Anticipation, hype, hope, memories of the good old previous films, I often think that these elements are one of the reasons why many horror sequels fail to live up to the core of the fans hearts. They want what they had before, but better. A need to be taken to the same pits of hell, to revisit old ground and to be scared all over again. Maybe that is the reason why I hate Zombie’s vision of Halloween so much is because of my love and passion of the original. I mean anyone could have directed that remake and my feelings would have been the same. Its the same with Halloween 2 by the man, maybe the film is not as bad has I make out, maybe I should give it a second chance and see it without giving in too my love of all things Carpenter. Nah! That film is a piece of grunge crap that insults everything that made the name Halloween the franchise it is, and I can not believe that he was giving money to spend on such a travesty piece of film that….
deep breath, relax, and focus!
Sorry about that, where was I?, what film was I reviewing? Ah yes! Anyhow, the fans of the Hellraiser franchise have been burnt by what went on in chapters 3 and 4. Even by looking at evil bill’s comment of the sequels in his last post that they can “burn in hell!” shows that from chapter 5 on, many would not give them the time of day. It seems that fans have just run out of patience with what they were offering and the fact that when Inferno hit the shelves, bypassing all cinema and setting for the straight to DVD market, then their minds were already up. If the previous sequels could hit the cinema and be a dud, then this surely should be….
They were wrong…..very VERY wrong…
Hellraiser: Inferno, is one the best discoveries I have made in the past year. An underrated gem that sadly got lost in hell and criminally ignored. What it does so wonderfully and totally unexpectedly is that it goes back to the core of the original Hellraiser, this is not about the cenobites or Pinhead, its about what is important, a character driven storyline that involves a cop and his discovery of the Lament Configuration. While the previous sequels expanded on the world created in the first Hellraiser and making Pinhead into a new Freddy, this completely wipes clean the slate, telling us that the power itself is this puzzle box, not what is in it! Yes Pinhead is in this film but only on screen for 10 minutes. I have said for the while that this evil force needs to be kept in the background for more effect and director Scott Derrickson must have shared the same feeling. Not only does it work beautifully but most importantly it makes Pinhead scary again. You actually believe in this creature and what he is capable of and when appears in the final moments of what is the BEST ENDING OF ALL HELLRAISERS, then you realise that the wait as all been worth it.
I have read this film being compared to the likes of Se7en and even Jacobs Ladder but one film that never seems to be included is 8mm, Inferno shares a lot with this movie, a cop, a case, and a journey of nightmare discoveries but unlike Cage who may have found redemption at the end of that snuff movie flick, there is no such joy for Detective Joseph Thorn (Craig Sheffer) who literally goes to hell and back again.
Thorn is a bad cop. Married with a child, he gets his kicks by driving around at night and sleeping with prostitutes, sometimes corrupt and loves to dabble at drugs, the only joy he has out of live is the fact his is good at his job, he feels regret at the way he is neglecting his family but its the way it is. A man uncomfortable to change for the better. He needs no magical box to open, he already is in hell and his lost soul has become quite attractive to what lies in the “real hell” and those demons are all set to pay him a visit. It starts with a case. Not a “normal case” like these films start with, but that of a mutilated chained up body and next to it a severed finger which seems to be from a young child. Also nearby is a box which Hellraiser fans know of as the Lament Configuration, which Thon picks up and puts in his pocket. That night, stressed and in need of a thrill, he picks up a hooker and has a night of lust and drugs in which afterwards he goes into the bathroom and starts to play with the box.
Its here that the film shows some sparkling dark humour in which Derrickson knows the world of Clive Barker. Thorn upon opening the box, ends up in a strange room, where he first encounters two cenobites who are a massive step up from previous films. Two what seem female, with blank expression faces and only a black tongue to show for, they corner the detective and start to caress him with they hands, but if you watch closely their hands are actually going into his body. Its a surreal image that is followed by a cenobite with no body that appears from behind the staircase. Thorn coming to his senses, runs from them and opens the door across the hall only to confronted by the one and only Pinhead. But before we start to think here we go again!” the film totally shocks us by sending out a message that is full of delight and freshness. What we are so used to with this Franchise is that whoever plays with the box and opens it, gets tortured by the cenobites or have to spend the rest of the film trying to send Pinhead and co back to where they came from. Its the standard procedure of the series that started with the original and carried on up to the 4th. Here, that notion is dismissed. When Thon encounters Pinhead for the first time, before the man with the pins can bore him to death with a long introduction of who he is and how much suffering he can cause, the detective wakes up, back in the bathroom. Its such a weird moment, that I was a bit stunned by the development. I don’t think I have ever seen a horror franchise move its traditional way of doing things so suddenly. Even thoughts in my head were going “this is not supposed to happen!” but it did, and for the first time since the second film, I found myself on an unknown path, and I have to say, a more than welcome one!
