Hellraiser: Hellseeker boasts the long awaited return of Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence), the plucky protagonist from Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988). In fact, the sixth entry in the series should be remembered for effectively killing the heroine. To be clear, I’m not referring to the opening sequence, in which she drowns as a result of her not waiting to park the car before making out in it. After all, death is seldom the end in the Hellraiser universe. Rather, I’m pointing to the blatant character assassination that occurs in the final act.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Though Laurence does reprise the role of Kirsty, her limited appearance in Hellraiser: Hellseeker strikes me as no more of a “return” than her thankless cameo in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992). For some reason, director Rick Bota has chosen to develop her story behind the scenes. We get caught up with it in the end as Pinhead (Doug Bradley) engages in the sort of clunky info dump you’d expect from a Bond villain, but the movie largely focuses on her husband Trevor, played by Dean Winters.
I’ve always liked Winters. His varied roles in 30 Rock, Oz, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles have proven him a versatile actor, and here he shows that he could, in theory, carry a feature film on his own. I use the words “in theory” because the screenplay by Carl V. Dupré and Tim Day gives him so little to do even his character loses patience with it. The best bit involves Trevor exclaiming, “I’m getting tired of this!” and plowing through the dreamlike plot, having figured out none of it really matters.
I mean, tell me if this seems familiar. Hellraiser: Hellseeker begins with Trevor waking up from a car crash that may or may not have killed his wife. He saw her drown with his own eyes (as did we), but the cops have yet to find her body. To make matters worse, our hero seems to be suffering from mild traumatic brain injury, slipping in and out of hallucinations in which Cenobites eviscerate the women with whom he’s committed adultery. As the visions worsen and the barriers to reality start to fold, Trevor finds his way to the truth, which is to say a twist ending with Pinhead at the centre.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker steers so close to its straight-to-video predecessor, Hellraiser: Inferno (2000), that one wonders whether the producers at Dimension Films took the same script and just replaced the film noir elements with references to Kirsty. As it turns out, the two releases were adapted from screenplays unrelated to the franchise, which might explain why both struggle with the Pinhead character: “Which do you find more exhilarating, Trevor, pain or pleasure? Personally, I prefer pain.” Actually, you think they’re the same, but close enough, I guess.
The problem extends beyond déjà vu. Even if this instalment had come out before, I’d still prefer Hellraiser: Inferno on account of its protagonist: a functional sociopath putting his worst impulses to good use (catching a child killer). By comparison, Trevor comes across as a blank slate with vague memories of being a douche bag. He remains passive even in regard to Kirsty’s disappearance, letting the investigation progress off-screen. As a result, all we get from the ten-minute mark on are non-sequitur sequences in which our hero goes through a horrific ordeal and then wakes up. Rinse and repeat until the final reveal.
As I’ve mentioned before, twist endings do not good drama make. By redefining everything that’s come before, they tend to invalidate the audience’s own commitment to the story. What’s worse, the big revelation here also betrays characters and dynamics fans of the franchise hold dear to their hearts. To be fair, Hellbound: Hellraiser II sowed the seeds for Kirsty’s eventual fall from grace. However, with Laurence signed on, that should have been the focus of the movie, not some jerk’s trippy excursion into the previous instalment’s plot. Hellraiser: Hellseeker is not just a wasted opportunity. It’s a waste of your time.