I was working at a Blockbuster when the Hellraiser straight-to-video series first began, so I was thrilled to get to watch them a week before everybody else (one of the few perks of the job). While Inferno wholly satisfied me, I absolutely despised Hellseeker the first time I saw it. The problem was that I was expecting to watch the same movie that was described on the back of the box, but what I got was something entirely different. My second viewing of the movie, in which I was prepared for the plot, left me with a completely different impression.
But to belabor my point, here is the real plot of the film:
After their car crashes into a river, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) has gone missing, presumed dead, and her husband, Trevor (Dean Winters), is suffering from mild amnesia and serious migraines. As the days pass, Trevor finds himself completely alienated from his life and the people he interacts with, unsure of what is and isn’t reality. As his migraines increase in severity, they’re accompanied by more vivid and bizarre hallucinations, involving monsters, puzzle boxes and a sinister version of himself. Now a suspect in Kirsty’s disappearance and slowly going mad with pain, Trevor begins to doubt both himself and reality as he knows it.
Now, here is the description written on the back of the DVD:
Pinhead is back in “Hellraiser: Hellseeker”—the next chilling chapter in the electrifying “Hellraiser” legacy originated by frightmaster Clive Barker! When the puzzle box is once again solved, the devastating demon Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his legion return to unleash Hell on Earth and demolish all who dare oppose them! But standing in his way is Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence—“Hellraiser” I, II and III)—the only person who has defeated Pinhead in the past—and it’s up to her to save the world from the ultimate evil! Also featuring Dean Winters (“Oz”, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”)—you don’t want to miss any of the horror as Pinhead will stop at nothing to impose his ill will on eternity!
Notice a discrepancy or two, perhaps?
That is not even remotely what the movie is about. Ashley Laurence has less than ten minutes of combined screentime and rates little over a supporting character (though her actions and presence drive most of the plot). Meanwhile, Dean Winters, the real star of the movie, is reduced to a brief mention at the bottom of the synopsis. The box also makes the plot out to be something akin to Hellraiser III or Bloodline, with Pinhead trying to conquer the world. Not even close. As with the rest of the straight-to-video series, Hellseeker is a very personal tale which is anything but epic.
Do the people who write these box summaries even watch the movie? Apparently not.
Okay, that bit of pissing and moaning aside, Hellseeker is perhaps the most solid installment in the straight-to-video series. Like Inferno before it, Hellseeker takes a more intimate approach to the mythos in a manner similar to that of the Hellraiser comic book series, going in-depth into the sins of the main character which shape the Hell of their own making, rather than having them ripped apart by fishhooks and calling it a day.
As with Inferno, the protagonist of Hellseeker, Trevor, turns out to be anything but by the time the film concludes. You feel a modicum of sympathy for him, as he genuinely can’t remember the evil acts he performed before his encounter with the Cenobites, but once his true personality and motivations are made apparent, well, sucks to be him. It’s a bit of a retread from the last film’s lead, but I do enjoy seeing awful people get their just desserts. It’s one of the reasons I like Night Flier so much.
Director Rick Bota seems to have been heavily inspired by Jacob’s Ladder, crafting a chaotic and maddening atmosphere similar to that film’s, as well as including a few similar character archetypes and homages (such as the brain surgery hallucination). As a matter of fact, the film sometimes teeters on the edge of “inspiration” and “plagiarism”, as the plots of both movies have very similar resolutions. Regardless, there is enough fresh elements to keep it from falling into rip-off territory, and the presence of the Cenobites, established characters and the ever-present Hellraiser mythos keep it out of hot water.
Pinhead’s homies, the Cenobites, come in all shapes and sizes in this installment. To my disappointment, none of the Cenobites from Inferno make a return performance, but them’s the breaks. Accompanying the boss, we have Stitch (Sarah Hayward), a woman who’s all sewn together, Bound (Nancy Lilley), an obese woman in bondage, Surgeon (Dale Wilson), a crazy doctor with an even crazier head-brace, and Chatterer III (Mike J. Regan), a new interpretation of the classic Chatterer who looks identical to the original. In addition to that, he’s played by the same guy who played Torso in Inferno, who had a look inspired by the original Chatterer. These new guys will make call-backs for the next two Hellraiser films, though I found them to be a little bland. The NECA toyline gave some nice bios to Stitch and Surgeon and I’ve found myself liking them more than the others, if only because they have a smidgen of characterization.
Kirsty’s confrontation with Pinhead and the Cenobites, as seen in the final cut of the film, is fairly underwhelming. I could get over her being reduced to limited screentime in the movie, but her conversation with Pinhead was what I really wanted to see. Thankfully, the full version of the scene is available as a special feature on the DVD, and I have to say, it’s great. It makes me wonder why Bota reduced that scene for length, as it was so important, when he could have cut just about anything else to make room.
As it is in the film, the scene is very rushed, making Kirsty out to be flustered, panicky and desperate to save her own ass. In the uncut version, Kirsty is hardly caught in the headlights. She isn’t particularly frightened of Pinhead since she knows exactly how to play him and calculates a rather nasty scheme of her own in order to get revenge upon her evil husband. As Kirsty and Pinhead talk, plenty of references are made to the past films, enhancing the nature of their relationship (Pinhead even recalls how he sacrificed his life to save Kirsty from the Channard-Cenobite in Hellbound).
Possibly the best scene in the movie; a shame it was butchered to pieces for the final cut.
If you only want to give one film in the straight-to-video series a try, I’d suggest you go with Hellseeker. It began as one of my least favorite films in the series, but after a more appropriate inspection, it quickly became one of my favorites. Just don’t read the back of the DVD.