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: Deader (2005)
We join our heroine Amy Klein (Kari Wuhrer) in a heroin den. Or maybe it’s a crack den. But she ain’t no crack/heroin head. She’s a journalist hanging out in a drug den to get a story. Or maybe just pictures. Possibly some drugs too. We don’t really get into it. But she’s definitely a journalist. And her editor Charles (Simon Kunz) has a special assignment for her. Charles shows Amy a VHS he was anonymously sent featuring footage of a cult known as “the Deaders,” performing a resurrection ritual — long story short, girl shoots herself in the head and the Deaders’ leader, Winter (Paul Rhys), magically brings her back to life. So Amy goes off to Romania, where all the fucked up shit happens, to find out what the dillio is with the Deaders. Following a missing person lead, Amy discovers an ex-Deader ex-alive (ie, dead) in an apartment. Next to the girl is the Lament Configuration and a message that sends Amy on a path of leads leading to Winter. Meanwhile, Pinhead is chillin’ around too. Turns out that Amy is the chosen one or some shit and Winter is a descendant of LeMerchant, and Pinhead is pissed off at Winter. Then the movie ends.
I’ll give Deader this: unlike Hellseeker, at least it is trying. Amy is a character on a literal mission with an obvious goal that she takes steps to achieve. And at first the story is modestly engaging. There is a cute bit with a raging club that exists perpetually inside a subway car (running and stopping like a regular subway car would). And the film had two scenes that were legitimately effective. One in which Amy has discovered a rotting dead girl in an apartment bathroom, and Amy needs to reach something (Lament Configuration) next to the dead girl without actually touching the corpse — while not a great moment, it is nonetheless a watchable standard bit of horror-tension, as we just know that dead is going to move at some point. The other good scene I more genuinely like. In the scene Amy thinks she hallucinates getting stabbed in the back with a huge knife (huge enough that the point of the knife is poking out of her chest), only to discover that she’s not hallucinating and apparently really does bizarrely have a knife jammed in her back. It hurts, but Amy is otherwise just fine, allowing her plenty of time to examine her situation in the mirror and eventually pull the knife out. The best bit is when she realizes she can’t leave her hotel room because her wound won’t stop bleeding so she duct tapes a towel over the wound. This whole knife bit would’ve been much better suited to a film with more of a comedy angle (and more Bruce Campbell), but hey, I’ll take what I can get.
The VHS tape is a solid enough set-up and for a while it seems like we will be getting what we got in Inferno, with our hero trying to infiltrate a Lament Configuration secret community. Only…
What Doesn’t Work:
…this turns out not to be the case.
Deader is the first film in the franchise to pull the ol’ Die Hard 3 trick (using a script that wasn’t originally intended to be a Hellraiser movie). Presumably that original script was titled Deader or Deaders. I think Deaders would have made an entirely acceptable bit of lesser horror cinema. But it makes a terrible Hellraiser film. Its attempts to tie into the mythos are terrible and feel completely detached from the movie itself, thus ruining both the original Deaders concept and Hellraiser VII.
Apparently, we learn, Winter sent out that VHS with the express intent of summoning Amy. Cause, you see, only certain people can open the Lament Configuration. Winter has been trying for years, but always failing. Subjectively that works, and is actually somewhat fitting with the original view of the Lament Configuration we got in Clive Barker’s Hellbound Heart, and also in Hellbound. Objectively, though, this idea doesn’t work at all. Everyone and their mother has been able to open the puzzle box. Hell, most people seem to do it within seconds and often completely be accident. Hellbound was the only film to feature a character who wanted to open the puzzle box but couldn’t; Channard. Channard needed Tiffany to open the puzzle box because he wasn’t skilled enough to do so. But even here we’re dealing with skill. In Deader Winter needs Amy in more of a “Chosen One” way. The dude has his own cult, which means none of them could open it either. Also, Winter gets an American living in London (Amy), which means he couldn’t find anyone in Romania. Dramatically, that is interesting, but it doesn’t jibe whatsoever with the Hellraiser mythos. Furthermore, in what way Amy is special never actually rises to the surface in any meaningful way. She has childhood flashbacks of stabbing her father because he was abusive, and Amy’s arc is realizing that she has darkness in her (or something). How this makes her special or different from Winter or anyone else, I couldn’t tell you. Which is too bad, because the climax otherwise has the dynamics of Hellraiser and Hellbound, with Amy removed from the showdown between Pinhead and Winter.
