The people behind the new HELLRAISER movie seem to know the series is in trouble. It's just how much trouble they seem to split on. Some people thought the series took a drastic turn for the better with the previous installment. Others, like myself, think there hasn't been a decent entry since HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II. With this new entry, they seek to appease both those who feared the series was unsalvageable and those who seemed pretty darn happy with HELLRAISER: INFERNO.
We open with a return to basics and a familiar face, namely Ashley Laurence, who played Kirsty in the earliest installments. She's married now and certainly seems happy with her new husband, Trevor (Dean Winters - OZ, LAW & ORDER: SVU). But almost immediately, something tragic happens to tear them apart.
As Trevor tries to recover, he continues to get horrible headaches, which are typically accompanied by blackouts and hallucinations. Things get more and more JACOB'S LADDER-ish and Trevor begins to question reality if not his very sanity. It doesn't help matters much that he has a couple police officers playing the "good cop-bad cop" game with him and suggesting that the accident that triggered all of this may not be an accident at all. Gradually, we begin to realize that Trevor may not be the Boy Scout he seems himself as.
Where are the Cenobites? Well, they're here, but taking more of a backstage presence, popping up periodically to make Trevor wonder what the hell is going on. Obviously, somewhere along the line, someone called them up - but who and for what purpose? Greed, sex, murder and madness are all part of the scent that attracts Pinhead and his brood. [S We hear talk about theft and cover-ups and Trevor seems to get laid a lot for someone who is missing his wife. S] In fact, director Rick Bota (a cinematographer and assistant director on horror projects of varying quality) seems to have consciously infused HELLSEEKER with a heavy dose of eroticism not overtly present in previous installments.
Some people liked HELLRAISER: INFERNO. I didn't. I felt the film was an interesting take, but so heavy-handed and one-dimensional that it was just the same old garbage in a new dumpster. Still, the makers of HELLSEEKER wisely chose not to alienate that audience. The format of this new installment is similar in many ways. Hell seems to bleed into the real world without invitation and writers Carl Dupre (PROPHESY 3, DETROIT ROCK CITY) and Tim Day try to keep us guessing at how Trevor's world has become so askew.
But where is the puzzle? It appears briefly, but in fact it's all around us. That's the trick of the latest HELLRAISER film. The entire film is a puzzle. Every time the film shifts, it reveals one part of the picture while concealing another. During the entire running time, we're wondering which end is up? Actually, people who are familiar with this type of story may guess where it's all leading, but there's enough of a surprise in the final revelations to make it all satisfying.
Yes, I said satisfying. HELLRAISER: HELLSEEKER has defied all expectations and is actually a good little horror film, the best this series has seen in some fourteen years. Clive Barker is allegedly happy with the film too since it seems to treat the mythology, surroundings and most importantly, the characters with respect.
Devotees of the series may be disappointed in a couple areas. The film is not excessively gory like the first four installments were. There's enough to make us recoil ( including a cranium drilling aided with a horrific sound effect ) but nothing like the Grand Guignol when Barker was involved. Also, those looking forward to Laurence's return may be disappointed that she isn't on screen more. But when she is on screen is important. She's not shoved out of the way. She is merely asked to step aside as the story progresses. Don't think Jamie Lee Curtis in HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION. Think Charlton Heston in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. Personally, I did not mind that the film lacked excessive amounts of gore and Kirsty.
Which is not to say the film is perfect. It's still only the third best of the series. There are a couple spots I was a little sore with. For one, there are a couple characters who simply laid it on a bit thick. Likely, you will know them when you see them. They'll be the ones who seem so two-dimensionally slimy, they seem to leave a trail of ooze behind them that doesn't come courtesy of anyone in hell.
Also, the film uses occasional quick-cutting editing techniques to accentuate the paranoia Trevor feels throughout the film. This works for the most part. But when we start to get the answers towards the end, the Final Cut Pro software seems to be pulling double duty. The scenes that clue us in move at a dizzying rate just when we need to slow down and catch up (Ironically, longer and more lingering cuts of these scenes are included as a DVD extra).
Still, HELLRAISER: HELLSEEKER winds up being a surprising success. You may be able to guess where it's heading but you won't guess everything and it leaves some things open which could have important ramifications for the series in the future.
And there will be a future. Pre-production has already started on the horribly-titled HELLRAISER: DEADER. The bad news is that it's an unrelated screenplay re-written to incorporate the mythology into it's plot. The good news is that Rick Bota is returning to the director's chair thus leaving some hope that it will be handled with class. Oh well, we'll have to see how this turns out.
The point is that there is hope for this old dog yet. I have patiently sat through horrible sequel after horrible sequel, cursing myself for continuing to come back. This is why. It infuses new life into the series while reminding us of the inventiveness that made the original HELLRAISER so great in the first place. This is the first truly decent HELLRAISER film in fourteen years, and believe me, that's saying something.