John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser VII: Deader (2005), a trippy, cult-driven mystery of resurrection.
MY CALL: It might be fair to say that the Hellraiser sequels continue to drop in quality with each subsequent release. However, they remain quite watchable and enjoyable, even if not “good” Hellraiser movies at this point. This, like parts V and VI, is a standalone movie with a horror-mystery edge. I think it’s worthwhile for the adventurous or Hellraiser completists. MORE MOVIES LIKE Deader: Be sure to see Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) first, of course. Then maybe Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (1992) and Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996). Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) and Hellseeker (2002) are more standalone films, along with this part VII.
*************How it fits in the franchise (minor franchise spoilers)*************
Directed by Rick Bota (Haven, Hellraiser VI-VIII), this seventh installment to the Hellraiser franchise follows Inferno (2000) and Hellseeker (2002) by presenting another stand-alone story. Hellraiser was a dark chamber thriller fueled by lustful desire, Hellbound more of a curious exploration of Clive Barker’s Hell-ish Labyrinth and his Cenobites, Hell on Earth was a troped-up action/horror movie chronicling Pinhead’s own escape from Hell, Bloodline an anthology story illustrating the creation and lineage of the Puzzle Box, Inferno a crime thriller neatly packaged in the dark trappings of the Puzzle Box, Hellseeker yet another murder-mystery crime thriller, and now we follow in the steps of parts V and VI (Inferno and Hellseeker) with crime, cults, mystery and mysticism. From its very start we expected Hellseeker to be playing out the flashbacked fantasies of someone already condemned to Hell and, like Hellseeker, Deader isn’t overly predictable.
There may be an admittedly significant drop in quality in the third and fourth films from the original two, and yet another such drop for the fifth, sixth and this seventh direct-to-video installment, but it remains comforting that we never seem to find the same story simply recycled and retold with different victims. And more importantly, despite the drop in quality, I still enjoy them a lot! A major fault of Hell on Earth and Bloodline was the nuisance of over-exposition. I didn’t find that to be a problem in Deader (at least not until the third act) nor in parts V-VI.
The franchise continues to expand the Hellraiser mythology, although with less impact here than before. Whereas parts I-IV revolve around the Box or Pinhead (Doug Bradley), parts V-VI and this chapter are illustrative of what experiences befall those damned souls who open the Box. Thus, we see much less of Pinhead and focus more on our curious and potentially damned souls—as it probably should be. Now with part VII, Amy’s journey begins as a rational investigation of something potentially supernatural, shifts to supernatural experiences of her own, and ultimately steers us into what feels like a surreal dreamscape of her life.
***************How it fits in the franchise ***************
Meet Amy (Kari Wuhrer; Eight-Legged Freaks, Sharknado 2), a top-notch undercover investigative reporter. She does whatever it takes to nail the major scoops and now she’s been recruited to investigate the “deaders,” a group of Romanian cultists who appear to be able to resurrect the recently deceased following ritual suicide.
Upon arrival in Bucharest everything seems…well, appropriately wrong given this is a Hellraiser movie. A lead’s apartment wreaks of rotting flesh and flies, and houses a dead body clutching the Puzzle Box artifact after an apparent suicide. A video from the suicide victim admonishes us not to “open” the box. Which, of course, cues Amy’s interest to do exactly that.
From the moment the Puzzle Box is opened we are struck with the hooked-chain urgency of the old days. Well, perhaps it’s a bit weakened by the CGI. But whatever, they’re trying. An unfortunate trend in this franchise is that the effects go from “Holy Shit Awesome” (for their time and even today) in parts I-II, to pretty good in III-IV, to typical direct-to-DVD in V-VI. But fret not, it’s all still quite entertaining and Pinhead’s tissue-rending hooked chains get their pound of flesh. Some sloppy gory scenes are present, but it’s just not exactly in the dire theme to which we’re accustomed.
If anything about this film specifically bothered me, it would be that the new Cenobites don’t even seem to matter. Chatterbox is here… and some others. But they’re really just “there,” offering no substance. These Cenobites are more akin to Christmas tree ornaments. You may stop and enjoy noticing one here or there for a fleeting moment, but it’s the tree (i.e., Amy’s relationship with the Box) that we truly “see.” Even Pinhead is quite downplayed.
At times this movie tries to be a bit too neo-contemporary and, for all its effort to appear in-touch, this makes it feel momentarily out-of-touch…like it’s trying too hard to impress us with its self-awareness and social sub-cultured edginess. Much as Hell on Earth tried and failed to capture the big city club scene, so does Deader fail to capture whatever “this” all is… whether it be afterlife-challenging cultists or trippy underground punks. Speaking of whom, the Romanian underground subway seems to be a nihilistic Satanic sex trade loaded with disconcerting imagery.
Of course, Amy locates the cult, ends up in over her head, and this is the point at which the film sadly turns to heavy exposition to tell its story.
The final act is weird, bloody, weird, trippy, weird, culty and more weird. The film ends on a dark cyclical note after a finale offering honestly no satisfaction other than a gory rending, but that’s perfectly fine with me. I enjoyed most of the movie, so I won’t let the last five minutes ruin the experience. Although I was a bit bothered by how the ending seemed to violate our understanding of Pinhead’s influence and control regarding soul ownership and Box openers.
Parts I-III of this franchise should be watched in order. After seeing them, there seems to be no consequence to seeing part V, VI or VII before part IV outside of the fact that Bloodline is much better. This film is nothing special, nor is it even a “good” Hellraiser story—yet it’s not bad either. I take it for what it is and appreciate of it what I can. I didn’t regret watching it, and—while I wouldn’t necessarily “highly” recommend it to viewers—I have, in fact, seen it about four times now. It’s pretty neat.
Overall, I was pleased with this as a direct-to-DVD horror film, but disappointed as a major Hellraiser fan. In either case, I’d still recommend it (to a choice few of you). But only AFTER seeing parts I-IV.