Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Completist Guide to the Hellraiser series (1987-2011) part 3

Hellraiser VII: Deader (2005)

As stated in the earlier batch of reviews, most of these later Hellraiser films were based on pre-existing unproduced horror scripts that were 'lightly' re-written to include appearances by Pinhead and the puzzle box. Hellraiser: Deader is the point where this practice becomes really obvious because it introduces a whole heap of new ideas to the established mythology. This would usually be considered a bad thing but given that the last two Hellraiser films were almost identical in plot and pretty lacklustre I welcomed the opportunity for some new ideas and fresh directions for the series.

Deader sees b-move stalwart Kari Wuhrer play Amy Klein, an American reporter who is sent to Bucharest to investigate an underground cult, called The Deaders, led by a descendant of Philip Lemarchand (the guy who created the box in Bloodlines). The leader of this cult, Winter, seems to have gained some supernatural power that gives him the ability to bring people back from the dead and he's using this to find the perfect person to open the puzzle box. In order to find out more Amy ends up infiltrating the group and she quickly discover that Winter's master plan seems to be not just to let the Cenobites into our world but also gain control over them. Something tells me Pinhead isn't going to be best pleased about this.

This film wasn't totally horrible but it wasn't great either. I'm going to be quite charitable and say that it actually had a few good scenes. Early on, there's a very tense bit in which Amy breaks into a squalid apartment where she finds a dead woman slumped in a chair and has to climb over her body in order to get the puzzle box. Director Rick Bota really draws out the suspense in this scene and it's a shame there's not more stuff of this quality in the film. In addition, there's a few quirky elements that made the storyline somewhat memorable. Amy's investigations lead her to guy who runs a nightclub inside a moving subway train! And the film really takes an interesting turn when Amy becomes a Deader herself.

I feel that the original Deader script might have actually been halfway decent. It's a shame that it's been butchered and forced to become a Hellraiser script. Once again there are loads of pointless freaky-stuff-happening-but-oh-wait-it's-just-a-dream scenes. In fact there's so many of these in Deader it becomes a tough time recognising what exactly has and hasn't happened.

Kari Wurher's performance was pretty good. She's never been a top notch actress but her, um... attractiveness makes her ideal for these types of b-movies. The scene in which she finds she's become a Deader and tries pulling a knife out of her back was actually really played. Paul Rhys was pretty forgettable as Winter though and the only other notable actor was Marc Warren who played the nightclub guy Joey. He was kind of cool but didn't get a whole lot of screen time. When Pinhead finally turns up at the end and wastes all the Deaders the gore effects really kick in but a lot of it was cheap looking CGI which diminished the effect. This was especially disappointing given that the film was produced by none other than effects maestro Stan Winston.

Ultimately, Deader is too disjointed a movie to fully enjoy. Compared to some of the other later Hellraiser films it's actually an okay watch but that's really down to the original elements that came from the Deader script and nothing to do with the appearance of Pinhead or the box. At the very least I was pleased that the ending didn't turn out to be the lead character having one big dream/nightmare.


Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld (2005)

You know, I got a bad feeling about Hellworld just from looking at the front cover. I mean look at it. It's got Pinhead's face drenched in a Matrix-green glow of numbers with the tagline "Evil Goes Online". Technology and horror have never really successful been put together. Sure, Brainscan and Stay Alive were slightly fun but they were never scary. I guess the closest we've come is Videodrome but that was more about TVs and stuff than computers. Anyway, Hellworld is the last of Rick Bota's run as director and he finishes his run with probably the bizarrest entry in the series. You see Hellworld isn't set in the same world as the rest of the franchise. It's set in "the real world" where someone has made a online multiplayer game based on Hellraiser franchise. Very meta.

So, the film is about five 20-somethings who are attending a funeral for a friend who committed suicide while playing Hellworld, a game based on the Hellraiser franchise that they were all obsessed with. Not long after they all receive mysterious invites to a Hellworld "party" at a country mansion called Leviathan House. When they arrive the party is in full swing and the host (Lance Henriksen) gives them a tour of the house. One by one they are killed in gruesome ways by Pinhead who seems to be using far less supernatural methods than previous films - hacking teens up with butcher's knives and torture chairs. Before long the remaining two teens realise that all may not be what it seems but can they escape the house in time?

