Dir. Rick Bota
Written by Neal Marshall Stevens, Tim Day
Starring Kari Wuher, Paul Rhys, Doug Bradley
Following the massive, collective shrug that was HELLRAISER VI: HELLSEEKER, Rick Bota again returned to the franchise, surely with the intent of making a memorable, horrifying entry into the series which would restore it’s legacy and make Pinhead fans happy. Or possibly to crank out another generic cash grab with the minimum possible amount of effort, how should I know. The end result does seem to support the second possibility more than the first: again, we’ve got a generic horror script loosely adapted as a HELLRAISER film at the last minute; again, we’ve got a dismal surreal DTV feel where reality is constantly shifting, again Pinhead only appears for like five minutes at the very end. Honestly most of it is virtually indistinguishable from the last two entries, except --if anything-- it seems cheaper, more convoluted, and less ambitious. It does star a lady who has the same last name as the bartender from the Mos Eisley Cantina, though, so that’s a plus.
Although it’s convoluted and uninvolving, this one does have a slightly more interesting premise than the last two. Kari Wuher plays plucky reporter Amy Klein, a reporter so plucky that we first meet her shooting smack in a grimy junkie’s den, just to get a story. That’s commitment to the profession, and I believe it qualifies as some grade A plunk, at least from a technical standpoint. Pluck, she has, but luck, not so much. So when her boss (Simon Kunz, the guy who gives Ourumov and Xenia Onatopp the Goldeneye in GOLDENEYE, here under the mistaken impression that he’s a scenery-chewing DeNiro-esque character actor) shows her a video which appears to show a weird cult murdering and then reviving one of their own, you can bet she’s on the case. Conveniently, the cult is located in Romania, which means that unlike most of these DTV films that shoot cheap in Romania, this one is actually set there and doesn’t have to half-heartedly try to impersonate New York City.
|Enjoy the familiar face, you won't be seeing much of it.|
The leader of the cult is Paul Rhys, honestly a classier actor than you would think they could get at this point, having worked with Robert Altman (portraying Theo, Vincent Van Gogh’s brother in VINCENT AND THEO) and Richard Attenborough (playing Syndey Chaplin in CHAPLIN. What is it with the guy and playing brothers of great artists?) Judging from his performance here, though, he’s probably aware that a DTV HELLRAISER sequel is a significant step down even from being 10th-billed in FROM HELL (that’s four lower than Jason Flemyng, who plays “coachman”). He looks like he’s devoting 30% of his energy to the scene and 70% to imagining how he’s going to fire his agent. Plus he looks sort of like Ted Raimi, so it’s a little hard to take seriously the idea that a bunch of suspiciously-attractive women and men think this guy’s the shit, even if he does bring people back from the dead*. All this has something to do with the puzzlebox, and Pinhead seems royally cheesed off by the whole thing, although it’s never exactly clear what the deal is or why Pinhead cares if some jerk in Romania is continuing the work of the late Dr. Herbert West. First he’s teaching people lessons about morality, now he’s playing grim reaper, what the fuck, is he the only denizen of Hell who does any work around this joint? I hope this guy’s got a nice Christmas bonus this year.
Anyway, getting to the Paul Rhys cult involves some mystery-solving, which is the most interesting thing here because the mystery is so convoluted and nonsensical that they have some fun coming up with random steps in the process of getting to the cult. The best, and by far the most memorable part of the whole movie, involves Amy pluckily climbing aboard some sort of metaphysical hedonism train to talk to this guy Joey who seems like kind of a big deal, I dunno. It looks like they spent most of their budget on this crazy ass hedonism train, which is just packed with naked chicks, needle drugs, vague graffiti, strobe lights, and sadomasochistic hijinks. In fact, there are more titties in this one scene than in the entire series up to this point, and given that this is a feature to both of Rick Bota’s entries into the series so far I’m going to have to assume it’s a major aspect of his auteur’s vision. Anyway, the scene is over-the-top enough to at least seem perverse, which is closer to an actual feeling than anything else this series has evoked for some time now. Later she comes back and everyone on the train has been slaughtered and there are just a bunch of limbless torsos hanging in sex harnesses and so on, it’s pretty rad. I guess they died doing what they loved, though, so don’t feel too bad.
