"Fear is where you go to learn."
No, of course, I don't know what that means. I don't have the slightest clue what anything in a "Hellraiser" film means. Except their atmosphere. They're all about the "look," the tone. And "Hellraiser: Deader," the 2005 direct-to-video entry in the series, is no exception.
I'm not sure, but I believe this is the eighth "Hellraiser" movie so far, and there is yet another one coming soon to your local video store, "Hellraiser: Hellworld," apparently created at the same time as "Deader" by director Rick Bota (who seems to be making a career of these things) and producer Stan Winston (of creature effects fame). Because these films don't need much story to sustain them, the scripts can be churned out at an alarmingly fast rate.
It seems like these "Hellraiser" movies have been going on since I was teenager in the 1950s, but, in fact, writer/director Clive Barker made the first of them in 1987. My, how time flies. With each successive entry the subject matter seems to dwindle further and the mumbo-jumbo factor to increase. So expect from "Deader" a lot more of the same obscure nonsense that we've seen in the past.
I suppose the new movie is just following form. After all, nonsense is what "Hellraiser" films are about. But this one makes even less sense than the last one I reviewed, "Hellraiser: Hellseeker," in 2002, although its style has improved.
This time out, the main character is an investigative reporter, Amy Klein, who specializes in the darker underbelly of society. Klein is played by Kari Wuhrer, who may be the closest actress we've got these days to a genuine B-movie screamer. She's been in such fright-fests as "Beastmaster 2," "Thinner," "Anaconda," "G-Men from Hell," "Beserker," "Eight Legged Freaks," "The Hitcher II" and several "Prophecy" flicks. That's a record to match any 50's horror queen.
Anyway, Klein's boss, the editor (Simon Kunz) of the "London Underground," sends her off to Bucharest, Romania, to look into a cult called the "Deaders," whose leader, a fellow named Winter (Paul Rhys), can apparently bring dead people back to life. Naturally, he has to have some dead people to bring back, so he persuades his followers to commit suicide in various ghastly ways, and then he breathes new life into them. And where did he get this power? Evidently, through the infamous puzzle box that unlocks the gateway to another world (presumably hell). Which greatly ticks off Pinhead (Doug Bradley, reprising his role once again; at least it's steady work), who doesn't appreciate anyone encroaching on his territory.
And wouldn't you know it? Klein finds a dead girl in Bucharest with the very puzzle box clutched in her hand. Why this valuable artifact is just left lying around is anybody's guess (Winter says it was planned for Klein to find it), but no sooner does Klein get it than she's warned not to open it. She does, or we wouldn't have a plot. From that point on Klein enters the world of the walking dead, with grisly things happening to and around her.
Along the way, the reporter meets and talks with Marla (Georgina Rylance), another "Deader" victim, real or imagined; and Joey (Marc Warren), the leader of a rival cult, this one much less malign; they only deal in drugs and sex, and they live and party on a subway train. OK, this last bit may have been a metaphor or something because at one point Joey says of life that some people never know when to get off the train. Don't ask me what he meant.
So Klein starts wandering around zombielike, and there's the inevitable climax with Winter and Pinhead, and it's over, and, as I said, I have no idea what it was all about. Maybe the next installment, "Hellworld," will explain things better.
The "Hellraiser" series has always been about grotesque imagery, mostly of death and dying, and this entry is no exception. But the editing and direction leave a lot to be desired, with too many important plot details blithely skipped over. There are a couple of good-looking spooky scenes and a few potential shocks along the way, but nothing really scary. The city of Bucharest was probably chosen for its surplus of back alleys, dim corridors, and dank cellars, and I'm sure it never looked worse in a movie. Then, too, Bucharest is probably a cheap place to film in.
Actually, nothing much happens in "Hellraiser: Deader" except the creation of atmosphere. There's lots of mumbo-jumbo about the meaning of reality and death and such, and there's a lot of mayhem, like a scene where Klein is literally wading in her own blood; but none of it is frightening, only gross. The film is rated R for violence, gore, drugs, nudity, and simulated sex. You'd have thought the filmmakers could have found something in there of interest to a viewer.
The picture is presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of about 1.78:1, nicely filling out a 16x9 widescreen television. The best part about the image is that its colors are bright enough not to blend together in the darkness, but they aren't always the most realistic colors, with facial tones varying to some degree from scene to scene. Definition, too, is good, but it's weakened by a good deal of noticeable, if fine, grain. In other words, it's a fairly ordinary DVD picture.
Talk about ordinary, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is about as ordinary as it gets. While the front channels are decent enough, there is very little rear-channel activity. This is surprising considering the potential for such sound in a horror movie. There is some small evidence of musical ambiance enhancement in the surrounds, but that's about all, give or take a few creaking doors. The front channels, though, display a wide stereo spread and a quiet, well-balanced midrange. Yet bass is comparatively weak, as is dynamic response and impact. Go figure.
There is practically as much extra material on the disc as there is movie. Believe it or not, there are two audio commentaries, one with director Rick Bota and makeup designer Gary Tunnicliffe and another with Bota and actor Doug Bradley (Pinhead). This got me to thinking. On the "Dodgeball" DVD, the director and actors leave the room during their commentary, saying that nobody listens to these things anyhow. It's a funny bit, but I wonder if it's not true. Almost every disc these days comes with a director's commentary, but who actually listens to them all the way through? Oh, maybe you listen to one once in a while, especially if it's a favorite film. But I've read that more people rent DVDs than buy them, and if you're renting, who has time to be watching the film a second or third time to catch all the commentaries? Oh, well, they're here if you want them.
In addition to the commentaries, there are eleven deleted and extended scenes, with, what else?, an optional director's commentary, totaling about twenty-four minutes. I'm sure the movie would have made a lot more sense if these scenes had been left in. Indeed, I can see no reason why they weren't put back in for the DVD as a Director's Cut. Sure, a direct-to-video Director's Cut might sound weird, but, hey, that's marketing. Next are four featurettes: "The Making of Hellraiser: Deader," seventeen minutes; "Behind the Effects of Hellraiser: Deader," seven minutes; "Practical Effects With Gary J. Tunnicliffe," a little over one minute; and "Location Scouting," eleven minutes. After that are some storyboard-to-film comparisons; a one-minute gag reel; and a photo gallery. Concluding the extras are seventeen scene selections, with chapter insert; English as the only spoken language; and French and Spanish subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired.
Although I have not seen all eight of the "Hellraiser" movies so far, I have seen four of them in their entirety and the other four in bits and pieces on late-night cable. What can be said of "Hellraiser: Deader" is that it's better than most of the others, but that's not saying enough. Frankly, if you've seen the original Clive Barker "Hellraiser," you've seen them all. For anyone over the age of ten, blood, gore, and grotesquery alone do not equal frights. "Hellraiser: Deader" is neither scary nor suspenseful. But, dang, it is atmospheric.