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Hardcore Barker-ites can debate amongst themselves the relative quality of Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1998) and Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (1992), but at least those two sequels look and feel like actual movies. Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) thought the problem was a lack of outer space sci-fi material ... and we all know how that one turned out. (Hint: It turned out so awful that first-time director Kevin Yagher had his name removed from the credits.) And once Pinhead and his unseemly Cenobites were banished to the world of Direct-to-Video-Land, the wheels promptly fell off the series in a huge and dreary way.
Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) and Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002) were a pair of outrageously forgettable potboiler concepts -- with just a little smidge of Pinhead's wrath, just enough to actually "qualify" as a Hellraiser entry.
So now comes the seventh entry into the endless and all-but-indecipherable Hellraiser saga. And once again, we the loyal horror hounds, are offered a story that has next to nothing to do with horror at all. Indeed, director Rick Bota clearly admits (in the special features section) that Deader was a previously existing screenplay that became a Hellraiser sequel with just a few dazzling rewrites.
Which is why this "horror" movie is not so much a scary story as it is glum and grungy story about an investigate reporter and the gory goth gang she's itchin' to track down. The Hellraiser-ish material is just kind of wedged in here and there with little sense, rhythm, or excitement. And, of course, it all takes place in Romania, land of the planet's least expensive production services.
Kari Wuhrer is Amy Klein, a low-rent reporter-gal who heads over to Romania in an effort to track down the "Deaders" - a cult of gloomy youths who may (or may not) be led by a guy who can bring people back from the dead. Amy stumbles across everyone's favorite demonic puzzle-box in her travels, which means that good old Pinhead is bound to make at least one appearance before the end credits start to roll ... we hope.
Until that point, however, we'll be treated to a ceaseless series of nightmares, flashbacks, and dream sequences -- the three things that really help to construct a fascinating and well-mounted story. (Drink a beer every time Kari experiences something nasty, only to wake up with a gasp four seconds later.)
Basically, Amy's search (and the numerous scenes that focus upon it) are deadly dull and entirely yawn-worthy. And when the "one size fits all" Hellraiser conceits finally hit the screen, well, it all seems like woefully too late -- way too late.
It's obvious to any hardcore horror fan why Dimension Home Video would keep turning over this particular rock: Lots of us fans will give ANY movie with Hellraiser in the title a fair shake, a shake that (after a quartet of practically worthless DTV sequels) the flicks quite simply do not deserve. I can only imagine Clive Barker's reaction to these movies. ("Hey, cool. Another residual check. Wow, they made another one?")
Points for trying to Ms. Kari Wuhrer, who jumps into her lead performance with all the gusto she can muster. The gal's settled into a perfect little niche: The poor-man's Ashley Judd of the C-grade horror schlock. But she's smart enough to drop her top on a few scenes in Deader; at least she knows what the fans are after -- even if the filmmakers obviously do not.
Video: Widescreen (1.85:1) Anamorphic transfer, but don't go in expecting high-end crispness and clarity. There's a murky grain throughout much of the movie, partially due to the perpetually dark setting, but mainly because the transfer's not all that good.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo, and it sounds pretty solid, all things considered. Optional subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish. (What, no Romanian?)
It's as if the DVD producers knew the movie itself was not nearly enough to warrant a 20-dollar price tag, so they offered a heaping handful of supplemental features as a side dish. OK, fair enough, I suppose.
First up are a pair of audio commentaries, the first with director Rick Bota & special effects supervisor Gary Tunnicliffe, and the second with Mr. Bota and Doug "Pinhead" Bradley. Both of the yak-tracks are full of production tidbits and flick-related banter. The participants seem well aware that they're not watching Citizen Kane here (their frequently self-deprecating attitude made me wish I'd actually enjoyed the movie). Their tone makes the commentaries a bit more enjoyable than the ones in which clueless rubes are just sure their low-rent horror sequel is something brilliant. Matter of fact, the Bota/Bradley commentary is probably more entertaining than the movie itself. (Plus you still get to see the gory bits!)
There's a collection of deleted / extended scenes that run about 25 minutes altogether. Watch 'em singly, all in one block, with or without commentary by Bota & Tunnicliffe. Knock yourself out.
The Making of Deader is a 17-minute peek behind the scenes. Mostly on-set video and some chit-chat with the lovely Ms. Wuhrer, but fans of the movie (and I know you're out there) should find it worthy of a gander.
A pair of FX-related featurettes are also on board: Behind the Visual Effects of Hellraiser: Deader is a 7-minute look at a few of the more FX-heavy sequences, while Practical Effects with Gary Tunnicliffe is a very brief (1:25) glimpse at chains, hooks, blood, and more chains.
Rounding out the platter are a one-minute gag reel, a 14-minute series of storyboard-to-film comparisons, a 12-minute location scouting featurette, a photo gallery and (to open the disc) a pair of trailers for Cursed and Dracula 3: Legacy.
Obviously the ship has long since sailed on the Hellraiser series, and the fact that these sequels go into production using screenplays cobbled together from disparate parts is a clear indication as to why. Here's a tip, Dimensioneers: Hire someone to actually write a Hellraiser story from scratch; one that pays homage to the original and moves forward in a sincerely unsettling and horrific fashion. Make it a priority to actually please the fans, and I'll be the first to get up on my keyboard and yell, "Wow! They finally made a Hellraiser sequel that doesn't suck eggs! And it only took 'em six movies to do it!"
Not surprisingly, Hellraiser: Hellworld is already scheduled for a Sept. 6th release date. And like a sap -- I look forward to checking it out. See you then!