Okay, so we're back to the silly twist endings so forgive me for spoiling again. Once again it turns out that the majority of the film didn't take place. What actually happened was the five friends were drugged not long after they arrived at the party and their gory deaths were actually (collective?) hallucinations that they experienced while being buried alive by the host. His identity turns out to be the father of their friend who committed suicide. But get this there's a second twist. At the end of the film the host escapes the police and holes up in a hotel room, where he finds a puzzle box which when he touches it, brings out the real Pinhead who rips him apart with chains. Um, yeah, it didn't make much sense to me either.

The whole meta aspect is really underwhelming. As shown with Wes Craven's New Nightmare and Bride of Chucky a bit of self awareness can actually be really entertaining for a horror film. Here though the Hellworld is purely set in "the real world" because the online game wouldn't make any sense in the movie universe. For me, it was a big missed opportunity. Another thing that didn't really fit is that the main characters are all supposed to be computer nerds who spend all their time online playing this game but they pretty much all looked like fashion models. I'm not absolute verisimilitude but, come on, this film makes Hackers look like a gritty documentary.

The cast is the absolute worst; and given that this franchise isn't known for great thespianism (I really cracked the thesaurus out for this review) that's saying a lot. Most notably Henry Cavill (soon to be seen as Superman in Man of Steel) puts in a truly cringe-worthy performance as one of the friends, Mike, who is kind of a arrogant jock character. I've seen him in stuff since like Showtime's The Tudors where he was great so I guess this film, which looks to be one of his first roles out of drama school, can be put down inexperience and a craptacular script. The one bright spot is Lance Henriksen who I'm always happy to see pop up in a flick. He brings a little class (and menace) to the preceedings. It's shame they didn't scrap the teens and cast him in the lead. But I guess no one wants to see a film about a 60 something guy playing online games.

Doug Bradley barely gets a word in edgeways and I'm sure his total screentime equals seconds rather than minutes. It's weird to think that a few films ago he was basically the central villain and now he's reduced to a mere 'blink and you miss it' cameo. I kind of get why fans are so upset about this aspect. Dimension sell these Hellraiser films by slapping Pinhead's horrific and iconic visage on the DVD cover but then proceed to give you a film that barely features him. I think sometimes repurposing existing stories and scripts for a franchise can be great. All four Die Hards didn't start as John McClane scripts but they are all great movies. The difference is that these last four Hellraiser films have been such lazy rewrites that they are painful to watch.


Hellraiser IX: Revelations (2011)

So here we are the end of our Hellraiser odyssey. It's been a bit of bumpy ride and unfortunately this last (?) film in the series is probably the worst of the lot. It's been well documented that Hellraiser: Revelations was made for a very low budget (approx $300,000) and shot in a very short amount of time. Though it's never been confirmed many assume that the reason it was made was so that Dimension could hold onto the rights to the series for a few more years to give them more time to get a big budget remake made. Another aspect that gets commented on a lot is that this is the film that Doug Bradley finally threw in the towel and refused to reprise the role of Pinhead. Not a great start really.

So Revelations starts off with some hand held camcorder footage. Two teens, Nico and Steve, are recording their road trip to Tijuana but before you think that the whole film is going to be just 'found footage' the film cuts back to Steve's mother who is watching the video on playback in her home in California. Basically, it's been two years since Nico and Steve disappeared and both their families have given up hope of seeing them again. When a camcorder full of footage mysteriously arrives on their doorstep, the two families get together to discuss it over dinner. The video shows that Nico and Steve's sleazy getaway went horribly wrong and somehow they wound up in possession of the puzzle box. Out of the blue, a bruised and battered Steve turns up but claims to have very little memory of what happened.

I'll say this. At least, the film wasn't another lazy rewrite of an existing horror script. Revelations was written as a Hellraiser film and it makes an attempt to incorporate a lot of elements from the original film. It also wasn't just a collection of sub-David Lynch weirdness (like Inferno and Hellseeker), it was a proper story, and one that attempted to have some mystery to it. The actual backbone of the storyline is quite interesting. Two runaway teens getting mixed up with the puzzle box, their families not knowing what happened to them, one of them surviving to tell the tale. All good stuff, it's just that the directing, acting, writing, cinematography and sets are all uniformly horrible.

