I keep expecting the “Hellraiser” series to get properly rubbish, but it never does. I know we’ve got rough times ahead with part 9, made on the cheap to keep the rights to the name, but the surprising thing is despite numerous flaws and obvious twists, the first seven movies have easily been the best of all the long-running horror franchises.
Why is this, I wonder? I think the best option I can think of is the main character and the story opportunities he provides. Looking at the other ones – “A Nightmare On Elm Street” (child murderer); “Halloween” (mute all-round psychopath); “Friday The 13th” (same); and “Children Of The Corn” (er…some corn? Never seen them). Even the lesser franchises, with their killer puppets, killer dolls, killer Santas, killer fun-averse summer camp counsellors, and killer builders of very elaborate traps, have no central character anything like as interesting as Pinhead. He’s not evil, particularly, he just has a morality that exists outside our own (when he’s being written smart, that is), only comes when he’s called, and offers pleasure as well as pain. Okay, he tried to take over the Earth that one time, and takes more souls than is strictly necessary, but Doug Bradley has helped make the character a fascinating one. He represents something (our desire to “transgress”, to push our boundaries further) in a way that none of the others really do.
They’ve also been pretty good with their casting, mostly, and part 7 is no exception. Starring is Kari Wuhrer, best known to me as the later-seasons star of TV gem “Sliders” but a superstar in this low-budget world (at least until having three kids kept her busy, she does mostly voice work now). She’s too-cool-for-school newspaper reporter Amy Klein, working for “The London Underground” doing exposes like “how to be a crack whore”. One day, her editor brings her in and shows her a tape, of a woman shooting herself in the head and then being brought back to life by a chanting group and a stereotypical “libertine” guy – longish hair, billowy shirt, pale skin; the group call themselves the Deaders, and this took place in Romania, so she’s off there to find Marla, the person who sent her the tape in the first place.
While she’s watching the tape, I kept getting distracted by the edits and multiple angles on display, like it was a professional documentary and not some grungy snuff film. Also, who used VHS tape in 2005? Also, what newspapers still do old-fashioned exposes nowadays? Apparently, the movie sat on a shelf for a few years, but that doesn’t really account for it. Talking of editing, after watching the video, Amy and her editor have a conversation about going to Romania, and it’s done as a total ripoff of the famous scene from “Don’t Look Now”, where you see the thing that’s happening intercut with the thing that happens after it – for absolutely no reason other than presumably someone hoped no gorehounds would notice the lift. Anyway, off she pops, and bribing her way into Marla’s apartment, finds her dead on the toilet, having committed suicide, and takes another videotape…and a box, which the dead woman is clutching in her hand.
Yay! The Lament Configuration shows up at 20 minutes, so we at least know we weren’t tricked by the opening credits and are in a “Hellraiser” movie. She takes the box, and…well, it’s certainly getting easier to open these days. She presses a button and it starts playing music (the box must have gotten an upgrade?) then pops open on its own. It’s at this point you may well wonder if it’s going to have the same overarching idea as parts 5 and 6, but I can inform you now that it doesn’t. Amy meets Joey (Brit TV great Marc Warren), the leader of a non-stop party on a subway train – I wasn’t sure of the logistics of running your own train down there either – who warns her away from the Deaders and Winter, their mysterious leader, but this is a movie and people don’t take sensible advice in movies. The train scene is hilariously stupid, like someone lined up every stereotype of cool edginess and shoved it all into one room, and is therefore a perfect metaphor for a trashy Hellraiser sequel.
After the box is opened, we get a few seconds of Pinhead and then reality starts bending the same way it did in 5 and 6 (not surprising, as 6, 7 and 8 share a director, Rick Bota). It even manages to up the ante in the final act, as Amy becomes a “Deader” herself, stabbed through the heart but still walking and talking – the scene where she tries to remove the knife from her back is pretty great. Marla comes back to lead her through the maze of the plot – something to do with the LeMarchand family from part 4, but I won’t spoil it any further, and then she’s got a final confrontation with Winter to go.
Again, I’ve not mentioned Pinhead very much in this, and it’s for the same reason as the last two movies. Dimension Films had a bunch of horror scripts they’d bought over the years, and decided to use three of them to extend the “Hellraiser” series. The third act was completely rewritten and works surprisingly well, as Amy has to confront the mysterious flashbacks to her childhood, Winter, and Pinhead. He’s really good in this, the best part he’s had for a couple of movies (not difficult, admittedly), with motivations that seem entirely believable based on what we know about him.
The cast is great (the ones who aren’t just Eastern European extras hired for nudity, that is), especially Georgina Rylance as Marla, a fantastic performance. Wuhrer is always fun to watch too, but the one issue I have with her is – people refer to her “fucked-up, self-destructive” streak, but it’s more that if they repeat it, we’ll believe it, despite no actual evidence. Okay, she feels compelled to take on the dirtiest, most messed-up stories and definitely has a dark past, but she’s a completely likeable, strong woman who just seems a little over-confident. But she’s great, and the part where she tries to cover up her rapidly leaking chest wound is an oddly light scene, and she pulls it off. They also mention how nice her ass is like three times, which feels like it was a clause her agent got put in her contract – I mean, I wasn’t paying attention to it, as she wears mostly baggy trousers, which is why it felt weird bringing it up.
It’s certainly not perfect. No-one bothers to explain how Winter figured out he could bring people back from the dead, and the randomness of who can and can’t open the box is a bit irritating. It’s also part of a spree of filming in Romania from Dimension Films, to the point where I’m not sure if everyone realised what movie they were in – they shot Dracula 2 and 3, Prophecy 4 and 5, and Hellraiser 7 and 8, all at pretty much the same time, sharing lots of crew and some cast. It also features what I think is the first ever jump scare in “Hellraiser” history, which is a bit of a disappointment, and the whole thing of Amy being some sort of Lament Configuration chosen one feels a bit underwritten, too.
Now I’ve come to terms with Pinhead being an ancillary character in his own movies, I really rather enjoyed “Deader”. Unlike “Halloween”, which tried to become an anthology series and failed, “Hellraiser” is perfect for it – characters going through their own “hell”, drop the box in to their story, and away you go. Given that killing Pinhead seems close to impossible, the story of the Cenobites finished after part 4, and if there’s money to be made they’ll never stop churning them out, I’d rather we had something like this than Indestructible Killer X vs. yet another group of dumb teens.
Rating: thumbs up