Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Hellraiser: Deader

Previously on Hellraiser: Hellseeker...

I don't want to talk about it. I don't even want to be reminded that movie EXISTED.

Romania has slowly become one of THE go to places in Hollywood to make a movie. Thanks to the insanely low costs of shooting there, combined with its varied landscapes and endless pool of citizens that'll work for peanuts, it's the new Canada. While it had yielded some B-level 1990's fare such as Dark Angel: The Ascent (a personal favourite of mine), Highlander: Endgame, and a couple of the Trancers movies, it wasn't until 2003's Civil War era blockbuster Cold Mountain was filmed entirely there did the floodgates open and filmmakers began trampling over each other to shoot there.

Primarily horror films were made there thanks to its oppressive looking architecture leftover from its Communist days that really lends itself to the genre, but it's also produced comedies like Van Wilder 2 and Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom. Action blockbusters? It has those too, giving us Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and the third Expendables movie. In 2005, two movies near and dear to my heart (well, near at least) were filmed there back to back in the form of the Prophecy: Uprising and the Prophecy: Forsaken.

Both of these starred Kari Wuhrer, who was already a veteran of the Romanian film scene thanks to today's film, Hellraiser: Deader, which she filmed right on the heels of the Prophecy films. And just like those films, two Hellraiser movies were filmed back to back but Wuhrer only took part in the first one. I guess even she has her standards, because TWO Hellraiser straight-to-video films is too much to ask from anyone.

Deader, just like the last two films, originally began as a completely separate story Dimension Films had collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. Then Tim Day, who co-wrote the abominable Hellseeker, was brought in to rewrite it to throw some Cenobite shit in because that's MUCH better than trying to think up anything remotely original.

An interesting aside here, the original script was written by Neal Marshall Stevens, or Benjamin Carr as he's now known. He is relatively famous for writing the remake of 1960's 13 Ghosts, the abysmally named Thir13een Ghosts which is one of the most tonally erratic movies I've ever had the misfortune of seeing. Someday, not anytime soon because I am BURNT OUT on horror movies thanks to Saw and Hellraiser, I plan to do a retrospective of the genre in the late 1990's/early 2000's because they were fucking WEIRD. Feardotcom, House On Haunted Hill, Ghost Ship, Gothika... your days are coming. Mark my words.

In the meantime let's see what the latest chapter in the life of Pinhead has to offer us with A Ghoul Versus Hellraiser: Deader! And by the way, is this the WORST subtitle in the history of film or what?

Note: a quick rant here about the home video version of the Hellraiser series, because it's a hot mess. I always try to review the blu-ray versions of movies because my zombie eyes are so decrepit that they have trouble viewing standard definition and need all the help they can get. Publishing rights for the Hellraiser movies much be all over the place due to the franchise switching studios, because the first two were released by Image Entertainment while others have been released by Echo Bridge. There's also a rare blu-ray version of the first movie released by Anchor Bay which sounds far superior to the one I saw, but of course it's hopelessly out of print.

Echo Bridge released a blu-ray four pack of Bloodline, Inferno, Hellseeker, and Hellworld which has been supplying the material for the majority of my reviews, but they're all compressed on one disc and are GARBAGE. And where the hell is Deader in that mix? Why release parts 4, 5, 6, and 8? It just goes to show what Miramax (parent company of Dimension Films) really thinks about this “also-ran” franchise. The rest of my reviews have been from Miramax's 2011 “Hellraiser Collection”, a lowly DVD set that contains movies 3-8 in a bare bones as humanly possible set. But it was like 9 bucks brand new, so I'm not going to complain THAT much.

TL,DR Miramax get us a fucking blu-ray box set of all nine movies NOW! If the wretched Wrong Turn series can get a blu-ray box set, there is no excuse that Hellraiser can't. And yes, I'll be getting to Wrong Turn next year... yay.

