Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #656
Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 7, 2005
Sub-Genre: Psychological/Body Horror
Country of Origin: United States, Romania
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Rick Bota
Producers: David S. Greathouse, Rob Schmidt, Stan Winston
Screenplay: Neal Marshall Stevens, Tim Day
Based on characters by Clive Barker
Special Effects: Gary J. Tunnicliffe, Snowy Highfield, Mike J. Regan, Claire Jane Vranian
Visual Effects: Jamison Scott Goei
Cinematography: Vivi Dragan Vasile
Score: Henning Lohner
Editing: Anthony Adler
Studios: Dimension Films, Stan Winston Productions, Neo Art & Logic
Distributors: Dimension Home Video, Miramax Films
Stars: Kari Wuhrer, Paul Rhys, Simon Kunz, Marc Warren, Georgina Rylance, Doug Bradley, Ionut Chermenski, Hugh Jorgin, Linda Marlowe, Madalina Constantin, Ioana Abur, Constantin Barbulescu, Daniel Chirea, Maria Pintea
♫ Suggested Audio Jukebox
 Iceferno Hellraiser Theme (Remix)
 Hed PE Raise Hell
I feel for Clive Barker, really I do. His beloved Hellraiser franchise started so strongly, capturing the imagination of genre fans, whether or not they were familiar with his source fiction. The original arrived at just the right time, when horror desperately needed fresh direction, and under his assured direction, captured the spirit of his work rather exquisitely. The sequel, while not quite matching up to its predecessor, came pretty damn close and introduced us to the gloriously grotesque Dr. Philip Channard in the process. From that point on however, control was gradually wrestled away from him as the series started to move in an entirely different direction. The next three entries weren’t without merit but the studio’s plans didn’t tally with his own and eventually he washed his hands of his once proud legacy. Yet the wheels just kept on turning regardless.
By the time Scott Derrickson’s Hellraiser: Inferno landed in our in-trays, Pinhead and his entourage had been relegated to token walk-on parts and body horror took a back seat to slow-burning psychological terror. To be fair, Derrickson’s slick direction and an assured turn from Craig Sheffer lifted it some way above mediocrity but long-suffering fans were now beginning to lose patience with the franchise. Rick Bota’s Hellraiser: Hellseeker then alienated them further by attempting much the same thing, only this time an uninspired performance from its lead Dean Winters overshadowed a return by go-to-girl Ashley Laurence. However, Bota wasn’t about to be discouraged and shot the next two installments back-to-back. The first to emerge was Hellraiser: Deader and the similarities between this and the last two entries is almost impossible to ignore.
It’s worth noting that the seventh installment was a pre-existing screenplay by Neal Marshall Stevens long before the cenobites were shoehorned in for effect. Barker had absolutely no involvement with the project and it shows as there seems precious little justification in poor Doug Bradley spending several hours in a make-up chair (or applying it himself as was the case by this point) just to spout some decidedly uninspired dialogue and look menacing. This is not to suggest that Hellraiser: Deader is completely bereft of charm, it’s actually a reasonable cult-based tale with a couple of rather significant upsides. But that wasn’t sufficient to win over legions of embittered fans and stop Bota’s film from fading into straight-to-video obscurity. Whatever Deader actually means, it’s more than a little ironic when you think about it.
Our story commences in an inner city crack house at the break of dawn as hard-boiled investigative reporter Amy Klein (Kari Wuhrer) decides she’s got what she came for (surreptitious footage, the full scoop, vague coke problem) and bids adieu to her fellow tweakers. Rest is a luxury that the wicked don’t have at their disposal and it’s straight back to the daily grind for Amy as her superior, Charles (Simon Kunz), swiftly drops another assignment into her lap.
This one will entail catching the red-eye to Bucharest, Romania and checking in with “The Deaders”, a satanic cult who appear to have sussed out a manner in which to reanimate those recently departed. To provide a general flavor, Charles plays her a video tape that depicts the ritualistic snuffing – and subsequent resurrection – of a female member of this cruel collective. By her own admission, Amy isn’t one not to prod the beehive, and her eyes are red already, thus she accepts the challenge and catches the very next outward fight to embark on her busman’s holiday. I wonder if a crack pipe is permitted in one’s hand luggage.
