Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Deader is Better

Hellraiser VII: Deader
Something about Independence Day brings out the Pinhead in me. For those of you not schooled in the mythos of Lemarchand's puzzle box, here's the deal: open it and you'll go to hell, escorted by Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his entourage of lovely cenobites. See yesterday's post if I'm going too fast. Why do people open the box? In the story's original incarnation, Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart, Frank is a pleasure-seeker who has indulged in every flavor of perversion money can buy. He's looking for a new kick, and what little he knows about the box, AKA the Lament Configuration (which should, you know, tell you something about the nature of the thing), makes him believe This Is It.
The power of "The Hellbound Heart" -- and, too, the movie "Hellraiser" (1987), which followed it closely, thanks to Clive Barker's screenplay -- came from the interplay of dysfunctional family dynamics with fingernails-on-chalkboard nerve-wracking sadism. We get a cautionary tale of knowledge-seekers getting more than they'd asked for, AND a cool twist on the usual vampire schtick as well. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, anything else I could say would be a spoiler.
True Hellraiser story: for Halloween, 1994, I carved a white pumpkin to look like Pinhead. I riddled it with nails, the kind that have teensy heads so that they almost look like pins, and I set it on a folding table on our porch. From the eaves, I dangled chains, and next to Pinhead the Pumpkin I placed a Rubic's cube. (I'd have preferred Lemarchand's box, but I made do with what I had.) To the table, I pinned a note:
Take the box. It is yours. It has always been yours.
Karen and I put out some decent candy to act as both lure and reward, and we sat inside the house, right near the door to listen in as the kiddies approached. Then we waited. The night's best moment came when a 9-ish girl walked up with her 5-ish brother. 5-ish brother (reaches for the Rubic's cube): Hey, look! 9-ish sister: DON'T TOUCH IT! I doubt she appreciated our laughter. Post script: the box didn't last the night. Someone realized it was just a stupid Rubic's cube.
To bring you up to date, here's a quick run-down on the Hellraiser franchise. Movies are rated on a one-to-five pinhead scale. Hellraiser (1987) Rating: Plucky heroine Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) sends Pinhead back to hell. Too bad her family is toast. With excellent performances by Andrew Robinson as Dad, and tasty Clare Higgins as the naughty step-mom. And we all know what happens to naughty people in horror movies. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) Rating: Plucky heroine Kirsty shows up for a family reunion -- in Hell! Really, what can you say about a movie with the tagline, "It will tear your soul apart . . . again." They couldn't even come up with a new tagline? The only thing that saves this one from a one-pinhead rating: the wonderful hellscapes, particularly toward the movie's end. Otherwise, it's a muddled rehash. Skip it. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) Rating: Yes, four pinheads. Almost as good as the original. Plucky heroine Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell -- you SF-heads know her best as Jadzia Dax from ST:DS9 -- and isn't that a good enough reason to see this movie?) plays an investigative journalist. Her story leads her to a smarmy nightclub owner (Kevin Bernhardt, dripping hair oil), friendship, a trip through dreamland, and . . . Pinhead! This one loses a pinhead over the touchy-feely ending and the regrettable lack of skin. Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996) Rating: 1/2 Yes, four-and-a-half heads to Bloodline, the most ambitious sequel yet, with its intricate storyline and devious plot. The extra half head is in deference to my wife, who has a stronger stomach for sadistic gore than me (this is by far the most graphic Hellraiser) and who also does a better job following intricate storylines and devious plots. In the 22nd century, a descendant of the original Lamarchand concocts a plan to put Pinhead out of commission permanently. This story is interwoven with the 18th century tale of the puzzlemaker himself, crafting his box for the decadent Duc de'Lisle (think Marquis de Sade crossed with Aleister Crowley), and the story of a 20th century architect, also a Lamarchand, who has unwittingly designed a building that may trap Pinhead and his gang. All three Lamarchands are played by the talented actor Bruce Ramsay. Hellraiser V: Inferno (2000) Rating: This one gets brownie points for capturing some of the flavor of the Hellraiser comic, but loses points for the predictable ending. Not terribly memorable, I'm afraid. Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker (2002) Rating: Plucky heroine Kirsty is back. She's graduated from the insane asylum (Hellraiser II) and has gotten herself a hubby. Guess what: you don't want to be hitched to someone with friends like Pinhead. Like Hellraiser V, Hellseeker captured the flavor of a graphic novel, but possessed a blood-bucketful of psychological edginess, winning it the extra pinhead.
Flash forward to Hellraiser VII: Deader (2005). Horror movie maven Kari Wuhrer, she of Anaconda, Eight Legged Freaks, and The Prophecy: Uprising fame, stars as investigative journalist Amy Klein. And oh, does she have a luscious Angelina Jolie thing goin' on, or what? See for yourself. Pinhead perennial Doug Bradley sits this one out, replaced by synth-pop-rocker Moby. (Hah! had you going there, didn't I?) Plucky heroine Amy Klein plays an investigative journalist (sound familiar?) whose editor sends her to Bucharest to hunt down the latest Eurotrash fad: suicide and resurrection at the hands of uber-creepy cult leader Winter (Paul Rhys). Amy's a smart, sexy ball-breaker. Dubbed a "skankologist" by her editor, she's just finished writing "How to be a Crack Whore" and she needs this new assignment. To me, Deader felt like the screenwriter had grafted a great horror story onto the Hellraiser template. Nevertheless, Deader kept me riveted by its fresh imagery and intelligent script. Brownie points for lots of skin. How this one escaped an NC-17 is beyond me . . . and to think, Angel Heart got its NC-17 (pre-cut) because of a little blood dripping on Mickey Rourke's ass. Or was it Lisa Bonet's ass? You know you're getting old when you get those two asses confused. Rating: 1/2 Minus half a head for a somewhat confused explanation of Winter's motivations. Coming soon: Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld. Pinhead discovers the Internet. No, really. Any questions? D.


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