The opening is quite well done, as we open with panning shots of a bunch of junkies in a drug den. It has some nice moody lighting with a nice score, you know, like a movie is supposed to have. I had literally forgot that was a thing while watching the last movie. Among the junkies we see Kari Wuhrer wake up on a couch and start taking pictures of her fellow smackheads. Or not, because we soon learn she's an undercover reporter named Amy Klein who is doing a story about the seedy underworld that is drugs.

We see she's a cynical and jaded, take no shit kind of reporter, which I will admit she pulls off pretty well. Although I wonder how much of that is really acting, in while doing research for this review I found a 2003 interview she did about her career's inability to hit the big time and WOW this woman has some bitterness in her. But so would you if you had to be in films such as 8 Legged Freaks, King of the Ants, and G-Men From Hell.

Charles, her editor-in-chief, has a new assignment for her: investigate a group called the deaders. They're a cult of Hot Topic customers that kill themselves and are somehow able to return back to life, which is shown to us with a GENUINELY disturbing video of one of their ceremonies. Twelve minutes into this thing and it's already approximately a kajillion times better than Hellseeker was, which isn't really saying much because the FBI warning that preceded this movie was as well. In any case, it's doing a great job of being cinematic as hell so far.

Amy accepts the job and heads to Bucharest, Romania where the deaders are located, heading to the return address on the envelope that contained the ceremony recording. It leads her to a seedy apartment where she finds one of the young women from the video, dead by hanging in the bathroom. Next to her body is another envelope that Amy tries to grab without touching the body in the very tiny room, another excellent scene because the tension of if the body springs to life or not is OFF THE CHARTS. I was on the edge of my seat here, which is certainly something I can't say about ANY of the other movies. Damn, Rick Bota must have gone to film school after Hellseeker because he's knocking this stuff out of the park!

Amy drops the envelope and bends down to pick it up when she notices two things: one, the body is breathing because you can see the stomach moving. Oh wait, that was something I noticed. Okay then, Amy only notices one thing: the Lament Configuration is clutched in one of the woman's hands. Aww dammit, here's the Hellraiser shit that's going to fuck up what was a perfectly fine movie before. Amy pries the stiff fingers off the box and takes it, putting it in her bag. AND BOOM THERE'S THE JUMP SCARE! The woman comes to life and lunges at the reporter, but is restrained by the rope around her neck. Oh ho, I actually wasn't expecting that one! That's twice his movies have got me, so points all around to Bota.

Amy shifts into GTFO mode, as the camera cuts back to the body in its original unmoved position... with the box still held in its hand. Oops! The editor must have stepped out for a smoke when they were cutting this whole scene. She returns to her hotel room for a stiff drink and to review the contents of the envelope. Inside is a bloody key and another VCR tape, a plea from the woman (who identifies herself as Marla) to stop the leader of the deaders, a guy named Winter. She gives out information to meet with a man named Joey who will take her to the deaders, along with a stern warning to not open the puzzle box. So what does Amy do? SHE OPENS THE FUCKING PUZZLE BOX. Oh horror movie characters, you so crazy!

To my utter delight, the hooked chains fly out (for once) and dig into her head in yet ANOTHER intense scene. Careful Bota, you're going to spoil me and I'll expect this level of quality from Hellworld. Pinhead appears and warns her she's in danger before... the phone rings and she finds herself completely chain free. Okay, I can BUY that Pinhead let her go so she can stop the deaders which I assume are throwing salt into his damnation game, BUT if it turns out Amy died here and the rest of the movie is all a dream I am DONE with this series forever.

Joey's base of operations is a subway train full of extremely fucked up people doing all kinds of fucked up things, which the camera is much more focused on than anything else. Joey tries to talk Amy out of tracking down the deaders, but it wouldn't be much of a film if she did. You know, if I didn't know any better I'd say the entire point of that scene was just to show off how much twisted imagery the filmmakers could think of instead of trying to further the story, because why wouldn't Marla just TELL Amy the address herself? Minor complaint though, at least I can now say I've seen a naked woman in goggles breast feeding a plastic doll.