Thon leaves the hotel room with the hooker sleeping in bed and carries on investigating this bizarre case, and news comes through that the severed finger is that of a child and more worryingly is still alive. Events lead him to a serial killer called The Engineer which by the way I do not know if this is important-one of the cenobites in the original was actually called The Engineer-, whose reputation in this movie is that of a vicious killer who is behind all the vice and sex crimes in the city. Things get complicated when Thon sitting at his desk, has a phone call from the hooker back at the hotel room who starts screaming down the phone at being attacked. When he and his partner arrive at the scene, they find her murdered and Thon begins to realise that the warning he had of “those who seek The Engineer will find The Engineer coming after them” starting to come true……
And that is it, Thom is now in a world where nothing is what it seems, brutal surreal images plague his life, what is real and what is not cloud his judgement. One minute he is dreaming then he is not but finding what he dreamt about coming true right before his eyes. Its amazing that Clive Barker had no involvement in this film as its his blueprint and imagination that shines through proceedings. The look and feel of the film has a fascinating eeriness to it all, and there are some wonderful incidental imagery that even Lynch himself would have been proud of, the cowboys playing cards is something quite out of it and would not look too out of place in say Twin Peaks and it signals the thought and imagination that went on in the writing of this film.
We should also be praising the fact that they did not sell out to the fans and its no wonder Derrickson has gone on to direct bigger films like horror Emily Rose and The Day The Earth Stood Still. He also creates an Hellraiser first by not showing the need to show the gore. Most of the violence is done off camera, we are just left alone thinking of the horrors that are unfolding in our own minds and there are plenty of scenes that test our imagination
Sheffer would have been the weakest link, he starts a bit annoying and looking too much like David Boreanaz from Buffy fame, but when the film kicks in, you can not help but feel for the poor character especially when it comes to the mouth watering final reveal that shows the true extent of how evil Pinhead can be! Its here at this moment that you realise that what you watching more than anything here is a horror version of Groundhog Day and poor Thon is stuck in the cycle of it. There is a high quality of brutal efficiently displayed at the climax, one that dare I say makes you want to watch the film all over again, just so that you can see it all with a new outlook.
From Videotapes that play phantom footage to tattoos that come to life, Inferno is no doubt the best Hellraiser since the second, yes Pinhead is not hardly in it, but that is not the point. This harks back to the original in so many ways that it should be cherished for being totally bold and ambitious, two words that I often mentioned belonged to the first two films. I am not saying Inferno is one of the best horrors out there, but for a film that is fifth in a franchise, it shows enough intelligence and style to make it stand out from the rest, it has a story to tell, a character that we feel for, and a Pinhead that is back to his original design. In fact thinking of this now, maybe all fans should sit back and watch this before the original and sequel. At least then they come to appreciate the fact that Kirsty managed to escape her hell while poor Thorn has to swim in it, for all eternity….
OVERALL: Clive Barker would have been proud. A different direction but the same basic principle, Inferno is one of the lost tresures of the franchise, not just a very good sequel, but a damn good horror all round, a must for all those who neglected the franchise after the trip to space in part 4……….
Taking advice from the book in front of me, the titled “How to write film reviews for the Empire Forum for dummies” its main aspect is telling you that after the film you have just watched, just express yourself with the feelings you have and write down straight away as there is nothing better than a review from the heart. So taking notice to what they are tellling me, this is how I feel from watching Hellseeker, the 6th chapter of the on going Hellraiser films….
OVERALL: A film that, wait a minute, that silence could mean two things. You could either think that I was stunned into silence by the quality of this film, or that it was so dire, I have no wish to write about it. Now I can not leave my overwhelming fan crowd of this thread, yes I am talking about the three of you, to wonder should you watch this film, leave you in thinking is this any good?, does it go back to the pits of the dungeon of crap or actually keeps the quality up, in truth, why am I thinking for you, I should just shut up and tell you what I think of Hellseeker!
To be honest I was thinking of leaving Hellseeker for a couple of days. After being pleasantly surprised at the quality of Inferno I had major doubts for the next instalment. I mean with the thoughts of Inferno still blazing in my mind, Hellseeker had a negative before it started, I knew deep down that I would be very lucky to be thrilled again, especially with the habit that Hellraiser has got with changing its mythology and style, so I used my head and thought I would watch it in a few days, maybe catch up with another few horrors that I have neglected, then I totally ignored myself and chucked on the sixth part and sat down with high hopes.
