh take on how to tell a Hellraiser story. There were positive lessons to be taken from it. But it should not have become the new formula for the franchise. If Inferno felt like an episode of a Hellraiser anthology TV show, then Hellseeker feels like an episode of an Inferno anthology TV show. Cause structurally Hellseeker does exactly what Inferno did, with our hero being framed for a murder by supernatural forces, while his reality spirals into a fantastical nightmare that makes no sense to him (or us) because he has no idea what the Lament Configuration is, and then giving us a twist at the end that reveals that nothing in the story actually happened. Last time the fantastical nightmare reality turned out to be Joe’s private hell. Trevor’s nightmare reality turns out to be his dying thoughts after he drowns — cause really he was the one who died in the car wreck, which Kirsty caused on purpose to kill him, thus giving his soul to Pinhead. That’s all fine and good, but there is one huge flaw in Hellseeker‘s execution: Joe was a detective trying to solve a case involving the puzzle box, which he has in his possession the entire film. Trevor is just some dude with memory problems who is trying to remember stuff, and at some point remembers that he briefly had the puzzle box. One of those agendas is suspenseful and a driving force. The other isn’t. Nothing happens in the film. Hellseeker looks okay. The acting is decent. The dialogue isn’t even half-bad (Pinhead’s lines here are superior to Inferno). But the movie is tedious torment. It is a 10-minute short film stretched into a feature. A fart in the wind. It practically begs you to turn it off about twenty minutes into its run-time.
Trevor has no goal. He is just waiting for the cops to find Kirsty; there are a handful of scenes of him literally lounging around doing nothing. Trevor drifts aimlessly through the story, each scene yet another interchangeable moment of freaky hallucinations and inconsequential weirdness, as we burn off enough screen time for the filmmakers to feel like they can finally get away with moving into Act III. But storywise, as far as actual relevant events, the movie could have shifted into Act III the moment after Trevor wakes up from the car crash. The body of Hellseeker is a narrative void, which is extremely irksome once we hit the twist and realize there was a whole other interesting story going on that we didn’t get to see because we were focusing on the wrong character.
The “story” we’re given is Trevor slowly uncovering the fact that he was plotting to kill Kirsty to get the inheritance she received from Larry and Julia — and he’s rather preposterously convinced by a Goth-thug shopkeeper that using the Lament Configuration is a great way to whack her. What? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Let me get this straight. Trevor wants his wife dead, and some sketchy looking dude he’s never met before tells him he can kill her by getting her to open a puzzle box? And he goes for it? Okay, I guess I’ll play along. But we already know his plan won’t work, because Kirsty obviously isn’t stupid enough to open the Lament Configuration. Oh, wait, she opens it out of spite? Wait… what? Spite? Spite?!?! She’s pissed off that he gave her the puzzle box, so she opens it in a fit of “So this is what you want, asshole?” Basically she figured out he was trying to kill her with poisoned wine and her response is to drink it, just to show him how upset she is? I feel like I need to lie down that’s such lazy writing; it’s making me dizzy.
Once we learn that Trevor has been dead this whole time, various odd moments are given explanations as we’re supposed to go back in our mind and rethink the film. For example, one of Trevor’s hallucinations was having a seizure and then an eel crawls out of his mouth. Well, at the end we can deduce that the seizure was him drowning and we see the coroner pull an eel out of his corpse’s mouth. Though only a few of the many, many nonsensical moments in the film are actually given any context like this. But, regardless, even if everything in the film had been thoroughly explained, it wouldn’t retroactively make the film not boring. The twist ending is like me telling you that the terrible pizza you just ate tasted bad because I took a shit in the dough. Okay, well now that mysterious taste you couldn’t put your finger on has been illuminated. But you just ate a shitty pizza all the same.
Man, if Hellraiser VII also turns out to all be a dream, I’m not going to be a happy camper.
Overall Body Count: 5; sort of. There is a lot of ambiguous killing going on.
Best Kill: Nothing is deserving of being singled out.
Best Cenobite That Isn’t Pinhead: Ditto. We hardly even get a good look at Pinhead’s new, forgettable lackeys.
Best Badass Pinhead Line: Not applicable.
Best Whimsical Pinhead Line: “Which do you find more exhilarating, Trevor, pain or pleasure? Personally, I prefer pain.”
Stupidest Pinhead Line: “Welcome to the worst nightmare of all… reality!”
Most Unpleasant Moment: When Trevor is getting brain surgery and the doctor cuts into his exposed skull with an electric bone-saw.
Should There Have Been a Sequel: No.
Up Next: Hellraiser: Deader