Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker

Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker (2002)
Dir. Rick Bota
Written by Carl V. Dupre (DETROIT ROCK CITY, wha?), Tim Day
Starring Dean Winters, Ashley Lawrence, Doug Bradley, Michael Rogers

HELLRAISER VI begins Rick Bota’s 3-movie run on the series with the minimum possible amount of effort, basically remaking the already tepid part V, but less interesting. Bota was director of photography for THE GLIMMER MAN, so shit, why not direct a HELLRAISER sequel? This one tries to regain some of the series’ lost legitimacy by bringing back original star Ashley Lawrence as Kristy, but don’t get too excited sports fans, she’s barely in it and was obviously just an afterthought added to an already-written generic horror script. All is not lost, though, because you got the guy from those “Mayhem” progressive commercials as our lead here, sleazing it up as Kristy’s now ex-husband. That sounds good, right?

    Basically, the premise here is that Trevor (Duffy from 30 Rock) wakes up after a bad car crash to find that his wife, Original Kristy, is missing and that he is suffering from those hallucinations that all HELLRAISER movies have now and can’t remember key elements of his past. Random women keep making out with him and claiming he’s been having affairs with them, but he doesn’t remember and doesn’t buy it. Doesn’t seem like him. He may be Dean Winters, but he’s a nice guy, he wouldn’t have been cheating on Kristy, he’s pretty sure. He’s the only one around who seems to share that assessment, though, and to make matters worse there are two detectives who are pretty sure he had something to do with Kristy’s disappearance, especially after they find out she was secretly rich thanks to the life insurance money from ‘ol Dad and Uncle Frank (didn’t seem that way in HELLRAISER II: HELLBOUND, but I guess these things take time. I’ll trust to HELLRAISER VI’s superior knowledge of the insurance system). 

One of maybe 5 times you'll see Ashley Lawrence on-screen.

OK, so we’re stuck with Liz Lemon’s deadbeat boyfriend in the lead, Pinhead’s nowhere in sight and no one is “Hellseeking” anything as far as I can tell. But surely there’s an upside, right? Well, sort of. Bota isn’t as good a director as part V’s Scott Derrickson (who went on to direct the pretty-good SINISTER) but it looks like he has probably watched JACOB’S LADDER* in the past couple of years, so there’s some fitfully good dreamy paranoia in there. Yes, it was already done better (and still not that well) in the last sequel, but taken by itself this one does OK and at least seems like it’s trying to be a real movie and not just a cheapie cash grab. There’s virtually nothing imaginative or memorable, but at least we’ve got some hints of atmosphere here and there.

The most interesting aspect of the movie is one that I’m not sure the filmmakers realized they had, and that’s actual structure of the story here. The mystery angle --what happened to Kristy?-- is labored and underdeveloped, but the more interesting mystery here is what is happening to Trevor, and more importantly just what the fuck is this guy’s deal, anyway. In a way, the script actually mirrors the unusual main conceit of TOTAL RECALL. Trevor can’t remember much about himself, but knows he’s basically a nice guy who loved his wife. But everyone around him seems to have a different opinion of him. They keep trying to get him to commit various misdeeds and act confused and annoyed when he brushes them off. There’s an interesting horror angle for a better move in there -- what happens if you wake up one day, and suddenly aren’t the person you thought you were? Was Trevor actually an asshole and is just now waking up to how everyone else perceived him, or should he trust his instinct that he’s a good dude and this is all some kind of misunderstanding? Winters plays him as kind of a scuzzball, but also possibly the kind of scuzzball who has a good heart underneath all the asshole posturing, so you’re never quite sure how to interpret the mounting evidence that everyone in Trevor’s life thinks he’s a self-centered scumbag. And there’s a sort of nagging question of what happens if he does turn out to be really an awful person -- does he just go back to his life of debasement, or does he get to start over again with a new personality courtesy of a clonk to the head? And that leads one to think, oh shit, Pinhead’s teaching people lessons about morality again. He really needs to stop doing that.

So, here's Trevor visiting his acupuncturist when she's suddenly replaced by Pinhead. How is it possible that this sequence leads to absolutely nothing memorable?

So there is a tiny grain of something interesting in here, but everything is just executed with such resounding mediocrity that it’s hard to care too much. It’s not bad, exactly, just mediocre. Ever notice how you never really see bad acting in these DTV movies anymore? I mean, back in the 80’s you had bad acting. INFERNO (that's Dario Argento's INFERNO, not HELLRAISER V: INFERNO) doesn’t have a single performance in it that even remotely resembles a real human being. It’s crazy and terrible and stylized and awesome. Now, post-MATRIX, every dipshit actor seems to realize that if they just act morose and listless they won’t look ridiculous like the cast of WATCHERS. It’s moderately more respectable but also way more boring. Nothing makes much of an impact, it all just feels responsible and perfunctory, sort of like... like they were contractually obligated to make a movie based on this franchise and wanted to do it with the minimum amount of work but without looking like total fools. Hmmm. The end result is mostly professional but entirely unremarkable. By the time we finally get to some cenobites and hooks at the very, very end it’s way too late to get anyone to care. Which is kind of a shame, because it actually picks up a little steam as it gets there, finally finding a few fun nightmare gimmicks (the two-headed detective, for example, is an idea crazy enough to be memorable even if it looks about as convincingly real as Sid from TOY STORY).

It feels like a bummer to say this, but there’s just no getting around the fact that this is an entirely unnecessary retread of the last movie with a worse twist and even less Pinhead. It’s not embarrassing so much as tedious, not poorly made so much as underimagined. But in just about every way that counts, that’s worse than just being bad. Let us hope that Part VII’s unpromisingly named “DEADER” has a little more reason to exist and doesn’t just describe the franchise after HELLSEEKER.

*it even has a kindly masseuse, although this one is played by a girl who looks like Counselor Troi and takes off her top instead of Danny Aiello. Weirdly, she's an acupuncturist, but this does not turn out to be important at all or even mentioned.

There are a few pretty good cenobites who show up at the end. Believe it or not, you can actually buy this actual prop.

1: HELLRAISER (1987)

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