7 October 2006 | mentalcritic
The best Hellraiser since Hellbound...
Hellraiser: Hellseeker has come under fire from viewers, mostly for the economic manner in which iconic character Pinhead is used. The most refreshing thing about episode six here is that Pinhead goes back to what Clive Barker intended him to be. Sort of the equivalent of the zombies in Romero's Dead films, if you get the drift. For those who don't, the whole point is that what Pinhead does to the principal characters is not nearly as important as what the principal characters do to each other. He is the final hammer when the characters have finished dragging each other down, and that is the way of all the best horror films. The real problem with Hellseeker is its lack of atmosphere. In the original, Barker takes his time to introduce each element, in particular the modest British family whose lives appear as regular as our own. Barker understood that relating to the victims, and even the victimisers to some degree, is a lot more important to an audience than a string of gruesome deaths. Rick Bota tries to provide similar setup, but fails.
It has been a bit of a while since I saw Ashley Laurence in a film, and she is in fine form here. She could probably play this role in her sleep (at times, it almost seems like she is). One problem we have in Hellseeker is that some of the most important moments in her story are missing. In the original, when we saw her open the box, we grit our teeth in suspense as the very fabric of the reality around her dissolved, and her conversation with Pinhead ensued. In the original, these shots showing the cosmetic details of hell served a very important function. They created a sense of foreboding that gave the entire rest of the film foundation. Rick Bota, unfortunately, is not able to pace himself, nor does he have an instinct for when too much really is too much. Characters in Hellseeker behave in ways that telegraph to the audience that some kind of twist is in the offing, and while it is a good twist, it is just an example of the fact that up to a point, hell works best when it is subtle.
Doug Bradley is back for the sixth time as everyone's favourite nail-headed character. Contrary to what some have suggested, I do not believe he is so much cashing a paycheque in this film. I think he is just on autopilot because he can literally play this devious character in his sleep. The sayings, mannerisms, and motions are as natural to him as eating and sleeping are to us. Nobody knows whether it was his idea or Doug's to portray the Satan character as he were once a dapper English gent, but Doug carries it off so well that he deserves an award. As seen in the third, and particularly fourth, films, everything can be going to ruin around him, and yet he will still effortlessly play this mannered gent who just happens to torture people as a job. The other cenobites do not get nearly as much screen time as was previously the case, however, and that also lets the side down somewhat. The sights of Chatterer and whatever that woman called herself really helped sell Pinhead as much as Pinhead himself at times. The other cenobites in Hellseeker are truly token appearances.
They say your hero(ine) is only as good as your villain, and that is certainly the case here. Dean Winters is a great villain, partly because he portrays the character so well, but also because it takes a while for his status as the true villain of the piece to become apparent. One of Clive Barker's great touches in the original is that, to an extent, every victim deserves what happens to them. Most of the film is taken up with establishing why Winters' character deserves what he gets, which makes the final twist of the film especially satisfying. It reestablishes Pinhead as a just, if somewhat peculiar, referee of hell. Seriously, watch parts three, then four, then this one, and try to reconcile each one with the statement made in the second: it is not hands that call us, it is desire. The whole conceit of The Hellbound Heart was that bored lowlifes seeking what they thought of as the ultimate in pleasure sought this box, and opened it only to find that its inhabitants' definition of pleasure varied drastically from theirs.
Unfortunately, not every aspect of the film is well done. The special effects that closed the original Hellraiser were as fake as hell, but the audience bought them because by that time, the film had drawn the audience in. The problem in Hellseeker is that it takes its sweet time to hook the audience, and thus the head-split routine that looks like something I could have done with an old Amiga 500 goes down as one of the funniest effects in horror. It comes at exactly the wrong time, producing laughs when what we needed was to be immersed in the Hellraiser atmosphere a little deeper. Normally, a laugh can be a good thing, especially when it comes at a time when the script or story could use it, but if ever there were a bad time, this is it. With the exception of Laurence, Winters, and especially Bradley, the acting is also high school drama level at best. The loose women, the work colleagues, the doctors, the general passers-by in the street, they all act as blank and vacant as Paris Hilton trying to feign having something relevant to say.
When all is said and done, Hellseeker is a seven out of ten. It is not nearly in the league of the first two films, but it is a massive improvement over three and four. Give it a chance, stop expecting Pinhead On Elm Street, and you might be pleasantly surprised.