Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #655
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 15, 2002
Sub-Genre: Psychological/Body Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Rick Bota
Producers: Michael Leahy, Rob Schmidt
Screenplay: Carl V. Dupré, Tim Day
Based on characters by Clive Barker
Special Effects: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Visual Effects: Jamison Scott Goei, Kevin VanHook
Cinematography: John Drake
Score: Stephen Edwards
Editing: Anthony Adler, Lisa Mozden
Studios: Miramax, Dimension Films, Neo Art & Logic
Distributors: Dimension Home Video, Miramax Films
Stars: Dean Winters, Ashley Laurence, William S. Taylor, Rachel Hayward, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Jody Thompson, Kaaren de Zilva, Doug Bradley, Michael Rogers, Trevor White, Ken Camroux-Taylor, Dale Wilson, Gus Lynch, Kyle Cassie
Suggested Audio Jukebox
 Sneaker Pimps “6 Underground”
 Stephen Edwards “Main Title”
Very few franchises ever make it to the magic number six and fewer still reach this milestone with any real degree of credibility. Take Children of The Corn and The Howling for example; neither so much reached this checkpoint beacon as stumbled over the line purely by accident and it’s hard to think of a solitary entry in either collection without a wry smile and accompanying cringe. The current count on Hellraiser is nine with a tenth currently in the making, and the general consensus is that the wheels came off the cart long before Víctor García’s shameful Hellraiser: Revelations which only came about in the first place as Dimension Films were set to lose the rights. While it’s clear to see the gradual decline in quality as the series has worn on, none of the films with the exception of the last have been without a slither of merit at the very least. It appears that you’ve damned regardless of whether you do or don’t, and given my tendency to look unerringly on the bright side, at least Pinhead and pals have received some kind of service.
That said, any involvement from Clive Barker dried up some time ago and there was precious little of his original concept remaining once the studio assumed sole ownership of his much sought after intellectual property. Rick Bota’s Hellraiser: Hellseeker reportedly pleased him most of all the sequels and he was quietly impressed by how closely it nailed the first film’s tone. In fairness, he did actually offer cursory input to the project, particularly with the closing act, but that didn’t stop it heading straight to video and ultimately perpetual limbo. Having recently paid Scott Derrickson’s Hellraiser: Inferno a visit and been quietly impressed with my time there, there seemed no better time to set the Lament Configuration to its sixth configuration and provide Bota’s film some context.
As far as rolling starts go, the reintroduction of Hellraiser’s very own reigning queen, Kirsty Cotton-Gooden (Ashley Laurence), certainly assists in sparking some plugs. Out for a nice, relaxing country drive with husband Trevor (Dean Winters), all ghosts of her past appear to have been long since vanquished. Alas, looks can deceive and things aren’t quite as rosy as our first glance suggested. It’s unclear what exactly Trevor has done to drive a wedge between them crystal that he’s got some serious making up to do. Suddenly and without warning, he loses control of the wheel and the car careens off the bridge into the ravine below. Trevor manages to pull himself free from the fast-sinking wreckage, while Kirsty appears not to be quite so lucky.
When he eventually comes to, he is laid up in a hospital bed, and sporting a severe case of head trauma. Drifting in and out of consciousness and suffering all manner of lucid waking nightmares, things soon get worryingly real for Trevor as Detective Lange (William S. Taylor) shows up on the scene. According to Lange, Kirsty’s body is yet to be discovered and this makes him number one suspect in what is looking increasingly like foul play. Despite this bombshell being dropped in his lap, Trevor wastes no time in returning to work and things soon get a whole lot weirder. If the business card stating “All Problems Solved” that he happens across in his office space isn’t cause for concern, then the behavior of his co-workers most definitely is.
On the plus side, whatever hold he had over the opposite sex is evidently still strong as sexual advances start arriving from every conceivable direction. Between imperious boss lady Gwen (Sarah Jane Redmond), fetish-friendly neighbor Tawny (Jody Thompson), and exotic acupuncturist Sage (Kaaren De Silva), Trevor has no shortage of healing hands accessible to toss his junk. That said, all three appear to know something he doesn’t, and while selective amnesia is ensuring that he remains in the dark, the excruciating migraines and nightmarish hallucinations are making the shadows seem way less than hospitable. With his sanity steadily slipping away and the line between reality and fantasy becoming ever more blurry, desperate measures need to be taken before the net comes closing in around him.
So here’s where things start to fall apart. You see, while there are distinct parallels to Inferno, particularly its depiction of an unsympathetic character condemned to his own perpetual purgatory on account of his wicked ways, Winters fails to deliver with anything like the requisite conviction. I get that screenwriters Carl V. Dupré and Tim Day wish to portray Trevor as disconnected, but stunted dialogue aside, it feels suspiciously like the actor is entirely disinterested. Those familiar with his work on Oz and 30 Rock will no doubt swear blind that he has no issue emoting, but here, there is simply nothing behind the eyes. Worse still, his grimace vaguely resembles a smirk, so any hardship that befalls him appears only to further fuel his personal amusement. Given that Trevor is so critical to our investment, this really couldn’t bode less well.
To be fair, the final act twist saves Hellraiser: Hellseeker from flatlining and certain Jacob’s Ladder-style set pieces keep it afloat when it feels like Bota is all at sea. However, with Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his unruly entourage resigned once again to walk-on parts, all impetus is on Winters to play lifeguard and he barely seems bothered to tread water. It’s a shame as the film is not one of glaring foul-ups, more an ironic lack of identity. Subtract the cenobites from the mix and it’s bog-standard B-grade horror all the way, with too much preoccupation with ticking boxes to illicit its responses, and vacancy with regards to pushing the envelope in any way whatsoever. Laurence’s return is nothing less than welcome and she’s more integral to the plot than it appears at the offset, but she only serves as a reminder of how far this particular series has drifted from its fantastical origins.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The news here is less than encouraging as Hellraiser: Hellseeker is undoubtedly the least gruesome installment to date. This is not to say that it doesn’t have its moments however. The rendering of close-up brain surgery is suitably wince-inducing, while the customary hooks and chains make a fleeting flesh-ripping appearance. But regrettably there just isn’t sufficient soul to tear apart. Grue deficiency aside, Trev sure has the ladies twerking, an impressive feat given that his two-string repertoire comprises lurking, shirking and smirking. Whatever his secret, it’s evidently working. Must be packing some serious gherkin for the jerking.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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