In the age of streaming, which I assume will soon be replaced by media loaded directly into your brain (thank you very much Demolition Man and Black Mirror), DVDs/Blu-Rays remain a sadly endangered species. It’s a fabulous feeling walking into a pawn shop or thrift store and being able to buy whole sets of movies or shows for a fraction (or less) of their original cost. Imagine being my age, when failure to return or the need to replace a VHS tape from a video store would likely incur a cost of around $49.99 or more. Here comes IMDB to the rescue, reminding us that there were indeed DVDs and they had cover art, credits, and of course, a plot summary. Ah, the plot summary. A bite-sized preview of what’s to come. Here we go. Let me just read the plotline directly off of the Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002) DVD case. This’ll definitely save me some time recounting the story from memory.
“When the puzzle box is solved and the gates of hell are cast open, an old nemesis must prevent the fearsome Cenobites from turning the Earth into a flaming pit of eternal torment in this installment of the long-running Hellraiser series. In his entire demonic history, only Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) has ever had the power to defeat the mighty Pinhead (Doug Bradley). Now that the puzzle has been solved again, Pinhead is back, and Kirsty must summon the powers of light to defeat the fury of hell and send her old nemesis screaming into the fire.”
Well, that certainly sounds like an exciting movie. The return of Kirsty Cotton, world domination, an epic showdown years in the making. Only minor issue is that literally none of that happens in Hellseeker. This is the most blatant case of fraudulent advertising since my suit against the film The Neverending Story.
Seriously though, nothing like that happens. Once again, this time not for the better, an existing script, likely involving a cheating husband and a vengeful wife, was heavily re-written to squeeze Pinhead into it. The credited writers are one Tim Day, an electrical grip-turned-writer who probably has quite a few stories from working on Poison Ivy, Roger Corman’s infamous The Fantastic Four, 3 Ninjas (and its sequel), The Mask, and Bio Dome, and one Carl V. Dupre, who achieved immediate icon status as the writer of Detroit Rock City. They have “crafted” a screenplay which jumps from one thing to another, with little regard for logic. Where Hellraiser: Inferno used a detective mystery structure to introduce strange, borderline-nonsensical scenes, Hellseeker goes for more of a mental patient’s psyche, constantly shifting from fantasy to reality in a way that feels less plot-driven than just a paint splatter of disturbing images.
Rick Bota, who would go on to helm two more Hellraiser films, is a cinematographer-turned-director with some kooky DP credits, including Barb Wire, many Tales From The Crypt episodes as well as the first movie, and of course The Babysitter, a movie that ran on cable ad nauseum and which I knew was not for my eyes but I was fourteen, damnit! It’s been said that Barker enjoyed this film and I can understand why. Save for an overexposed sex scene and some Cenobite twins, Hellraiser: Inferno was lacking in the dark sexuality that set the original Hellraiser apart from other gorefests. Hellseeker brings the sex back in full force. Nary a scene goes by where some comely lass doesn’t want to jump Mayhem’s, I mean Dean Winters’ bones.
I’m pleased to be able to skip writing “the late” in front of Dean Winters’ name. Let’s face it, we almost lost him. Winters brings a sleazy energy to most of the roles he’s played, mainly for television, with roles as Ryan O’Reilly on Oz, Dennis Duffy on 30 Rock, Avi the lawyer in John Wick, and The Vulture on Brooklyn Nine-Nine being stand outs. If Oz had begun the new Golden Age of Television instead of The Sopranos a couple years later, Winters would likely be a legendary actor. His portrayal of the crafty and unscrupulous O’Reilly was a stunning piece of work and one of the best characters on a show full of memorable roles. Hellseeker was clearly made in between seasons of Oz and it’s always nice to see an actor of genuine talent get a shot at the lead in a feature, even if it’s direct-to-video. The role of Trevor is that of an irresistible sex machine, at least in theory so the story can make sense. Dean Winters is NOT a sex machine. That fact certainly doesn’t stop him from trying.
Ashley Laurence returning as Kirsty should be a triumphant moment for the series but her role is severely limited. She disappears for long stretches and was reportedly paid very little for her trouble. The plot is, to jump ahead to the twist, a check up on Kirsty and Pinhead. What happened after Hellbound? What did she do with her life? One thing she did was get hitched to Trevor, who is seemingly unaware, and so is the viewer, that Kirsty has a substantial inheritance. After a well-filmed car accident where Kirsty drowns despite Trevor’s rescue attempt, her body is never recovered. There’s an indication that surgeons “did things” to Trevor’s brain, but it’s merely a cutaway that isn’t paid off in any satisfying way. Trevor sees things and people whom we already suspect aren't real but we have to go with it to see how Pinhead is going to figure into this whole mess.
While he’s being investigated by detectives, including the ridiculously patient Detective Lange (William S. Taylor) and his more abrasive partner Detective Givens (Michael Rogers) who practically bathes in the glow of Trevor’s guilt, he gets bullied into sex by various ladies, including his boss (Sarah-Jane Redmond) and his neighbor (Jody Thompson). Since the movie has that slick but cheap look of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, these scenes look like softcore porn with better actors and no actual sex. There’s an odd dichotomy to Winters playing this character. On the one hand, he seems like the type to sleep around so soon after the tragic death of his wife, but on the other, he doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy who exudes raw, animal magnetism. All of this is explained later, you understand, but during the initial viewing, it comes off as a desperate attempt to spice up boring scenes. As if this wasn’t enough, Trevor’s perfectly-named douchebag friend Bret (Trevor White) privately reminds Trevor about their plan to knock off Kirsty, to which Trevor pleads ignorance.
Winters wanders around for a while, even stopping off in a sweat shop/curio store where a merchant (played by a heavily disguised Doug Bradley) sells him a familiar looking ball (and actually name-drops LeMarchand. SEE?! IT’S ALL CONNECTED!!!). The ball turns into a box, THE box, and then he's finally brought downstairs to the morgue by Lange. Did I say Lange? I meant Lange-Givens, because his head sprouts out of Lange’s through some ghastly CGI effects. Kirsty is there to explain the plot. She knew Trevor was cheating on her and that he planned to have her killed, so she made a deal with her old pal Pinhead. Five souls in exchange for hers. Trevor’s soul is the fifth. We cut back to the car crash where, in an insanely stupid moment, Kirsty shoots Trevor and then claims he committed suicide while driving, which Lange, appearing with only one head, believes. A doctor whom Trevor saw earlier pops up, Kirsty gets the box back, bada bing bada boop.
This was the first Hellraiser film I simply didn’t enjoy. There are some good isolated moments and it’s always nice to see Winters, but the film is confusing and feels padded, desperately trying to reach 90 minutes, which it also falls a minute short of. A nifty scene or two, including a sex tape turned snuff film and a well-done acupuncture scene can’t distract from the aimless quality the film possesses. Ashley Laurence deserved better than this and she shines in her few scenes thanks to some well-earned character history recognition and an inner strength that shines through, despite the lack of much purpose. Hellseeker represented another drop in a horror series that seems unlikely to recover.