Things did not start well.
We are greeted before even the credits roll with red writing of a famous quote from someone that I could not bother to read. The fact that this annoyed me so much is that any Freddy fan will realise that this is the same trick they used from parts 4 and 6 of the Elm St franchise. Having seen their attempts of ripping off Freddy in the past, my heart began to sink. Then, and if anyone decides to watch this after this review, you understand what I mean, the music kicks in and the credits start to roll. Now this would not be a bad thing but the tune sounded so much like the one from Top Gun that I expected the film to start with Pinhead sitting in a jet, with the dead Goose as his wing partner! The moment that made me smile was when the name Ashley Laurence appeared and then for that one moment, probably the same for all Hellraiser fans, I realised that Kristy was back, oh yes, the heroine of the original chapters, the woman who is to this to what Nancy is to Freddy and it was that moment I relaxed and the memories of Inferno faded…….sadly though, not for long.
The problem with Hellseeker is that it would have been a good film, if Inferno was not made. Lets confuse you, this is the 6th chapter of a long running franchise, but plays more as a sequel to Inferno, which that film itself, totally changed the concept of the story, and in which Hellseeker copies, but not to the same effect.
In fact there is nothing that will surprise you on the journey that the character Trevor (Dean Winters) makes, only because its virtually the same path that poor Thorn went through. They might as well have called this Hellraiser: Inferno PT 2, what with the structure and plot turns that is supposed to lame…sorry thrill us!
We start with Kirsty,(yeah!) who is now married (boo!) to Trevor and they are driving in a car, laughing and playing when Kirsty does the typical movie cliche. No she does not bend down to pick up a dropped CD then look up and see oncoming car, she does the other thing, reaches out to her husband for a kiss, and he looks up and sees an oncoming car, and soon they find themselves head under water! Trevor manages to escape but Kirsty sinks to the bottom and dies. Yes, if you like me a fan and so excited by her return, you sit there with your mouth wide open and words of “WTF!” ring through your mind. So, Ashley Laurence is back is she! I really wanted to complain to the writers and was all set to write up a letter, but as this was made in 2002, I thought it was a tad to late for any debate and to be taken seriously! But I wrote it anyway…….
Trevor wakes up in hospital and the police arrive and tell him that they have found the car but not a body, and Kirsty may be alive, so with this new plot development, I threw my half written letter away. Trevor though has problems, the accident as caused him to have selected amnesia and his failure to answer the questions that the police are asking, makes the entire accident seem strange, especially as they can find no tyre marks on the road, leading up to where they found the sunken car!
Then things go really strange. This is when the film mirrors Inferno in which bizarre scenes and images plague Trevor which may surprise the poor man, but not the viewers who know exactly what is coming next! Mind bending events, dreams that come true after he wakes, a slippery eel coming from his mouth, all moments that drive Trevor to the brink of insanity! But there must be a reason for all this, and where the heck is Pinhead!
Its during flashbacks that the story unfolds, hints of what is going on is told in home video tapes in which Trevor watches and which we see Kristy mostly in. There is one unsettling footage of Trevor giving Kristy a present for her birthday and upon opening it, she looks down and sees its the Lament Configuration. The look and terror in her eyes is a real beauty and this is the film we longing to see, sadly we do not see the outcome as soon after Trevor rubs his eyes, and we see another version of Kristy opening the present and find something she really likes. If what you are reading is confusing you, then can you imagine what it feels watching it!
There was one surreal and quite stunning scene in which we are told that Trevor has been carrying on with his boss behind Kristy’s back. Even after her apparent death?, his boss comes knocking and starts to seduce Trevor on a chair while being filmed. Feeling remorse from what has happened he stops and,demands her to leave much to her annoyance. But when he comes back into the room he stares at the TV screen and sees an image of the boss and himself having sex on the chair, the camera is still recording even though this event is not happening. He then puts his hand in front of the camera and it appears on the screen and its this moment, his other self and the boss, turn to face him on screen and smile. Its a wonderful dark moment that stands out from the film. It really took my breath away and for that moment, I was totally lost within the film. Little did I know, that would be the only highlight for the rest of the running time!
As things develop, Pinhead shows up and soon we come to the conclusion that director Rick Bota must have only ever watched Inferno and not the others in the series. This is so far removed from the franchise that it even gets the name of who created the Lament Configuration wrong. In this he is called Lamarchand which is right if you go by the book which the films was based on but in Bloodline the character had the surname changed to Merchent. Its flaws like this that frustrate fans especially as I think this is the first film that we see that the box does not get open at all. The idea is there that it once did but we never see the moment, which to be honest is the pivotal part of all Hellraiser films. Even Pinhead himself is wasted here. Yes he gets more screen time, but here he comes across like a Charles Dickens character, a moral judge of what is right and wrong. He is not scary in this because he does nothing to be frightening. Even the much anticipated showdown between himself and Kirsty is a massive let down!