Exiting the train, Amy notices she's being followed by the man who revived the woman from the first video. When she starts walking his direction to confront him, he leaps in front of an oncoming train. Things skip ahead a bit where Amy has called the police, but surprise surprise they can find no trace of a body. The cops think she's crazy, which only gets worse when she sees the man board another train and begins to spaz out. They take her into custody, but Charles travels all the way from America to bail her out.

Back on the streets, Amy takes a cab to the deader base of operations Joey told her about. She gains access with the bloody key Marla left her, entering to find... PIGEON JUMP SCARE! Boooooooooo! Come on movie, you're better than that. She's drawn downstairs into a series of dark and spooky tunnels by a woman's scream, not even flinching because she's either brave as hell or stupid as fuck. After an incredibly effective sequence where she squeezes through an ultra narrow passage in a wall with only a lighter to guide her way while being chased by a knife wielding psycho, she finds one of the deaders who takes her to their latest ceremony where Winter is bringing a man back to life.

She meets with the leader after he's done, asking him about the box. He says it's a family heirloom that's been passed down generation to generation, but that's the only concrete answer she gets as he goes on the typical Hellraiser “I'm saying a thousand words but I'm really not saying a damn thing” rant. This causes Amy to have a flashback of herself as a little girl being used by her father, something they've been briefly cutting to throughout the entire movie.

This causes her to pass out and she wakes up on the deader altar, surrounded by Winter and his gang of freaks. They hold her down, Winter about to kill her with a knife... when she wakes up naked in the bathtub back in her hotel. Rhaargh, movie you are THIS close to losing me. Don't fuck this up! To the movie's credit, it does show her boots still covered in mud from her tunnel excursion so I'm going to chalk the previous scene up to she passed out again and they brought her home. But then how'd they know where she lived? Oh, they probably found her hotel keycard on her. But then what, they just carried her unconscious body past the front desk without anyone asking questions? And then undressed her and put her in the bath? How did she not drown?

No time for that now, Amy's having a nightmare about her father again. She wakes up in a panic because there's a knife sticking in her back all the way through her chest. She runs into the bathroom in a scene that feels VERY Saw-like, freaking out and trying to pull the knife out. She does all of this while topless and bloody, for a level of FINE fan disservice that you don't see in movies much anymore. She finally manages to get the knife out just in time for Pinhead to put in his movie mandated “let's get this story back on track” cameo. Remember when he used to be the villain in these things?

He points out how Amy isn't, you know, dead after being stabbed and losing several gallons of blood, to which she replies she's just dreaming. Pinhead breaks it down, or at least tries to because this is where things start developing the Hellraiser tradition of murky storytelling. What I was able to gather is when Amy opened the box her soul belonged to Pinhead so she's no longer quite human, the Cenobite intending to use her in his war against the deaders who are stealing souls from his realm... or something. The deaders need her too... for some reason.

Cleaning herself up as best she can because her knife wound won't stop bleeding, Amy goes to Joey for help but finds everyone on the car slaughtered. Marla's there though, now starting to decompose badly, revealing she's the one who stabbed Amy because... I honestly have no idea. I couldn't tell you a single thing that's happened the last twenty minutes or so, which I'm sure is a TOTAL coincidence that JUST HAPPENED to occur when Pinhead popped up. Things only get more confusing when after another flashback Amy wakes up in the hospital room of a psyche ward with Charles standing over her, saying she was found in her blood soaked hotel room. I just... I just don't care anymore. What is it with these movies that brings out the absolute WORST of every writer that signs on for them? Is it THAT hard to establish a single scene in even the slightest of cohesive fashion?

Because Joey and his gaggle of weirdos are all dead, we get to see the wacky inhabitants of the loony bin and all their crazy ass behaviour. If you're keeping score, this is where the story grinds to a complete fucking halt. Wasn't there some sort of war for the souls of Hell going on? My bad, I guess not. Let's instead focus on Amy hanging out with some creepy ass girl drawing a picture of her. The picture freaks Amy out because it's of Batman villain Two-Face, which I didn't think was that scary but whatever. Amy runs off where she finds Marla sitting on a bench, now fully alive. I check the time. Still twenty minutes left. Fuck.