|I can't see any harm in opening this ornate evil cube I pulled out of the hands of a corpse.|
I should also say something nice about Kari Wuher, the actress who plays our plucky heroine. She’s not exactly the world’s best actress, but she commits to the part pretty respectably. When she screams “NOOOOOO!!!!!” you can see her suck in her breath and really belt it out, heroically overdoing it in a series which has been marked by listless, mopey nonperformances for the last couple installments. She’s also ballsy enough to do a pretty crazy scene where she wakes up topless and in her panties to discover there’s a huge kitchen knife sticking out of her back. It’s one of those what-the-fuck scenes like when Virginia Madsen wakes up covered in blood in CANDYMAN where it seems like it has to be a dream and then it just keeps going. You gotta give the gal credit for doing a scene where she’s basically nude but instead of looking sexy she’s screaming and whimpering and covered in blood on the bathroom floor, helplessly trying to pull out a foot-long kitchen knife jammed into her spine (when she can’t get it out, she wraps duct tape around it and puts on a coat to conceal the fact that she’s gonna be spending her day with a knife handle sticking out of her clothes. That may actually go a little beyond simple pluck.)
So, Wuher is clearly hustling, but in general the movie is not. For evidence, look no further than the tag-line on the cover of the box, which attempts to pique the interest of the casual viewer with perhaps the tamest come-on ever, “the latest, most terrifying evil.” Seems kind of unfair to call Pinhead evil after all the good work he’s been doing lately to teach people to be nicer, although he’s admittedly kind of villainous here. But “The latest”? Why not just say, “It’s a new one, what the fuck, you’ve got nothing better to do.” I guess since they got shy about putting numbers on these after part 5, they want to make sure people know that yes, this is the new one. It probably also doesn’t help that the covers of HELLRAISER I, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9 are all essentially the same, so a little reminder that even though this looks exactly the same** it’s actually “the latest” doesn’t hurt. I can only assume the marketing guys thought the series would end here, because of course part 7 is no longer the latest (and a long way from the most terrifying, but that’s a little harder to prove in court) but it’s doomed to claim it’s the most current forever, just like poor FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL* NIGHTMARE (*The use of the word “final” does not actually denote that this is the final one).
|It's pretty bright on this debauchery train, so the sunglasses make sense.|
What does this mean for our beloved series? Well, it simply means the series is still treading water, pulling the exact same bullshit that shamed them and sullied Pinhead’s good name for the last three movies. In fact, HELLRAISER V-VII are so similar you could almost look at them as a kind of trilogy -- they’re all about driven, amoral loners who are forced to face the truth about themselves through a hallucinogenic journey brought on by Pinhead and vaguely related to opening the puzzlebox. They’re all developed from other scripts, they’re mostly about vague, unimaginative surrealism rather than the grotesque mythology originally developed by Clive Barker for the original (and to a lesser extent parts II-IV), and none of them have much Pinhead or seem to make sense with his character even when he does show up. The difference in number VII is that now this shit has been going on long enough that we can’t really pretend it’s a fluke anymore; this is the new definition of the series. And to celebrate the new, lowered standards hardcore fans now held for the franchise, Rick Bota decided that after part VII came out he’d call up Lance Henriksen, stop trying, and really just run the whole thing into the ground once and for all. Prepare yourself, dear reader, for HELLRAISER VIII: HELLWORLD.
|Who wants a hug?|
*They say this douchebag is the descendant of the original L’Merchant, but that seems questionable because he’s not played by Bruce Ramsay and as we know from HELLRAISER IV: BLOODLINES all descendents of L’Merchant looked exactly like him for at least 300 years. Why couldn’t they just have gotten him back? It would have been nice for the continuity, and Rhys could have gone back to playing the brother of famous artists way sooner.
**Part 8 looks a little different because Pinhead’s face is made of a collage of MATRIX-y 1’s and 0’s to artistically communicate the fact that it’s about video games.
|Yep, there's a few solid back-and-forths between our protagonist and some female cultys.|