No sooner has she touched down in Europe, than Amy heads directly to the return address of the VHS to search for clues on the whereabouts of the cult’s leader, Winter LeMarchand (Paul Rhys). Presumably Romanian police aren’t known for their thorough approach to cleaning crime scenes as there’s a suspended corpse awaiting her inside the fly-ridden apartment who appears to be clutching some pretty crucial evidence in her cold, dead hand. Not one to ignore an ornate trinket as enigmatic as The Lament Configuration, she pockets this curious cube and scurries off to snoop about some more.
Next on Amy’s travel itinerary is to sniff around the seedy Bucharest subculture which just so happens to be situated on a dilapidated subway train. Decked out to appeal to every last hedonistic hankering, this dingy den doubles up as base for contact Joey (Marc Warren) and he claims to know a thing or two about “The Deaders” and the implications of seeking them out which he proposes to share with Amy through the form of playful riddle.
Sporting a set of white chocolate bunched braids and more than a whiff of the inexplicable, there’s something vaguely ironic about Joey’s appearance, and this harbinger of doom duly informs her of any outrageous misfortune inbound. His warning to our roving reporter is as clear as the clamps on his nipples, but he’s also more than aware that she’s not one to be dissuaded and seems to get off on her gluttony for punishment. “Don’t open the box” appears to be the general consensus but such sound advice translates to “open the goddamn box already” in Amy’s mind. I can only imagine she suspects there’s a crack rock within.
Negative on the Class A’s, although there is a pre-loaded boxing glove of sorts to offer a fairy cast-iron indication of where things are headed. Enter all manner of phantasms, flashbacks and dream sequences as Amy’s already tenuous grip on reality begins to slacken. You have to give her those dues, she’s a trooper for sure and attempts to take each waking nightmare in her stride. You see, she has a date with a certain somebody to show up for and he’s not the kind of prickly yahoo to keep waiting.
Hellraiser: Deader is a bizarre little movie. Somehow inexplicably it manages to bore and fascinate in the equal measure. The detective work is painfully protracted and a brisk 89 minutes often feel like they’re dragging. Considering Bota is telling a simple story, the narrative feels unnecessarily muddled, and this is unlikely to please the long-suffering legion of fans whose patience has already been severely tested. That said, Vivi Dragan Vasile’s hazy photography and various well implemented set-pieces combine persuasively as its numerous plot holes and contrivances begin to gape.
A huge plus here is Wuhrer, whose spirited turn as our beleaguered lead is more than on-point and she deserves great credit for not once fumbling the baton, which is more than can be said for her predecessor. She effortlessly discloses her character’s gradual decline into despair, even though the initial air given off by Amy is one of the unflappable, and almost single-handedly ensures that our attention remains undistracted through any lulls in the narrative. Alas, there’s only so much in her power to sell, and for all her very best efforts, Hellraiser: Deader struggles to generate sufficient interest to overlook its shortcomings.
To be fair, the closing act affords the cenobites time to put their sadomasochistic stamp on proceedings and ties up rather neatly all things considered. Bota’s film would probably have been better served developing its own identity as opposed to attempting to stymie the masses. Romania is known for its dirt cheap production services and Dimension Films were all about those easy-wins, so it seemed to make shrewd financial sense shelling out for Bradley’s return flight ticket. Alas, we’ll never know whether Hellraiser: Deader could have stood on its own two feet and that’s a shame as it’s certainly not without its dark pleasures. Ultimately however, they’re never quite enough to numb the pain.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: One area where Bota’s film isn’t found wanting is the splatter, and after Hellseeker uncharacteristically skimped on the grue, here there is plentiful flesh-ripping goodness to indulge in and the practical effects are generally well up to snuff. There’s a glorious moment whereby Amy feels the pinch of cold steel in her spine and it’s a joy watching her attempt to dislodge it for more reasons than one.
Read Hellraiser Appraisal
Read Hellbound: Hellraiser II Appraisal
Read Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth Appraisal
Read Hellraiser: Bloodline Appraisal
Read Hellraiser: Inferno Appraisal
Read Hellraiser: Hellseeker Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Grueheads Films 2017