I think if they'd stuck with doing all of it as 'found footage' it could have been reasonably creepy flick but instead they chose to show Nico and Steve's Tijuana trip as a mix of POV footage and traditional camerawork. I know 'found footage' is hard to do - as a writer you constantly have to give explanations why people don't put the camera down in moments of crisis - but mixing it with ordinary shots killed any sense of suspense and mystery. The great thing about 'found footage' is that you can turn the camera off at key moments and make the audience do the work of imagining what horrific thing happened next. Cutting back to a 3rd person camera ruins that effect. Also, I think they could have hidden the budget more by doing it as 'found footage'. By doing so much as traditional camerawork they really had to light their cheap sets very brightly. As a result, the bar in Tijuana looks like what it was; a two wall set with 3 bored looking extras in the background.

The acting again was pretty ropey. The two teens who play Nico and Steve (Jay Gillespie and Nick Eversman) are okay to begin with. But after Nico has his fateful encounter with puzzle box halfway through and the two have to do more than just play horribly narcissistic teens they really struggle. Steve Smith Collins wasn't terrible as Pinhead but his bulky figure put him in stark (and unfavourably) contrast to Doug Bradley's more measured performances as the character. Even the two sets of parents were terrible. Steve Brand, who played the bad guy in The Scorpion King, was probably the best of the bunch but that's not really saying much. Though I'm criticising the acting I think a lot of the blame has to lie with the script.

Though I didn't mind the fact that much of the story was basically a semi-remake of the first film, I thought the characters and dialogue were horribly written and left countless questions. Why exactly do the two families meet for a sit-down three course dinner together? I'd think given that their sons have both seemingly died, they wouldn't want to see each other any more? How did Nico get away with murdering a hooker in a toilets of a bar without anyone noticing or walking in? Why did Steve post his parents his camcorder rather than write a letter? Why does the daughter flirt with Nico's dad after touching the puzzle box? Why is the word 'Cenobite' in the household dictionary? Who thought it was a good idea to give the two families the surnames Craven (as in Wes? A filmmaker with connection to the series) and Bradley (the name of the actor who thought your script was horrendous)!

As always with Hellraiser, there's a twist which for once wasn't terrible. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't great either but after such a lacklustre movie I was grateful for what I could get. So there you have it - all 9 Hellraiser films - Done. My opinion hasn't really changed from when I was a teen. This has been a horribly mismanaged franchise through and through from a creative perspective. The original film is a really decent horror flick and probably never should have been sequelised but it was, over and over. This is what happens when you run a property into the ground... hard.



  1. It's because Hellraiser's Revelation lot is so similar to the first film that I felt it might have been a failed attempt at a re-boot, albeit a very low budget one.

    Nice job with all these Hellraiser reviews, I need to check out parts 6 through 8, because I never dared venture as far as you did, but Ill get to them someday, probably when I find one of those cheap boxed sets that includes all of them.

  2. Yeah, Revelations was either a lazy re-boot or a homage to the original. Either way it really didn't work. I mean some Dimension sequels are actually half decent - Mimic 2, Dracula sequels, Prophecy 2&3. When did the Weinsteins get so cheap and sloppy??

    If you want to check out the later flicks I picked up 3,4,5,6,7,8 all on one really cheap DVD boxset that somehow squeezed them on to 2 DVDs. Whatever you do don't spend loads on these films. They are really only for curiosity value.

  3. I find it funny that Henry Cavill was in Hellraiser 8 is now going to be Superman. The cover for Hellworld really does look like a Hellraiser/The Matrix crossover. I'm actually kinda surprised Doug Bradley stayed as long as he did, I hope he got paid well for all these sequels, especially since it sounds like they used him less and less in these movies as the years went by.

  4. Yeah, Bradley must have got a decent chunk of change to turn up in these flicks. They've probably been pretty good to him financially.

    Cavill's performance in Hellworld was really quite bad. Funny to see him on the complete opposite of the Hollywood spectrum 10 years later.

  5. Good reviews! Thought Hellworld and Deader weren't that bad. Lance saved Hellworld and Kari Wuhrer and Bradley definitely made Deader a lot better.

  6. Thanks Ty, yeah Henriksen's always pretty awesome. He definitely saved Hellword from being a complete washout.