Ah Kirsty, the big return is nothing but a big anti climax. You can see why she agreed to return, the surprise at the ending is on paper a massive gamble that may have looked a good idea, but here it wrecks all the sympathy that she created for the character. Lets just say it will be like turning on Halloween part 15 and seeing Jamie Lee back in the role of Laurie and she has turned into a murderous bitch, intent for trouble. In one small swoop they manage to destroy the character that fans cherished, its controversal for the sake of it, and contradicts everything. This is a woman who has been to hell and knows what its like. There is no way she would do what she did at the end of this film. The sad thing now is that Kristy needs to open no box to take that trip, she is ending up there no matter what now and the truth is, the fault is all on her!
The sad thing is that originally her role was bigger and that there was more direct links to what happened in the first film. Sadly and what shows a total lack of respect to fans who have invested so much time in these films, they were filmed and cut, because the makers thought that those who have not watched the first two films would be confused by the plot. Excuse me? Why would any new fan decide to watch PART 6 of a franchise, if they are confused then its their own friggin fault for being so stupid in trying to watch something they have no knowledge in. Its like me sitting down to watch season 4 of The Wire and then complaining to Dante that it makes no sense whatsoever.
Its decisions like this that make Hellseeker such a waste and for me a total disappointment. Its hard to say its the worst of the Hellraiser sequels as its not really an Hellraiser film. Inferno was clever enough to change the mythology but still keep the links for fans of old, here it copies Inferno but then disregards all things cenobites. Its not clever or funny, just a boring rerun of a film that was only good to begin with because the sequels before it were not so good!
OVERALL: Inferno Part 2 is a typical sequel, the same old thing but done poorer. Not even the return of its original Heroine can lift this from the mire. Too say its not a good Hellraiser is wrong, its not a Hellraiser film, so I just say its not a good horror film full stop!
Sadly I now come to the end of my Hellraiser reviews! Not by choice as fans of the franchise will know that I am only on part seven and there is still one more to go. But only tonight have I realised that the Ultimate collection box set which I forked out over £40 quid for, is minus the eighth chapter, so not only have I realised that I have been conned, but I now know, that its going to cost me another £10 for another film, which judging by the trailer that I have just watched, will not be money well spent!
But that is another story for another time, Deader now needed my full attention and after Hellseeker left me with a severe bad aftertaste and feelings of despair, could the seventh entry wash away the taste and bring back the flow of my horror senses, but with Rick Bota back in the directors chair after the previous entry standards, lets just say I was not too optimistic.
From the off though, the mood and style was different. It seemed that Bota wanted to make amends from the failure of Hellseeker and go in a total different direction. There was no funked up grunge style music with flashy titles. This was more of a morbid affair, it seemed that we were heading for a much serious piece of filming and dare I say it, a sense of menace and dread was in the air. Even the name of FX king Stan Winston serving as a producer made me quite surprised and all of a sudden I could see that once again the Hellraiser series has changed direction, but the question was, to good or bad.
We start in a pit of a Junkies den where we meet Amy Klein (the ever watchable Karl Wuhrer) who at first seems like a drug addict, spaced out on a sofa, but then she whips out a camera and starts to take photographs of her surroundings. Ah yes, it does not take long to figure out that this woman is a reporter of the highest standards, someone who likes to get involved in a story, despite what it is and the danger it may bring. Its a policy which is quite handy as just at that moment, a video tape ends up on the desk of her editor Charles (Simon Kanz) who is desperate for her to see.
The video shows a gang of goths, who look like they have watched Flatliners too many times, who go by the name of Deaders, not Debters in which Amy mistakenly hears at first. The video shows them gathering around a mattress and chanting some mumble jumble and a young woman Marla (Geogina Rylance) being brought to the front and then laying herself on the bed. Uttering the words “I believe!” she is given a gun and then shoots her brains out in front of the watching crowd. By now Amy is totally sickened by what she is seeing which is so obvious as the camera keeps on cutting to her expression and her mouth and eyes go wider and wider that at that one moment I got a bit worried that the wind would change and her expression would stay like that and the only future she would have is that of a porn star. Her horror though soon turns to amazement when we see a young man Winter (Paul Rhys) a name which suits his fashion sense of all white , pick up the body of the recently shot woman and start to kiss her. Well it looks like that, but he is actually breathing air into her and soon Marla despite have a gaping hole in the side of her head, is back in the land of living. Now most people would think that there is something quite wrong with all this and would not get involved, but not Amy who rushes off to the first plane to Bucharest Romania from where this video tape was mailed from.
