Dir. Rick Bota (2005)
A group of people claim that they can bring the dead to life, drawing the attention of an undercover journalist who is intrigued by their abilities.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
It takes a lot to keep a story fresh, new concepts and evolutions of an overarching story that adds to the lore without taking away what made the original concept intriguing in the first place. After all, there's only so far you can stretch "a puzzle box brings demons." The concept of a box that opens the door for demons to pass through to Earth, and that those demons are tasked with inflicting torture through the pain/pleasure principle on people, is intriguing, and it's rife for new ideas about what kinds of people would be seeking the mysteries contained in the box and why. Rather than just resorting to the old standbys normally used by the more famous horror franchises ("In this one, Leprechaun is in space!"), Hellraiser has done a pretty good job so far of continually crafting new ideas to take the series in different directions from the movies that preceded, new groups of people with their own unique reasons to open the box. This time, it's... grungy hipsters who have a sort of death cult and are using the power of the box to raise people from the dead.
As to whether this was, indeed, a good idea... well that idea remains open to interpretation. Kari Wuhrer plays an investigative journalist named Amy Klein who is known the world over for infiltrating the dregs of society to bring interesting stories to us normies that wouldn't be caught dead in some crack den but are desperate to find out what goes on in worlds of which we are not a part. She works for a London newspaper after being ousted from her American newspaper for reasons unknown. She is sent to Bucharest, Romania by her boss to research a mysterious videotape that was received by the newspaper, showing a group of people killing one of their members and subsequently raising them from the dead. Immediately upon arrival, she finds one of their members hanging in a bathroom with the Lament Configuration clutched in her rigor mortised hands. Upon solving it, she is immediately wrapped up with chains and visited by the Spiky Man himself, waking from her "dream" and being not at all deterred from continuing down the path that she has set before her. I gotta say, I would likely not have the same reaction.
Her travels take her to an abandoned portion of the London Underground, where Amy's abusive past continually appears in flashbacks as a way of explaining her obsession with the outcasts. A couple of decent jumpscares are peppered in along the way, something that was avoided for the most part in the previous entries in the series. They're used smartly, though, giving the movie a much more modern flair than you'll usually find in the Hellraiser movies, though the extent to which that's a good thing is up to the individual audience's perspective. I'm generally not a huge fan of jumpscares, but these are used well enough that I thought it only added to the experience.
The weird death cult is a cool idea, a modern take on what I would have imagined would have risen up around the Lament Configuration had it been designed hundreds of years before it actually was. Placing them in an underground lair where they dwell below the surface of normal society fits very well aesthetically into the world of Hellraiser, and director Rick Bota (who previously helmed Hellseeker and filmed Hellworld at the same time as this one) does a great job of alternating between the warm tones above the ground and the cool blues of the normal Hellraiser cinematography. His good choices make sense, as Bota is better known as the cinematographer of films like Valentine and a ton of episodes from Tales from the Crypt (both of which I'll hopefully get around to reviewing one of these days). While its inarguable that there is indeed a diminishing return from each of the Hellraiser sequels so far, it's encouraging that there wasn't a huge drip in actual quality and all of them look fairly decent and have some pretty good effects. Deader is no different.
The primary crime of Deader is that it doesn't really do enough with what started as a really exceptional idea. The concept of a death cult surrounding the Lament Configuration is a great one to explore, and Deader does a decent idea but never goes quite far enough. The execution of what could've been a stellar concept is just a tad off, though its accomplished as well as possible by Wuhrer. She's not a phenomenal actress but she's more than up to the task of carrying this film. She's believable and badass enough that it's easy to see her as the no-nonsense journalist who's not afraid to push her own limits. Unfortunately for her character, those limits end up involving an ancient Hell Priest who is looking to take down the insolent humans who dare to play within his world.
Of course, as has been the case since Bloodline, there is a little involvement with the descendant of the Lemarchand family as well, and I won't give away the surprise here as to who the lineage runs through in this film. What I will say is that it's a relatively clever twist, one that I wasn't expecting. Unfortunately, his death is the only really interesting one in this film. There are some great effects during a few scenes, but most of the actual kills in the film are relatively tame. Just a lot of hooks and hooks alone. Somewhere between Hellseeker and this film, Pinhead forgot how to actually torture people. The mild kills keep the film from elevating as much as the lackluster use of the unique plot, making the film perhaps a better movie but one that didn't have a chance in hell of achieving the cult status of the first film. Blah should never be a word used to describe a Hellraiser film, yet there we are.
All in all, while the plot of the film is at least somewhat entertaining throughout, it never reaches the heights of some of the previous films. It is an altogether ho-hum effort that falls somewhere just north of terrible. It's also the first film with no real changes in the appearance of the Cenobites: for people looking for new things to fear in the dark, you're gonna get pretty much nothing from this one. It's worth a watch if you're a fan of the series, just to say you've seen them all if nothing else, but it's also not a whole lot to write home about. I'd put this one just ahead of Bloodline in quality but just behind Hellseeker in entertainment value.
Who this movie is for: Hellraiser aficionados, Early 2000's horror fans, Jared Leto and his hipster cult that I can only assume works exactly like this one
Bottom line: Nothing new but not a terrible film. Kari Wuhrer does a passable job in the lead and the aesthetics of the cinematography will be pleasing to fans of the series, but there's nothing groundbreaking in this one and it'll only be enjoyable for diehard fans of the series. Gone are the days of disturbing Hellraisers, and this one doesn't take any steps to head back in the direction of the originals.