Marla does her best Pinhead impersonation as she flaps her gums about nothing for a few minutes and then vanishes. Amy's knife wound reappears, which triggers another flashback of her father. I wonder where she's going to wake up when this one's done? I'm going to guess the deader base. This flashback shows that one day Amy finally had enough and killed her father by stabbing him with a knife, the memory of which... you'll NEVER believe this... causes Amy to pass out. She wakes up back at the deader base AND BOO-YAH MOTHERFUCKERS! Called it!

We see she's back at the moment right before Winter was going to stab her, because sure THAT MAKES SENSE. She grabs the Lament Configuration and throws it across the room, which causes it to open and unleash the Cenobites. Pinhead outs Winter as a descendent of Philip Lemarchand, which is played as a big reveal except for the fact Winter PRETTY MUCH ALREADY TOLD US THIS. Winter tells Pinhead he can't hurt him, but the Cenobite proves him QUITE wrong with a healthy dose of applied chains to send him to Hell. He hilariously takes out the rest of the deaders who make the poor decision to stand in single file formation, running a single chain through all of them in a straight shot. Ha!

This just leaves Amy, who grabs the knife to defend herself. Pinhead condescendingly chuckles, as do I. Oh, but plot twist! Amy stabs herself because this frees her soul from Pinhead even though she's already dead so this shouldn't mean anything... Also, this causes the puzzle box to explode and vanquish the Cenobites in one felled swoop. I mean, why wouldn't it?! We cut to Charles, back in America, watching a news story about the explosion of the deader building where the only thing that survived was the puzzle box. His secretary tells him there's still no word of Amy, who has been missing since she left the hospital. The final shot is of a picture of Amy on Charles' shelf, the camera zooming in to her eyes.

Cue the credits.

I would LOVE to read the original version of this script before Tim Day got ahold of it, because this was a VERY interesting story until it became a Hellraiser movie. Seriously, the first half hour or so of this movie is damn near perfect in terms of everything. But then it all goes to hell with a vengeance as ONCE AGAIN nearly everything that happened in the last hour of the movie never really happened. I'm getting a little- fuck that, I'm sick and tired of these sequels turning into the EXACT SAME MOVIE. Shoot, even Jason Voorhees mixes things up a bit by turning into a demonic hellworm or a cyborg every now and then! But no, all of these straight-to-video movies have been dead all along/it was all a dream.

How many times can I say how terrible this kind of storytelling is? No, I'm actually asking you because I still have two of these movies left and my thesaurus is running low on words for “fucking sucks”! You want one of the most literal examples of style of substance possible? Here ya go, just watch any of the last three movies. Hell, watch ANY of these damn movies, it really doesn't matter. This one did look AMAZING though, Bota elevated his direction to elite status and delivered impressive scene after scene, ESPECIALLY when Amy found Marla's “dead” body in the bathroom. That's some Grade A work right there.

The acting was surprisingly pretty good too, the entire picture rested on Kari Wuhrer's shoulders and she carried it quite well. There are a few cringe worthy moments, basically anytime she has to show intense emotion, but they're scant enough it was nowhere near as jarring as the underwhelming performances she'd go on to do a few months later in the last two Prophecy movies. Maybe she just had severe jet lag after all the trips to Romania? Doug Bradley was good as always, something I haven't bothered to point out the last few reviews because I take him for granted now. Pinhead is literally a pointless character to the series after the third movie, but when he shows up on screen you are DAMN sure going to pay attention to his rambling nonsense because Bradley delivers it with so much damn conviction.

I would say this is easily the best Hellraiser movie since the third one, even if the second half tries its hardest to fuck up all the goodwill the first half builds up. I'd give this a pretty high recommendation, just have something else to divert your attention for the last hour because if you're not paying full attention this would probably be a damn good movie.

Now let's see Pinhead's take on the internet!