It goes without saying that the “Hellraiser” franchise has seen better days. In fact, the last time “Hellraiser” garnered any semblance of respect in the world of cinema was when a guy named Clive Barker was attached to it in one form or another. The last “Hellraiser” movie to fill multiplexes was “Hellraiser 4: Bloodline”, and it’s been downhill since. Enter Rick Bota, a former special effects man who apparently loves the franchise so much he’s already directed not one, but three sequels (parts 6, 7, and 8, to be precise). The guy must either love this franchise to death or he really needs the work. Judging by the quality that Bota has managed in the last two sequels, I’m inclined to believe it’s the first.
The 7th installment in the franchise, “Hellraiser: Deader”, finds American reporter Amy Klein (Kari Wuhrer) investigating a group of underground freaks called “deaders”, the leader of which is believed to possess the power to resurrect the dead. After a mysterious videotape surfaces in her editor’s office, the dour, self-destructing Amy is sent to Bucharest, Romania, where she slowly descends into the world of the deaders, led by their charismatic leader Winter (Paul Rhys). For Amy, who willingly admits her dark side, the obvious inclination to flee this new, terrible world doesn’t even occur to her. Can you say, “Cenobite spam?”
One of the biggest problems associated with the recent spate of direct-to-video “Hellraiser” sequels is the lack of a sympathetic central figure. The leading characters of the last 3 sequels have been a crooked cop, an adulterous husband, and now with “Hellraiser: Deader”, a reporter with a penchant for getting down and dirty because that’s the only way she knows how to live. Not exactly the type of people Joe Q. Public is inclined to root for, and in fact watching the last 3 “Hellraiser” movies is akin to observing the destruction of people you don’t particular care for.
“Deader’s” biggest asset is director Rick Bota, who uses the film’s Bucharest location to his advantage, painting the movie with dark and somber colors and choosing mostly unappealing locales. The result is some very creative visuals, as well as a few creepy scenes engendered by the story’s sometimes suffocating nihilism. Of note is an early scene that has Amy stumbling into a woman’s apartment, only to discover the woman dead, having hung herself in the bathroom while sitting on the toilet. Instead of calling the police or fleeing in horror, our Amy loots the dead woman’s apartment for clues to a possible story.
The film’s star is Kari Wuhrer, who once toiled in supporting roles in A-list films, before coming down to Earth to toil in leading roles in B-list films, some good (“King of the Ants”) and some highly dubious (“Final Examination”). “Deader” is a step up for Wuhrer, and despite its pedigree as the 7th installment in a waning horror franchise, the film offers Wuhrer some fabulous moments courtesy of a sometimes inspired script. Wuhrer’s Amy is actually quite interesting, which is a must since the audience gets to see the events unfold from her point of view. A glutton for punishment who seeks out the stories no one dares to seek out, Amy used to be a reporter for the New York Post before she was fired (or “re-assigned”, according to her) to her current London duties.
The script by Day and Stevens, though lacking noticeable originality to make it stand out from the rest of the recent “Hellraiser” DTV sequels (the last few all seem to follow the same general path, with very minor diversions from the template), there are nevertheless some winning moments to make it rather entertaining. Of note is the bathroom scene in the dead woman’s apartment, and then later, when Amy wakes up in her hotel room with a knife sticking out of her back. The scene of Amy attempting to convince herself it’s a bad dream while at the same time she’s trying to pull the knife out of her back (but unable to reach the handle), is wildly entertaining stuff.
“Deader” links one of its characters to the original creator of the Lament Configuration, but as to whether the lineage makes sense is open to debate. No doubt due to its moderate budget, “Deader” saves much of its gore for the ending, when the Cenobites unleash their usual brand of pain and mayhem via those chains of death of theirs on their unsuspecting victims. Even then, there isn’t the wholesale massacre one is used to in the bigger budgeted theatrical sequels. Still, Bota splashes plenty of blood throughout the film, but more importantly, he uses the red stuff to great effect.
To be honest, I was never a big fan of the “Hellraiser” series, and I never entertained the notion that Barker’s original was some masterpiece. It was fine, but I found it slow, badly acted, and not entirely effective. As such, I’m sure it’ll be seen as sacrilege to the diehard fans out there, but it’s my belief that “Deader”, thanks to a dead-on performance by Kari Wuhrer and a great visual eye by director Rick Bota, is almost as good, if not slightly better, than the original.
Rick Bota (director) / Tim Day, Neal Marshall Stevens (screenplay)
CAST: Doug Bradley …. Pinhead
Kari Wuhrer …. Amy Klein
Paul Rhys …. Winter
Georgina Rylance …. Marla
Marc Warren …. Joey