For over two decades the Hellraiser franchise was kept barely alive by sequels that were merely made to maintain the rights. Starting with Hellraiser: Inferno in 2000 and ending with Hellraiser: Judgment in 2018 a whole slew of DTV movies were released. None of them being a critical or commercial success. Though I did like Inferno somewhat because of the Jacob’s Ladder approach it took. 35 years after the release of the original, Hellraiser is finally being reimagined from the ground up.
The movie, simply called Hellraiser, doesn’t try to recreate the original movie or being a version of that movie like the reboots of A Nightmare on Elm Street or Child’s Play did. Instead it takes the core elements from the book and original movie en takes an entirely fresh approach to it. This also includes redesigning every familiar aspect of the previous movies like the puzzle box and Cenobites. Gone are the black leather outfits as Hell’s demons now seem to have their own skin repurposed as outfits.
The story revolves around recovering addict Riley who lives with her gay brother, his boyfriend and another roommate. Tensions are at a constant high and her roommates disapprove of her romantic interest Trevor. And not without good reason as Trevor is an enabler. In search of an easy payday he suggests they break into some billionaire’s warehouse to steal whatever he keeps down there. An easy job since he used to work there, still has the entry code and the place seems to be abandoned.
What they find there is a safe containing a mysterious looking box which Riley takes home with her. At home she gets into another fight with her brother and decides to leave. She pops a few pills and starts fiddling around with box at a nearby playground. Suddenly a sharp knife pops out of the box, but it misses her. When her brother comes looking for her, he finds her all drowsy and while picking up the box he cuts himself on the knife that is sticking out of it. While cleaning his wound in a nearby bathroom he suddenly disappears. This puts Riley on a search for him and on a path leading directly to Hell.
The buzz around this Hellraiser movie has been largely positive leading up to its release. Early reviews from horror-aficionados are praising the movie, though since it release the more mainstream movie reviewers are less positive. My opinion falls between those two parties as this is one the upper tier Hellraiser movies, but it does fall short in certain areas.
The story echoes plotlines from the first three movies. Riley’s story channels that of Joey and Terry in Hellraiser III, with her obtaining the box and trying to find out what it is and what it does. The character of Voight resembles the character of Dr. Channard in Hellbound: Hellraiser II. With them both having extensive paper work on the Lament Configuration as the box is officially called. The similarities are there, but probably not obvious to the average viewer.
The center of attention in every Hellraiser movie is the character of Pinhead. A name fans dubbed him as he was originally just billed as “Lead Cenobite”. In this movie the character is billed “The Priest” on the credits. Trans actress Jamie Clayton steps into the large footsteps of Doug Bradley as she makes the role her own in a performance that is more subdued, yet still commanding the attention every time she is on screen.
Compared to Clive Barker’s original movie, the 2022 version of Hellraiser is certainly less bombastic and more grounded in terms of tone and style. One of the things to survive is Christoper Young’s score for the first two Hellraiser movies. This time it’s mostly used as more subtle background music, whereas the original movie had the orchestral themes blazing over key moments. The same can be said about the gore. While still making good use of its R-rating, this version of Hellraiser doesn’t go as far with its gore compared to the original movie. The sight of Frank being torn apart was something engraved in the brains of most people who saw the movie. This Hellraiser lacks a moment packing a similar punch.
Hellraiser pumps new blood into a long stumbling franchise. There is certainly enough potential for a sequel with Clayton as the recurring face for the series. Though it will be difficult for the writers to avoid the pitfalls the Dough Bradley movies fell into. The biggest one being the breaking of the rules that were established in previous movies. There is seemingly just so much you can do with a puzzle box that falls into somebody’s hands.