A bigger continuity bed-shit is Winter, the Deader leader. Winter has magical powers. He can teleport and bring people back from the dead. How? Not sure. He just can. Let’s roll with it. So he has special powers and desperately wants to open the Lament Configuration, which he feels he is the rightful owner of. Why? Because he is a direct descendant of LeMerchant. Well, that doesn’t jibe with Bloodline very well. Sure, realistically no family tree is a straight line. But we’re dealing with a movie series, and suddenly having more contemporaneous LeMerchants or Merchants floating around out there retroactively muddles Bloodline. Beyond this, his whole Cenobite scheme doesn’t make any sense. Obviously Winter had no such scheme in the original Deaders script; I imagine the script was something of an urban Wicker Man tale. Winter’s schemes for the Lament Configuration don’t feel like they have anything to do with the Lament Configuration or his magical powers or the goals of the Deader cult. He’s just doing evil magic stuff and the Lament Configuration is evil magic stuff, so sure, toss that in too. This makes Pinhead’s involvement messy. Pinhead appears to Amy earlier in the film giving her warnings (ie, ominous one-liners), and during the climax it seems that Pinhead needed Amy to open the puzzle box (which she does by throwing it across a room???) so he could show up and kill Winter. Why does he care about Winter? I don’t know. Or I wasn’t paying attention by that point. Both are plausible.
Inferno and Hellseeker both used the lame “it was all a dream!” ending to retroactively explain all the nonsense we see in the film. Deader also uses that easy-out a few times for random bits in the middle of the film – such as the truly illogical/unrealistic moment where Amy is having a crazy adventure and then suddenly wakes up in her bathtub, having experienced a surely horrifying moment of lost time, yet brushes it all off by telling herself to “Get it together.” Her getting a knife magically shoved into her back without killing her had me convinced that once again we were dealing with a nightmare reality twist, but by the end I realized such was not the case. That actually happened. Somehow. And the ending all really happens too. So is all this crazy reality-bending stuff being done to her by Winter or by Pinhead? Or by both? Beats me.
I’m glad I bothered to include Dean Winters in the What Works section of Hellseeker, even though his performance did absolutely nothing to improve the film. Because Kari Wuhrer (one of the great B-hotties of the 90’s) makes for an uncompelling lead. She doesn’t feel that plausible as her character, and worse, she lacks the spark that someone like Dean Winters has to infuse her thinly-written character with likability — I believe that’s known as “star power” in the Biz.
In the tidal wave of dreck we’re dealing with here this is an insignificant quibble, but it drives me nuts when we’re told that we’re watching some amateur found footage, and then what we’re shown is shot like a movie. The VHS tape that Amy is shown at the beginning of the film is supposed to be handheld video taken by one of Winter’s disciples. Yet there are camera set-up changes and edits. We’ll cut to close ups, then to a completely different angle, suggesting that not only has the footage we’re watching been edited but that it was cut together from multiple cameras all shooting simultaneously. They might as we have just gone the extra step and included graphics and a score.
Director Rick Bota isn’t incompetent. Most of his credits are as a cinematographer, and considering how miserably cheap these films all are they look acceptable enough and he is decent at crafting moment-by-moment bits — such as a scene in which Amy is trying to evade an attacker in an incredibly narrow passageway. This is presumably why he was given charge to direct three of these straight-to-video sequels (Hellseeker, Deader, Hellworld). But he clearly does not have a good sense for story and how to carry us emotionally from scene to scene, or I suppose, he was just powerless to demand the script changes that would allow him to do so (having just spoken with Tony Randel and Peter Atkins in real-life, I’m now more sympathetic to the lack of power the directors and writers had on the franchise). Either way, this movie is full of holes and winds up feeling a bit disrespectful to the mythos, just trying to cram in whatever might work piecemeal. The end result, while more entertaining than Hellseeker, is nonetheless equally meaningless feeling.
Overall Body Count: 11
Best Kill: When Pinhead kills Winter’s remaining eight disciples (who are standing in two lines of four people) all simultaneously with a chain through the gut. When the chain is retracted, they are left with giant silly cartoon holes in their guts, like Death Becomes Her.
Best Cenobite That Isn’t Pinhead: None.
Best Badass Pinhead Line: Not applicable.
Best Whimsical Pinhead Line: In response to Winter telling Pinhead that Pinhead couldn’t hurt him. “You’re not the first to say that… and you won’t be the last! ”
Stupidest Pinhead Line: “Dreams are fleeting. Only nightmares last forever!”
Most Unpleasant Moment: Amy trying to remove the knife jammed in her back.
Should There Have Been a Sequel: Franchise is dead. Everyone go home.
Up Next: Hellraiser: Hellworld