Let’s talk about sin. In life, at least for godless atheists like me, it’s completely irrelevant. (I evaluate the morality of my actions, but I rarely feel the kind of guilt I associate with sin–sticky, cloying guilt that refuses to leave you.) But in film analysis, it’s fairly important. (This is roughly analogous to the importance placed in film criticism on Freudianism, even though (to my understanding) Freud’s methods have no real place in modern psychiatry.) This might be because a movie represents a kind of closed moral universe, in which characters are judged primarily in comparison to one another and in which all facts are known–the history of the character is complete because “complete” is here defined as “in the movie.” This idea of the audience passing moral judgment upon the characters in a film is a purely practical one; eliciting that judgment is one of the methods by which filmmakers engage their audience in a story. It’s also how they shift or enforce audience identification. The classic example is when the villain does something dastardly (like kicking a puppy) in order to help the audience identify with the villain’s opposition, the protagonist.
No genre likes to play with the techniques of manipulating audience identification more than horror, and today’s Killtoberfest 2 movies exemplify that fact.
First up, a crowd-pleasing slasher called You’re Next (2011).
The story of the worst-period-family reunion-period-ever-period, You’re Next opens with a pure horror scenario, a couple getting picked off in their house by a mysterious intruder. This isn’t really included for plot relevance (although it connects later on), but more as an overture reassuring the viewer that the filmmakers are capable of solid execution. From there, the film moves onto the story proper, as 10 people, all either members of the Davison clan or their spouses/dates, gather together for dinner. Dinner is interrupted.
Over the course of the night, the remaining Davisons will mostly act like headless chickens suffering from crazy/stupid gas as they attempt to escape their impending deaths. They split up at every opportunity, forget to grab weapons, and seem incapable of acting or coming up with a decent plan. Meanwhile, one character, Erin (Sharni Vinson), reveals herself as the most competent person in the group–and perhaps the movie. At some point you realize you’re no longer fearing for the victims so much as cheering Erin on as she fights to save them. Eventually Erin becomes not only the protagonist but the moral center of the film, even as (speaking vaguely) people start doing some very, very bad things. The transition from slasher to action movie is very smooth and feels great, and then the end curves back around into horror in equally satisfying fashion. If I have a complaint, it’s that the movie’s title is never actually used as a badass one-liner.
Overall, the movie isn’t deep but it’s fun, very well-executed, shot clearly, edited with ruthless efficiency, and scored with intensity (love the Carpenter-esque riffs signaling the turn into action). It’s such a well-done (but thematically shallow) movie that I really have nothing more to say. Go watch it. Don’t forget the popcorn.
Next up is Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker. If You’re Next is good because it knows how to get you to identify with or against the right people, Hellraiser VI is awful because it doesn’t.
I started the Hellraiser series during the last Killtoberfest, and true to its nature, the experience was a rollercoaster of pleasure and pain. Hellraiser I and II? Good! Hellraiser III? Oh Dear God. Hellraiser 4: IN SPAAAAACE? Awesome. Hellraiser V? So bad I needed a year off. But this time I vow to finish the series, no matter how painful it gets. If this 6th installment is any indication, that will be painful indeed.
Apparently, and utterly unbeknownst to me, a lot of Hellraiser fans actually liked the fifth movie, the series’ first DTV entry. This despite its ill-advised mix of noir and horror, hateful protagonist, and relative lack of any connection to the earlier films. Go figure. Regardless, it must have sold well enough (back in the distant future, the year 2000, Blockbuster was still in its heyday, and I’ll bet they bought a truckload) to justify a sequel, leaving the horror franchise’s owners in a bizarre position: should they try to appeal to fans of the original Hellraiser, or fans of the DTV Hellraiser? The two are very different prospects, fundamentally incompatible. That didn’t seem to stop them.
So we got a retread of Hellraiser: Inferno–now with Dean Winters!–meaning a generic psychological thriller featuring an everyman struggling to hold down a job AND a single emotional problem while having hallucinations of weird, gory CG monstrosities, only in Hellseeker the gory parts are mostly replaced by scenes of Dean Winters refusing to have, then subsequently having sex with random women. That last part isn’t a joke, I may be a writer but even I’m not that creative. I get that the series is supposed to be half-violence, half-kinky sex, but this sex isn’t kinky, unless your fetish is having sex despite the fact that you’re still grieving over your wife who died like two days ago. Or I suppose you might be attracted to Allstate Insurance. (I hear they give good hand.)
When Winters isn’t having sex or blinking in confusion after a boring hallucination and/or flashback has concluded, he’s busy talking to a police detective about the fact that his wife’s body was never found (their car went off a bridge), meaning he killed her, or talking to his sleazy/dopey co-workers at [generic office]. It takes 45 goddamn minutes of this rope-a-dope before the traditional Hellraiser puzzle box even appears, and then it goes away again because it hates me. 20 minutes in I was missing the asshole main character from Inferno, at least he had personality. 60 minutes in I was dying as the oxygen flow to my brain became clogged with boredom.
The end of the movie is actually kinda neat.
Under the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights I have a moral obligation to go ahead and spoil this for you, but I’ll put it behind tags just in case there is one person out there reading this who wants to experience Hellraiser VI tabula rasa, and to you, sir or madam, I tip my hat. Not all of us can so freely embrace true masochism.
So at the end of the movie Pinhead finally appears, and I know I hate how the series has focused on him to the detriment of the overall concept of the Cenobites but believe me, by this point I was ready to blow him or start cutting myself on his skull-pins just to feel. Pinhead promises Winters that he’s going to reveal the plot now, and boy does he.
As it turns out, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) from the first two movies–remember her?–grew up and married Dean Winters for reasons passing understanding. Winters cheats on her (with all the ladies he imagined himself sexing during this movie, so really all those scenes wove right back in, totally justified, totally) and plots with the skeezy co-worker to kill her and split her money (Kirsty is loaded for no apparent reason in this story; okay, sure). Kirsty discovers all this. And right at this dark moment, who should come back into her life but Pinhead and his buddies, ready to claim her once and for all. As is her wont (ie., callback to the original film), Kirsty offers them a deal: five new souls instead of hers. And who are those five souls? The three sluts her husband banged, the co-conspirator, and then Dean Winters himself as she drives their car off the bridge and into the water. She murders them all and frames her husband.
The movie concludes with Kirsty leaving the scene of the crime, above suspicion and free, at least for now, from ever being in another Hellraiser movie.
So you see, the problem with the movie is entirely one of perspective. You literally couldn’t choose a single less interesting perspective from which to tell this story. Even the police detective would have been less yawntastic. Moreover, the process of [redacted] getting all five [redacted], and along the way potentially losing their own [seriously, redacted already] would actually have made for a neat film and a unique take on the Hellraiser series–not to mention a fun way to slowly turn an audience against a protagonist once we found out that protagonist’s partners and motivations. Instead, we get this boring piece of shit. My god, how much worse must Hellraiser 8 and 9 be if I’ve actually heard complaints about them (compared to silence on this one)? Unlike Hellseeker, the prospect of finishing this series is truly terrifying.
Hungry for more Killtoberfest? Click here for more horror (but not horrible) reviews.