The 2000s were a particularly prolific time for the Dimension direct-to-video sequel machine. In 2005 alone they cranked out two Hellraiser films: Deader and Hellworld, two Prophecy movies: Uprising and Awakening, a third film in the Mimic franchise and the penultimate film in their Dracula 2000 trilogy, Dracula III: Ascension. All these films were shot quickly on the cheap in Romania (Dimension must have gotten a bulk pack discount on equipment and crews). It seems like the producers consulted the classic Triple Constraint. Given the choice to pick between good/fast/cheap, you have to sacrifice one; you can get any two of those at the same time, but never all three. Having watched Hellraiser: Deader, itís pretty obvious that quality was put on the chopping block: it was cranked out fast and cheap, and itís not good.
Amy Klein (Kari Wuhrer) is a tough-as-nails reporter whose confrontational attitude got her fired from The New York Times. Now sheís slinging prose for a grubby London daily rag, covering stories about crack dens and cultivating an appearance that suggests she just woke up in one. Rolling into the office at 4:30 in the afternoon, her editor Charles (Simon Kunz) puts her onto the scent of a cult called the ďDeaders.Ē He shares with her a tape sent to the paper anonymously of a young woman ritually committing suicide and then seemingly being resurrected by the cultís leader, a mysterious figure named Winter (Paul Rhys).The only clue she has to start with is the postmark on the envelope the tape arrived in: Bucharest, Romania.
Amy tracks the postmark back to an apartment belonging to a girl she knows only as Marla (Georgina Rylance). Sheís too late; conning her way past a suspicious landlord, she finds that Marla has hung herself in the bathroom. Amy rifles through the apartment, looking for clues to lead her to the Deaders. She finds an envelope with another VHS tape and a polished wood and brass puzzle box clutched in the dead womanís hands. The tape is a video diary Marla made before she killed herself and includes instructions on how to find a man name Joey (Marc Warren), a middleman for the Deaders. Marla concludes her diary with a dire warning: ďAbove all, donít open the box.Ē Of course, itís advice that goes unheeded. Amy solves the puzzle box and is visited by Pinhead (Doug Bradley), though the nature of his appearance makes Amy unsure if the apparition was just a dream.
Amy heads to Joeyís lair in the subway, where he holds court over a group of hedonists, deviants and weirdoes on an abandoned subway car. He points her in the right direction and, despite being delayed by the cops and chastised by her editor, she continues on the trail, tracking the Deaders to their lair. There she gets an audience with Winter, who is very interested in her ability to open the box.
Or something like that.
The movie starts out surprisingly well. The maverick reporter hot on the trail of a story is an okay if not terribly original hook and the first act is at least competently developed as a mystery. I found myself fairly interested in the setup and curious to see where they story was going to go. I was extremely disappointed when, around the half way mark, the movie totally breaks. When Amy finally finds Winter, you can feel the brakes being applied and by the time Amy wakes up in her hotel room with a knife stabbed through her back and poking out her chest, the film completely falls apart. The last half hour is an annoying descent into pointless surrealism substituted for plot development and resolution. That would be bad enough, but then the movie sidetracks for ten useless minutes in a Romanian insane asylum. No narrative or character moments are provided. Thereís literally no point to these scenes at all.
Deader started out as a spec script entirely unrelated to the Hellraiser mythos and after gathering dust in a Dimension filing cabinet, it was repurposed when they wanted to make a couple of Hellraiser sequels quickly. It shows. Elements of Clive Barkerís Hellraiser mythos are inserted so haphazardly into the film that any sense of rhythm established is quickly kiboshed. Worse yet, the second half of the movie makes little sense. Thereís a scene of Amy opening the box thatís played off as a dream sequence but isnít, yet no satisfactory explanation of why Pinhead doesnít claim Amy right then and there is given. What we do get is convoluted and nonsensical: the Deaders need Amy to open the box Ė apparently not everybody can, and why they want her to I donít know Ė and Pinhead wants Amy to bring the Deaders to him since theyíre poaching on his territory.
None of this I lay at Kari Wuhrerís feet. She has made a career by dividing her time equally between lead roles in c-list movies, supporting roles in b-list movies and she knows her way around this kind of low rent material like a pro, even if her major character development consists of not washing her hair chain smoking. The bathroom scene, whereís she trying to wrench the butcherís knife from her back, is a particularly impressive exercise in screaming. Itís all for nought, though. The movie doesnít give her character a personal arc or a story arc to inhabit. She occupies the scenes Ė indeed, she carries the entire movie Ė but she doesnít inhabit the world. I never got a sense of danger or discovery.
There are a couple of go-nowhere elements that eat up screen time without contributing to the overall movie. Amy is given a backstory about an abusive father that keeps coming up, yet doesnít further the story or our understanding of her character. Secondly, Amyís editor Charles keeps popping up when the screenplay has written Amy into a corner. It would seem that he has an ulterior motive for helping right Amy onto the correct trail. The unpleasant cynicism of the ending would have played much better if that had been the case, but heís really just a plot device trying to bridge the two disparate directions the film is trying to go.
