Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
The direct-to-video end of the Hellraiser franchise has not yielded very admirable results. However, I found this entry to be a great surprise. Granted, this one doesn’t have a lot of Hellraiser-style gore, but gore alone does not make a Hellraiser film. Although, one early scene might spur thoughts from Hellbound, and I feel this is the best sequel since Hellbound: Hellraiser II. While this does share some elements with Hellraiser: Inferno, it blends everything together very nicely for a superior film. It is a whole twisting story that wraps itself with past mythology and storylines featuring the return of Ashley Laurence.
We open to Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) and her now husband, Trevor (Dean Winters), driving down the road speaking vaguely of things we are yet to understand. They start playfully fooling around, start kissing, but Trevor narrowly misses a head-on collision with an SUV which swerves the car off the bridge into the river. Tthe car sinks, Trevor escapes, but is unable to free Kirsty. Naturally, Trevor believes she drowned to death, but her body cannot be found. Trevor wakes up to some amnesia along with several disturbing experiences, but he takes them as nightmares due to his head trauma. Trevor is re-oriented to his peculiar surroundings including his sexually aggressive boss Gwen, his sexy young neighbor in his apartment complex, and his somewhat oddly-behaving co-worker and friend Bret. Trevor is plagued by bizarre images and nightmarish experiences all the while more and more of his memory returns. He can’t explain why someone dies in his apartment, but then, reappear alive with no memory of such events. Or why he sees an image in the video camera happening right before him, but yet, it isn’t. Why he feels he’s being watched or followed by a faceless, dark figure. None of it makes sense to him. One cop believes he’s done nothing wrong, but another believes he killed his wife. The further it all progresses, the more it comes together like any sort of puzzle. It’s all cleverly woven into a worthy sequel to the first two Hellraiser films.
I really have to say that I think Dean Winters is a severely under-recognized talent. He’s an actor with a lot of charisma and emotional strength capable of being a major leading man. He always puts everything he has into everything he does. Hellraiser: Hellseeker is no different. He carries this film excellently reflecting various states of confusion, heartfelt emotion, inquisitiveness, menace, and passion. He embodies that wide range with ease and depth. With both how the story is structured, and the honest quality of his performance, even in the end, I didn’t really despise Trevor despite what he tried to do to Kirsty. You can come to feel empathy for Trevor as the man you’ve come to know over the course of this film instead of the man he really was.
The entire cast really is a solid mixture. Detective Lange is given plenty of humanity and compassion by William S. Taylor, and conversely, Detective Givens is nicely hard edged and abrasive by way of Michael Rogers. The ladies of the film are all very attractive, and handle the steamy, seductive aspects of their roles with a lot of passion and assertiveness. There’s definite some stimulating sexually charged action in the movie that further throws Trevor into a whirlwind of confusion.
Doug Bradley puts in one of his best performances here. Of course, he portrays Pinhead, and does so with a lot of chilling, intimidating vigor. He seemed very amped up for this script as it gives him a very juicy role that he sinks his teeth into very deeply. The film puts in just the right amount of Pinhead to keep him compelling with just a few poignant scenes. Since they avoid over indulging in the character, those scenes have strong impact which had been missed in the last several entries. The previous film, Hellraiser: Inferno, had so little Pinhead in it that he had nearly zero impact. Hellseeker gets it right. Bradley also portrays a sort of second character which he brings a different, yet similar quality to. He’s more cryptic and tempting in a subtle fashion that is very effective. His performance as this Merchant really sets a foreboding, mysterious tone for much of the film. The scene is very nicely interspersed throughout the film as Trevor flashes back to it every so often to reveal more of it.
The structure used here to build up these very vivid and terrifying hallucinations, and slowly reveal the darker truths surrounding Trevor is, dare I say, very brilliant. While it’s not all that original of a structure, the execution is just so exceptionally effective. The hallucinations are startling and constantly unnerving to an audience who must regularly question the reality of the situation. The mysterious aspects are greatly interwoven for a very compelling story that moves at strong, steady pace. Overall, this is just an exceptionally well written and executed script that has a strong punch of a twist ending.
