Following Hellraiser: Hellseeker, the straight-to-video Hellraiser series continues right on track with its third installment: Hellraiser: Deader. I mentioned this in my Hellraiser: Inferno review, but it should be restated that these movies weren’t initially written to be Hellraiser films. They were original horror flicks, slightly rewritten to include Pinhead, the puzzle box and other Hellraiser trappings. This may sound repugnant, but the process actually works (for the most part). The fresh take on the series made both Inferno and Hellseeker quite enjoyable, giving them a vibe akin to that of the Hellraiser comic book series. In the case of Deader, however, I was left feeling that the Hellraiser elements actually got in the way of the original story, not blending in as well as with the previous installments.
Amy Klein (Kari Wuhrer) is a New York journalist working for a London newspaper, researching a story in Romania (girl gets around). It seems a bizarre cult known as the “Deaders” are all the rage with the self-destructive youth of the UK. Lead by the enigmatic Winter (Paul Rhys), hopeless young people brutally kill themselves, only to be brought back from the dead an instant later by their leader. Amy, a self-destructive troublemaker in her own right, finds herself falling into this cult against her will as Winter has chosen her for a bizarre purpose. His power to raise the dead has left him with one foot in Pinhead’s (Doug Bradley) domain, and only Amy is capable of opening and closing the dreaded puzzle box for him.
See how badly tacked on that bit about Pinhead and the puzzle box is to my summary? Well, it’s just like that in the actual movie. Deader features a very fascinating, surreal plot about an investigative journalist being drawn into a cult of necromancers against her will, her entire life getting turned upside down in the process. All the stuff with Pinhead and the Cenobites is tacked on very hastily and sloppily.
We find out at the end that Winter is a descendent of L’Merchant, the creator of the Lament Configuration as seen in Hellraiser: Bloodline. How this somehow gives him the ability to raise the dead is never discussed; it’s simply thrown in there as token continuity to appease fans. Pinhead scarcely has anything to do or any real reason to participate in the story; he’s just pissed that Winter is horning in on his territory and needs Amy to stop him. All this classic Hellraiser stuff simply comes across as wholly unnecessary, hardly meshing with the actual plot of the movie. Save for perhaps the climax, you could probably cut every scene with Pinhead and the Cenobites out of the movie and the plot would still make sense.
The actual story remains interesting, tacked on Hellraiser bits notwithstanding. Amy’s history as a reporter from New York probably could have been cut out; I imagine they only added it so American viewers could have a main character to identify with. What, we can’t identify with a British chick? She comes across as an obnoxious “tough girl” stereotype at first glance, but her character achieves some excellent fleshing out over the course of the movie, transforming her into something tolerable. Director Rick Bota fills the movie with all sorts of crazy flashbacks and hallucinations, constantly dropping Amy in different locations and times at the drop of a hat. You’re never really sure what’s real and what isn’t, which plays well with the actual concept of the “Deaders”, as they themselves aren’t sure if they’re real anymore or not.
Bota, who also directed Hellseeker, employs many of his usual tricks. The mix of hallucinations and flashbacks I already mentioned are a staple of his, though this time around they don’t seem quite as ripped from Jacob’s Ladder. One thing Bota is fond of is, er, well, it takes some description. The main character finds themselves on a hunt for the truth, which eventually leads them to a bizarre underground chamber populated by absolute fucking weirdos doing ridiculous, creepy shit in the background as the main character walks by. In Hellseeker, it was Trevor going to the old warehouse where he bought the puzzle box. Here, its Amy boarding a private subway train full of psycho ravers fucking each other while wearing cow skulls and shit like that, all while trying to find a guy named Joey (Marc Warren). It’s a very interesting trademark of the director, though hard to take seriously after the parody Beerfest did of it.
The Cenobites play a subdued role in this flick, as you could probably have guessed. Aside from Pinhead, they don’t even appear until the climax. Most are left over from Hellseeker, in fact. We have Chatterer III (Mike Jay), making his second appearance, Bound II (Snowy Highfield), who shares the same gimmick as the previous Bound but now a dude, and Stitch (Sarah Hayward), returning from Hellseeker.
An entirely new Cenobite named Little Sister (Laura Paraschiv) appears standing opposite of Chatterer, but scarcely gets any face time. She’s just a grey chick with her eyes sown shut, anyway. And finally, Spike (Snowy Highfield), a Cenobite with a big ole spike run through his face. His scenes were cut from the final film, but can be seen as extras on the DVD.
Deader marks the point where the so-far-decent straight-to-video series starts to wind down. There isn’t anything wrong with the story, characters or direction, but that not enough effort was put into working the Hellraiser angle into the final script, making them a rather unwelcomed presence in what would otherwise be an enjoyable standalone horror movie. That’s not to say Deader is unenjoyable as it is, just that it isn’t much of a Hellraiser movie.