If the story isnít engaging, thereís always something thatís at least mildly interesting to look at. Director Rick Bota made his name as a cinematographer and Deader always looks fairly polished and competent. Bota stages a few ghostly visions that are suitably creepy, thereís a fair amount of neon-drenched nudity and a smattering of soft-core lesbianism. The scene in Marlaís apartment is effectively dressed and shot to sell the uncomfortable squalor. Joeyís lair in particular has a strong Barker vibe to it (it really should have been the visual blueprint for most of the movie). These few good moments, though, are too little to make a real impact or save Deader from being a complete loss.
The worst thing about Hellraiser: Deader is that it is actually doing a double disservice. On one hand, itís shortchanging Hellraiser fans by trying to shoehorn the character of Pinhead into a movie where he simply doesnít fit and then giving him literally nothing to do in the entire film. Secondly, itís doing a disservice to the original script, ďDeader,Ē which contained the seed of a potentially interesting movie. Dimension managed to fuck both over with one fell swoop.
Good job, guys. Really.
Hellraiser: Deader sucks, but at least itís has some interesting visuals. The cinematography by Romanian DOP Vivi Dragan Vasile is nice and moody, effectively conveying things like cold and isolation. The frame is often populated with nice visual touches such as shafts of light cutting through smoky rooms, though the image often looks like it was shot with a soft focus filter so thereís an omnipresent haze in a lot of scenes. Couple the hazy look with the subdued visual palette of the film and a lack of bright colors or stark contrast can make the image look flat. The presentation is not outstanding, but at least there arenít any serious flaws to detract from it; no artificial edge enhancement, serious color banding or noise. Not bad for a DVD and, honestly, probably better than the inevitable $5 Echo Bridge budget release will be.
Hellraiser: Deader actually has a solid 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track. Rather than the lazy, front-heavy mixes so many low budget movies sport, Deader spreads out over all five channels. The result is surprisingly immersive. Even in the quieter scenes, like Amy and Charlesís first meeting in the office, the surrounds are filled with subtle ambient effects Ė ringing phones, cars driving by outside- a level of attention to details I was not expecting. Audio mixes is where even the best low budget movies often stumble, so I was surprised that Deaderís sound was so good.
For such a low rent film, Dimension sure put together a surprisingly extensive package of supplements.
Director Rick Bota does double duty in the supplemental section, participating in both Audio Commentaries. The first, collaborating with effects creator and second unit director Gary Tunnicliffe is pretty dry. Much more entertaining is the second, with Bota and Doug Bradley, though itís very telling that the most interesting parts of the track are when Bradley is talking about the work he did in the earlier, better Hellraiser films.
A ridiculous amount of Deleted and Extended Scenes (24:32) are included, with optional commentary. Thereís a bit more of the aforementioned neon drenched lesbianism in an extended version of Amyís first encounter with Joey on the train. The rest are mostly insufferably long versions of scenes still in the movie proper. Tough to get through, even Bota and Tunnicliffe think so and they donít have much to say about these scenes that they didnít already cover on the feature commentary.
The Making of Hellraiser: Deader (17:09) is shapeless collection of interviews, behind the scenes footage and clips from the film. Kari Wurher is again the highlight, but her giddy enthusiasm for her screaming scenes isnít enough to make this featurette memorable.
The best thing I can say about the Gag Reel is that itís only a minute long.
The Visual Effects of Hellraiser: Deader (7:01) covers the CGI effects in the film, which might be interesting if the effects werenít sparse and not exactly ground-breaking. Savvy viewers will find little of interest here, despite the efficient construction of the piece. Practical Effects with Gary Tunnicliffe (1:26) is even more slight, a little over a minute long and lacking in any cool behind the scenes footage of the gore or makeups being put together. Instead, Tunnicliffe talks directly to the camera about the gore effects in the climactic scene. Show, Gar, donít tell.
The supplemental section is rounded out with three Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons (11:31), some Location Scouting (11:16) sequences that are more like live action animatics contrasted with the scenes from the finished film (am I alone in finding it hard to get enthusiastic about the deconstruction of someone walking down a hallway?) and a static, non-animated Photo gallery.
Hellraiser: Deader isnít the worst sequel in the series, faint praise as that is, but it comes pretty close. Itís even more disappointing considering that the set up was at least competent and Kari Wuhrer is an edgy heroine. The meandering middle section and the muddled, unfocused and unintelligible resolution utterly kill the movie and the final scenes left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It doesnít work as a sequel in this extremely schizophrenic series, or as a standalone movie and Pinhead clocks probably the least amount of screen time he has in any film up to this point. Even if the DVD is surprisingly well put together, by the end youíll wish that had been spent making a better movie. This entry should have been called Hellraiser: Dead on Arrival, or maybe Hellraiser: Youíll Wish You Were Dead.
There's an easter egg on this disc of the short film titled "No More Souls" by Gary Tunnicliffe. It features Pinhead opening the box himself for one last pleasure.
"You'll wish you were dead" - yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
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