In the past I’ve called Bota the custodian of Hellraiser for the early 2000’s. He’s listed as the director on Deader, Hellseeker and Hellworld, though that doesn’t really even begin to encapsulate what he does.
These films are always maligned, in large part because “they aren’t as good as the first four” or three. After all they were Direct To Video and that automatically means crap. Of course the same criticism was leveled at both Hellraiser Three and Four – not as good as the first two.
Can I just take this argument off the table? Seriously, if you expect a sequel (especially one of the later ones) to be nearly as good as the source material, you’re in trouble. Hellraiser (and Hellbound for that matter, which I actually like better) is nothing short of a masterpiece. They also had a budget. The DTV sequels were made for pennies. Half a million in 2005 as opposed to one million in 1987. Huge difference. We still get two or three cenobites besides Pinhead in every one of these movies. I don’t know how they manage it. With that kind of difference you can forgive that the cenobites pants are now just leather biker pants and that the armor comes from the same mold.
It’s interesting especially in the case of Hellworld and Deader, that the films tone is criticized. Three and four are huge sprawling films where Pinhead has almost become a slasher. With the first of the DTV movies, Inferno, the series went back to smaller more personal stories. The head trip aspect was amped up. It was a different direction in service of the budget, but not an entirely new one. We still have disjointed imagery and some trippy scenes in both one and two – Kirsty standing over a bloody bed surrounded by feathers, The little girls abduction in Hellbound and the funhouse scene…the emphasis is new, but it’s not out of place. In fact, it’s truer to the theme and tone of Hellraiser than three or four were. Hellseeker actually features the return of Kirsty, and we have Bota to thank for that. The script wasn’t written with that character in mind…although she had the same name. Bota brought back Ashely Lawrence to help tie this back into the series as a whole (something by the way, that the previous film Inferno, doesn’t even attempt to do).
I’m a particular fan of Deader. We once again have mysterious places much like the opening scenes of Hellraiser – I imagine this Romania is just the sort of place one would find the box, and perhaps one of the places Frank would have looked. Bota goes out of his way to link the villain Winter, with LeMerchant.
Hellworld draws the biggest criticisms, and rightly so. It’s the weakest of the three Bota films. While Deader and Hellseeker were bother created from completed scripts (stand alone scripts from the slush pile at Dimension by the way, that were re-written into Hellraiser movies) Hellworld was basically a nebulous idea that was floating around when the crew headed into Romania to shoot Deader. Pages were still being written while shooting was going on…something that smells very much like a studio decision to me. The crew was handed a set and told to make a Hellraiser movie out of it. What’s fascinating is that this is where Bota really shows his love for the material. For the first time since the second movie Hellbound, we have references to Leviathan. The movie is drenched in the mythology, references to the cenobites and Lemerchant. They even brought Lance Henrickson in to chew scenery and be generally malevelont. Unfortunately we’re also stuck with a group of lackluster teens (including future Superman Henry Cavill) straight out of any 90’s horror movie. It’s a shame because there is some potential here but obviously not enough time or budget to realize it. In one scene, a victim is hooked and lifted in the air and bled out. Actually only lifted up a couple of feet, where as Bota pictured him a couple yards in the air….but no time or budget.
There’s also complaints about how Pinhead is treated in this movie, but of course (spoiler) it’s not actually pinhead so acting out of character is exactly what he should be doing. For all of it’s wallowing in the mythology, it fails to achieve the edginess of the other films, and that’s a shame because the passion behind it is obvious. Still, on it’s own, on a Saturday night with friends before heading out to the club or at a party, this is a fun film. As an entry into the series, I still enjoy it the same as I enjoy the lesser episodes of Star Trek or Doctor Who.
I have heard more than once that Rick Bota tried to destroy Hellraiser. That he is to blame for substandard Hellraiser. The truth is, Dimension was going to make these films and if it hadn’t been Bota it would have been someone else…possibly someone who didn’t care about the series legacy. Or it could have just as easily been, no more films at all. I was super excited fore each and every one of these. I’m glad we have them and I’m glad someone took the time to try and link every one of these into the series proper instead of just slapping together another slasher with pinhead makeup. Nothing will ever be as good as the original, but I’ll watch these with the same vigor as I read the comics!