The film was directed by Rick Bota, who had previously been an amazing cinematographer on a number of movies. So, it’s no surprise that he makes this film look far above its direct-to-video status. He clearly worked extensively with director of photography John Drake to create a very textured and moody look for Hellseeker with its blue and green tones. It creates a hardened, cold aesthetic that benefits the story very well. There is plenty of grit in the darker visuals and a rich depth of contrast that enhances the moodiness. The visuals really have a lot of weight and integrity, and the camera work is very solid. There’s plenty of dramatic angles, used sparingly, and competent camera movement to give this film production value and artistic quality. Overall, this is a film that is shot very solidly.
While the Steven Edwards’ score is definite departure from the classic Christopher Young style music, it suits this film nicely. There are some electric guitar pieces mixed in with the orchestral work, and I think that gives this Hellraiser film a bit more respectable self-identity. The score of Edwards surely supports the unnerving and startling tone that is so very well executed by Rick Bota.
Hellseeker still unsettled me after several years since my last watch of it. There were plenty of graphic sequences that made me squirm and wince. These are great story beats that weave into the overall plot smartly by the end. Nothing’s ever gratuitous. It all has a purpose once understood in retrospect. The effectiveness of this nerve twitching moments are a testament to both the amazing make-up effects work of Gary Tunnicliffe, and the digital effects work headed up by Jamison Goei. Regardless of a direct-to-video budget, the results of both are greatly impressive. Tunnicliffe really raised the standards of practical effects back to the first two films of the franchise. I will admit that the Cenobites still have the same quality as they do in the other later sequels, they are surely photographed better. The visual effects of Goei are very admirable on this kind of level. I’ve seen big budget summer blockbusters with horrendous CGI, but here, it’s quite good. It’s not Jurassic Park quality, but for a horror franchise of this budget, it’s superior to what you’d likely expect.
All in all, this is a damn good sequel. While I do feel this is the best sequel since Hellbound, don’t go thinking that this is a comparison to the first two films because it’s not. Those are different styles of stories than this. It’s a far more suspenseful, creepy, and mysterious film. It’s not so dependent on the Cenobites to drive the story forward. It has its surreal, bewildering qualities as Trevor’s own perception of reality is increasingly distorted. This is what Hellraiser: Inferno should have been, but failed greatly by detaching itself from any backstory or mythology that the series had been built on. That’s what Hellraiser is, it’s a story built on mythology as well as inner and outer conflicts. To lose the mythology and the backstory really doesn’t make it feel like Hellraiser. From the very beginning of the original Hellraiser, we’ve got mythology and history that was rich with depth. That’s what gives this series its strength. Pinhead and the rest of the Hellraiser mythos have so much that is yet to be known. There’s so much fertile ground that can still be harvested for further stories such as this one. With something as vast and as dark as Leviathan’s realm, there has to be much more that can be told about it.
While this was another original script re-written and adapted to be a Hellraiser film, I believe those writers did a solid job doing so. Tying the entire story into Kirsty was exciting and smart. Seeing her and Pinhead square off yet again was awesome, and acknowledged some substantive history with the franchise. On the DVD, there is an extended version of that scene which is very well written re-treading their back story that better explains why Pinhead sought her out. It’s only too bad that Ashley Laurence reportedly said Dimension Films only paid her enough for a single payment on a refrigerator. That stings, a lot! Regardless of that, she still put in her all for this performance, and it was a great stronger, edgier side to the character which fit perfectly into this excellent story.
This film really stands up, and it’s good that you learn things along with Trevor. You’re about as confused as he is as these bizarre, horrific, and startling events keep intruding on what he believes is reality. It’s all a puzzle that both you and Trevor discover together. It’s a film that really pays respect to the origins of the franchise, and continues on Kirsty’s story in a very intelligent way. Rick Bota proved he could be a solid director of horror with the right script. The film has a great level of grit and harden atmosphere that sets a perfect unsettling and creepy tone. Simply said, Hellraiser: Hellseeker is one to see for any Hellraiser fan!