Another Weird and Looping Journey
It's becoming apparent that the HellraiserBorn from a short story by Clive Barker, this series introduced a new kind of killer to the burgeoning 1980s Slasher scene, a demon from Hell with the promise of pleasures for those who opened a puzle box. Those pleasures, specifically, were: gore, screams, gore, terror, and gore. series really wrote itself into a corner with Hellraiser: Bloodline. Because that film set an obvious end point for the series, off in the distant future, it limited what kinds of stories could be told with the characters of the franchise. You can't kill Pinhead (again, I mean) because he dies out in that future. You can't change the rules of the puzzle box, or Hell, or anything else drastically because, again, continuity has to line up with Bloodline. The series was limited in what it could do and where it could go because of that fourth film.
You can feel the series straining against its own set future in this sixth film, Hellraiser: Hellseeker (with requisite note that Hellseeker: Hellraiser VI has a better ring to it). Despite a (largely) new cast of the characters, this film doesn't, in any way, break any new ground for the series. Hell, it's story is practically a retread of the tale was saw back in Hellraiser: Inferno, just with the names and faces changed. It's almost like there's only so much you can do with a franchise that's, effectively, dictated its own future.
Hellseeker marks the return of Kristy Cotton-Gooden (Ashley Laurence), former survivor of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Now married to accountant Trevor Gooden (Dean Winters), the two head out on a seeming romantic vacation together, a time for them to be together after a period where their relationship was strained. However, the car spins out of control and goes off a bridge. Trevor is able to escape the car but he can't save his wife. He sees her drown before swimming to safety but, once the car is dredged up, her body is nowhere to be found.
Plagued by a constant headache, Trevor struggles to rebuild his life and keep his memories straight. A pair of cops -- William S. Taylor as Det. Lange and Michael Rogers as Det. Givens -- investigate the accident, possibly thinking Trevor was at fault... or not. Meanwhile, a bevvy of women steadily throw themselves at Trevor, all while he tries to shrug off their advances. He loves his wife, he says, and can't sleep with them. But then strange things keep happening. He starts seems weird, demonic beings, catching snatches of them on the periphery. Women start dying around him, his partner at the firm tries to kill him, and he begins to suspect that his grasp of reality isn't what it should be. What's going on? Is Trevor locked into some world he can't understand, and is there a way for him to escape?
While the story is structured differently in some ways -- the film reveals itself to be less of a Hell-loop than a descent into Hell -- fundamentally it's not really all that different. It boils down to a man filled with greed and lust and desire for power finding a way to get the famed puzzle box, the Lament Configuration (as it's now called at this point in the series) and then, inevitably, he finds he bit off far more than he could chew. Everything that happens is expected because, once you touch the puzzle box it's already too late.
Honestly, I find it a curious choice for the film to bring back Kristy Cotton for this film as her role in the story is pretty limited. She's there for a cameo at the beginning and then, spoilers for a over twenty year old film, the end as well, but this really isn't her movie. It's sort of about her but really about a husband we hadn't seen in the series up until this film, so it does feel like any character could have played the role of "Trevor's Wife" and that wouldn't have made much difference. Any jilted wife, mad at her husband for sleeping around and being a greedy fuck, would have done and that wouldn't have changed Trevor's journey in the slightest.
Bringing Kristy back, in fact, ruins her story from the previous films. There she managed to keep something of her innocence, proving to be a solid foil to play against Pinhead and his Cenobites. She succeeds by not really playing into Pinhead's games, finding a way to make a deal that saves herself by bringing in a true evil that Pinhead would crave more. Here, in Hellseeker, she has a similar arc (revealed at the end of the film), but it actually tarnishes her legacy. Instead of outwitting Pinhead while keeping her goodness, Kristy becomes a murderer. She promises him five souls and, as we eventually see, goes on to kill Trevor's dirty business partner, and then all of Trevor's lovers, before killing Trevor in their car. Those are the kinds of actions that should actually get her sent to Hell, and that's not the Kristy we knew from before.
As for Trevor... well, he exists. He's fine. Dean Winters is a solid actor who has a certain chauvinistic smugness that he plays really well. He plays an absolute sleaze as Dennis Duffy in 30 Rock and its brilliant. He brings that same sleazy quality to Trevor, and that helps to fill in many of the gaps for what would otherwise be an underwritten character. But that doesn't make Trevor a solid lead, no matter what Winters tries to do with the role.
Not helping matters is that the film basically tips its hand early as to what's going on with Trevor. As soon as the accident happens he almost immediately begins questioning the incident. He has flashes of other versions of the event, all while sometimes he's plagued by visions of people prodding around in hi head, or Cenobites killing people in reflections or on video. It's pretty clear, from the outset, that Trevor is already caught in some kind of Hell-game, and while I didn't peg the exact circumstances or what he was going through, I also found the eventual reveal to be thoroughly underwhelming.
Had this film come out instead of thematically similar Hellraiser: Inferno (which was the original plan for this film before work on the script dragged on, forcing the release of Inferno), maybe that would have worked better (at least for this movie). Having these two back-to-back does lessen the impact of this film's story. It's two similar tales about similar men, and you can feel the rut the series is wearing as it goes on. We didn't need both of these in short order right next to each other. Even a couple of films spaced in between might have helped, but really it would have been better to just have Hellseeker and not Inferno (largely because that fifth film is just bad).
I do think Hellseeker is a better film, even if that's damning with faint praise. It's a fine enough direct-to-video entry in the series, even with its character issues and plot problems. The Hellraiser series has never been high art and we can't expect the production team to be able to do much better when given no budget and limited resources. Dimension Films shot themselves in the foot releasing to very similar films within two years of each other, and that's entirely on that studio. Instead of one decent Hellraiser film with interesting ideas we have two, one of them very bad, bother of them treading the same ground.
Already it's being clear that HuluOriginally created as a joint streaming service between the major U.S. broadcast networks, Hulu has grown to be a solid alternative to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, even as it learns harder on its collection of shows from Fox and FX since Disney purchased a majority stake in the service. made the right decision pitching Hellraiser '22 as a full reboot of the series. Six films in (and with four others to go) and the biggest response I have for Hellseeker is, "wow, the series really doesn't have anywhere else to go, does it?"