I was excited, dammit, when I saw Ashley Laurence had been hauled onboard for “Hellraiser: Hellseeker.” Maybe hauled onboard isn’t the right analogy. Maybe it’s more like she was lured into the back of the craft services van and chloroformed or she walked across a pit covered with copies of a totally different script.
Laurence matters because she played Kirsty Cotton, the heroine of the first two films and for my quatloos probably the best Final Girl of the 1980s. After the meandering noir fable of “Hellraiser: Inferno,” roots needed returning to, and Laurence’s Kirsty never failed to kick ass. Plus, Kirsty still had a story to tell. Unlike many a horror franchise heroine, she skipped the traditional perfunctory offing in the opening of the first sequel she wasn’t heroine-ing. So after literally wearing the skin of her wicked stepmother and witnessing the ultimate answer to man’s search for meaning is a grey maze filled with kinky zombies, how did her hellbound heart go on? I mean…did she take a year off and backpack Europe? I want to know.
More crucial, unfortunately, than Kirsty’s involvement is the helming of this film by Rick Bota, who also directs the next two entries in the franchise. If I ever get access to time travel technology, I’m going back to 2002 and hunting down every person in the phone book named Rick Bota. To be fair, Bota is a deft cinematographer, and I have the feeling these movies were requisitioned by the studio with about as much vision, passion, and resources as you put into ordering a Subway sandwich. “Hey, Rick, here’s a director credit and a script from the slush pile. Go make a Hellraiser so we don’t lose the copyright. On Hearty Italian.”
So all that said, “Hellseeker” sucks.
While I’m feeling food metaphors, let me start with the three-cheese soundtrack. Gone is the fantastic choral score of the first few films, replaced with some wailing-on-a-Stratocaster Winger audition that you could plunk at the start of a light Skinimax offering, maybe something on the USA Up All Night docket. Unacceptable. Save your bargain brand Dokken for Freddy. We need some majesty and dignity up in this joint. You’re not playing Pinhead on with that crap.
It is true that Clive Barker originally wanted metal for the score of the first “Hellraiser.” But Clive wanted metal for the score. This soundtrack is to metal as Screech is to Bill Nye.
Ah, but I’ve not touched the story. Let me get my asbestos gloves.
The movie opens with Kirsty and her husband Trevor riding in a car, laughing, playing, loving each other conspicuously, like people do in commercials for antidepressants and boner pills.
The dialogue neatly informs us they are reconciling from something and embarking on a new start. Then they start kissing and Trevor smooches them right across the center line. Honk, honk, Trevor swerves to avoid a face full of Honda and loses control of his car. The compact goes full Duke Boys rampant, plunging them into a lake, albeit absent Waylon Jennings narration.
Trevor manages to worm out of the car, but the door gets stuck and he can’t save Kirsty. Police divers find no sign of her body, and her seatbelt was undone. Trevor hasn’t even left the scene before he finds himself the target of oblique insinuations from a homicide detective, who by the way is clearly the love child of Lieutenant Columbo and Sergeant Murtaugh.
Besides the police detective who seems to have skipped ahead to the end of the script, Trevor has two other big problems. One: he came out of the accident with a head injury, and so he has trouble remembering anything. Also, his days weave in and out of fugue states and delusions, which are great when you want to mess with the audience without committing to anything happening. I will give Bota and company full credit for some nice Pinhead foreshadowing in a brain surgery scene though.
Trevor’s other big problem is that he sweats Sex Panther cologne. This guy’s BVDs are getting their elastic challenged by every woman in the movie. Who knew being a widower was such a turn-on? You could probably change the music and make this into a sex farce. Just splice in Rob Schneider as a wacky neighbor instead of Pinhead and boom, you’re good. In fact, just keep the music.
Eventually we find out that Trevor was unfaithful with lots of women during the marriage, and so the women aren’t exactly coming out of nowhere. We are also shown that Kirsty found out about the affairs, but more interestingly, that Trevor obtained a Hellraiser box and made Kirsty open it. We don’t get to find out the result of that delightful gag gift until the curtain falls, but you will have figured it out long before then. Suffice it to say, that long drive off a short pier we started with was less straightforward than we originally witnessed.
“Hellseeker” is not terrible, but I’d be straining to call it even okay. I’d rather watch an honestly terrible movie than this thing. Give me all the Zombeavers and Thankskillings you have.
They’ve taken one of the most explicit and daring titles in horror, and they’ve expurgated it until you get something that could play with minimal cuts on Lifetime, at least until the last 15 minutes. It is full of groping and murder, but it is still terribly boring, except when Pinhead is on the screen, but then you probably just feel sad. No Cenobite innovations, barely any Cenobite presence, and you don’t even have the disturbing murders that gave “Inferno” its genuine oog-out moments. And like “Inferno,” the story revolves around getting gutted for hidden sin, metaphorically and literally, which departs significantly from the original BDSM ethos of the Cenobites. They were never here to punish you or reward you; they’re here to play. Because you asked.
There’s nothing to play with here though. Just a dull as dishwater psychological horror title that tacks on some by-the-numbers Hellraiser motifs here and there and calls it a day. This should not have counted toward keeping the copyright.
I have serious issues with the ending, too, honestly, but I’m not going to think too hard about it because it’s a better deal for Kirsty, and she’s the only one I can muster much feeling for in this, what with her 10 minutes of screentime.
Watch the trailer to “Hellraiser: Hellseeker”