The one thing that sets this film apart is that it really does not feel like a Hellraiser film. Now I know I said that about parts 5 and 6, but here its even more strange. The film feels totally different and it may not surprise you to know that this was originally written for the sole intention of a new horror which was totally different. Yes the main plot would have been about the Deaders, but this was originally nothing to do with the franchise of the Lament Configuration, but sensing a link between the storyline of pain and pleasure, the studio came up with a brain wave and ordered a last minute rewrite to include the puzzle box and all things cenobites as the name Hellraiser would sell the film more than a title called Deaders Its a ploy that clearly shows throughout, as somewhere between the lines there are two films desperate for its own identity and somehow they both get lost in the balance
Its not to say that Deader is a bad film. Its leaps heaps and bounds over Hellseeker and there are quite some wonderful horror moments that are of real high standard. There is a scene that must rank as one of the best of the entire franchise and I include the originals in that in which one of the gang of the Deaders have hanged themselves in a bathroom and Amy has to reach over the body to grab a parcel left by the deceased. Its a real strong set piece, that may riff off Se7en but oozes style and quality. The tension that it creates is a massive shocker and I would seriously recommend all fans to watch the film just for that moment. There is also another high point in which Amy is trying to find the hiding place of this gang and finds herself between a thin gap of two walls. She shuffles a long, hoping to find an end when all of a sudden we see a hooded figure next to her, holding a knife. The way this scene brings out a claustrophobic feeling of terror is a credit to Bota who actually shows so much promise in terms of style and technique in his direction.
Its just a shame the other scenes seem too redundant and pointless. There is a badly misjudged train sequence that shows Amy meeting up with a different cult led by our very own Mark Warren, who has seemed to somehow have hijacked an underground train and just circle the stations where they just take drugs and have group sex, its logic that went way over my head, and the fact she visits them twice is an annoyance even through there is a nasty sting in the tail to why this train exists.
As for Pinhead well he again quite rightly hides in the background, his appearance fleeting, but the biggest disappointment and the reason why Deader failed for me is because of the climax which is badly misjudged! This is a gang who are abusing the power of the box and do not care for the repercussions and when finally Pinhead who actually gets a grand appearance here, you feel that these group of idiots are all set to pay the price for their need for everlasting life. But despite the build up which to be fair is done quite wonderfully, the climax is a massive let down. He appears along with his crew of cenobites but its over before you know it! What was we were crying out for and what the film deserved is some kind of hell dished out Pinhead style, but it all done in such a lame arse way that you feel nothing but disappointment, especially when you see Pinhead doing his body jerk again. Oh no he is turning his body back and foe, that must mean the chains are coming….run!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The best thing about Deader is Wuhrer, finally the sequels have a good lead, and its a shame that its not in a better film. Wuhrer who made The Hitcher 2 the only thing good worth watching, is the highlight of a film that now relies on the same old style of the other instalments that has more or less become stale. The dream like tricks, the reality bending time zones, what is real and what is not, have all become tired now to this franchise, despite the fact that Deader is a much better looking film than all the other sequels with Bucharest a wonderful location to be based in. Its just a shame that the film that oozes promise, just seems to be missing something, a bit of bite or something dark. Maybe a touch of a Barker to set it alight!
OVERALL: Again not quite the disaster its made out to be, the film struggles with its identity, but its decent fare saved by a quite staggering bathroom sequence that has to be admired and totally deserves respect in the world of the Hellraiser franchise.
A FINAL OUTLOOK ON THE WHOLE PINHEAD SAGA
Lets say the obvious, the first two are quite wonderful, dark and totally bold and ambitious. The sequels have a notorious tag of being damn awful. They are not! If you compare them to say the Friday sequels then they are much better in terms of style and thought. Its just what is lacking is a sense of fun. Its quite easy to sit back and watch a ski mask freak hack young teens to death, but when you chuck on say Hellraiser Inferno you need all the energy you can muster to think about what the heck is going on. Its a franchise that you either love or hate! Its not mainstream enough to cater for all the audience of horror, but each and every film of the series have something to say and brings a whole new debate. Its a series that changes its mythology and style throughout and in Pinhead a creation that can when used right, could be a much better icon than anything Freddy or Michael can offer.
A remake is due soon, one that can either relaunch the series into a new path, or finally sink the unfair reputation further into the mire. It is one sequel though, that for once, I am deeply looking forward too!