Hellraiser: Deader is a Hellraiser film for the latest generation. Gone are the 80's style dialog, poor characterization and thin plots. Critics will be disappointed, however, because gone as well are the Cenobites, including Pinhead, until the last reel. However, unlike the last film (Hellseeker) which reduced Pinhead to a poor plot device, Deader makes the chief Cenobite a key player in the entire story, and his final appearance helps bring the story to a gruesome, and scary close.
Again, those older folks looking to recapture the Freddy/Jason era goofiness of 80's horror films will be disappointed. This is a psychological tale, but peppered with enough Hellraiser horror and blood to satisfy today's horror fan. It's also -- surprise! -- a SMART film.
Chain-smoking reporter Amy Klein is fresh off her hot underbelly expose on crack whores when she is assigned to investigate a Romanian cult called The Deaders, who appear to be cheating death through the ministrations of their leader Winter. During the investigation she not only uncovers the secret of their snuff-film like activities, but also finds the black-and-gold puzzle box. Soon she finds herself trapped between the manipulations of Winter and the vengeance of Pinhead, who is less than happy that the Deaders are treading in his trade.
Kari Wuhrer puts in a remarkable performance given the genre, and despite her less than stellar previous film credits. Much of this is due to an excellent script by Stevens and Day, who eschew the frequent one-liners and obvious plot turns of previous installments. (Although Pinhead gets a few dramatic utterances in, of course.) Wuhrer is convincing as someone caught in a weird web of grotesque absurdity, not at all like the amateurish and often unbelievable performances of Ashley Laurence, Pinhead's usual nemesis Kirsty in previous films. Wurher also proves one can put in a good performance in an atypical Hellraiser film, something at which Hellseeker's wooden lead Dean Winters failed miserably.
Rick Bota's direction is much improved with this episode as well, to the point of being quite a different kind of film than Hellseeker. The use of a Romanian crew provides an influx of high technical skill and artistry so that the viewer will not realize the budget was low; unlike Hellseeker, where Pinhead's arrival was about as technically complex as someone opening the blinds, here the gore and FX are much improved and very, very well utilized.
Visually, the film is filled with clever cues and foreshadowing. A punk rock informant provides Amy with information while wearing his hair in tiny, spiked braids, a subtle reminder of Pinhead's impending appearance. Throughout we are shown boxes that invoke the Lament Configuration: checkerboard floor patterns, window panes, right angles. This is smart film-making, something we have not seen in recent Hellraiser films, and lacking in even more recent big-budget horror films as The Grudge, Dawn of the Dead or The Ring.
The script is well done, building on Amy's character with surprising depth, and allowing us to find out some disturbing truths about her past. Time is not spent on developing side characters, so that more effort can be put into Amy; this is probably a smart idea. At first Amy appears to be cartoonish, smoking and talking tough, but soon enough she is vulnerable and frightened.
The movie suffers from a few problems, of course. In what is an annoying habit of horror movie directors, scenes begin building to a frightening climax only to be abruptly cut off as the character awakens, or is suddenly transported somewhere else. This happens a few too many times in this film, as Amy is confronting some horror, and suddenly awakens in a different location (a bath, a hospital) left to wonder if it was a dream. After the second time we see this, it becomes a joke. In this film, it happens about FIVE times. Enough already! However, the scriptwriters and director wise up at one point, and when you expect another "wake up" sequence, you don't get it, and Amy is left wandering the rest of the third and fourth reels bleeding like a stuck pig, not waking up. Wuhrer deserves credit for allowing herself to be filmed topless in critical scenes, where she is fumbling with a knife that has been stuck in her back, and the film deserves credit for not polluting the movie with needless nudity.
Overall, this is a remarkable entry in the Hellraiser series, and it amps the films up a notch. If this had been the first we had seen the Box and Hellraiser, we would be amazed and this would have become an immediate cult classic, if not a commercial success. Coming so late in the franchise, it will be hard for folks to treat this as a new film. Some will not like it in comparison, because it discontinues the formula of the earlier films. But as a standalone, horrific psycho-drama, with one hell of an ending, Hellraiser:Deader is an excellent Hellraiser film for the 2000's.
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