Long considered one of the best horror films of all time, 1987’s Hellraiser is a classic that still holds up to this day thanks to the strengths of Clive Barker’s nightmarish, fully-realized vision. I am also an admirer of several of the sequels, though the less said about the entries without Doug Bradley, the better. What could realistically be gained from a complete series reset? Honestly, judging by the last two films, a whole hell (see what I did there?) of a lot. Finally embracing the innate queerness of its creator, this Hellraiser is mean, psychological, and horrifying. David Bruckner (The Ritual, The Night House) brings slick, flesh-tearing visuals to bolster a macabre script. Before even delving into the cenobites (deformed demons from another dimension), we grow to love the characters as they try to solve the many mysteries of the puzzle box. Hellraiser is a masterful and exciting horror gem that proves Barker’s creation has plenty of pleasures left in store.
It has been six years since mysterious wealthy figure Voight (Goran Visnjic, Timeless, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) vanished without a trace. With the majority of his belongings relegated to remote warehouses, an item left inside a safe may prove to be the most valuable. Freshly sober Riley (Odessa A’zion, Mark, Mary & Some Other People, Supercool) and the new boyfriend she met during recovery, Trevor (Drew Starkey, Love, Simon, Scream: The TV Series), are about to become ensnared in the world of Leviathan. Riley lives with her queer brother, Matt (Brandon Flynn, 13 Reasons Why, Ratched), his boyfriend, Colin (Adam Faison, Midnight Kiss, HBO’s Here and Now), and their roommate, Nora (Aoife Hinds, Normal People), and has just started rebuilding her life. Matt is deeply worried about Riley’s sobriety, especially since Trevor is a brand-new face. Knowing that Riley is still recovering, Trevor nevertheless asks her to come along on a mission that will change both of their lives forever: break into one of those abandoned warehouses and steal the only thing left behind.
I will give you two guesses to figure out what it is… if you said “puzzle box,” survey says, you have seen a Hellraiser movie before! The second they fetch the mysterious box inside a larger box inside a locked safe, the electrifying new score from Ben Lovett samples Christoper Young’s epic, operatic theme from the ‘87 film. This is not the last time Young’s work is dappled upon in the reboot; thankfully, every moment feels earned, and each time sent chills up my spine. Riley celebrates their newfound discovery with Trevor, but returns home a drunken mess. She gets in a huge fight with Matt that ends in Riley storming out. Grabbing pills and the puzzle box from her car, Riley relapses at a local park. She seems to solve the box—or, at least its first configuration. A sharp blade juts out, clearly meant to cut her hand, yet Riley dodges it with ease. As her vision begins to blur, Riley sees Pinhead (Jamie Clayton, Sense8, The L Word: Generation Q) for the very first time. Clayton’s voice is oddly seductive, injected with an aura of intimidation.
“That blade was meant for you,” Pinhead says to Riley, forcing her to “choose another.” One thing is for sure: in the world of Pinhead and the cenobites, they will not be robbed of a life once the box has been opened. In a visually stunning sequence that recalls A Nightmare on Elm Street, hooks are sunken into Matt while he is sleeping in bed with his boyfriend, and he jolts awake. He comes upon Riley in the park in the middle of the night… and just like that, Matt too is stricken by the hellish grip of the cenobites. Riley doesn’t understand what has happened once her high has worn off. Matt is missing, and the only way to solve where he may have gone is for Riley to see this business with the puzzle box through to its natural conclusion. Using Trevor, Colin, and Nora to aid her, Riley anxiously works to unlock the mysteries around the box itself. Evading Pinhead and her twisted cohorts, however, is going to be one tough task…
As far as the blood and gore is concerned, worry not—Hellraiser is one nasty movie. Though it takes awhile to get there, hooks, piano wire, and all manner of skin-tearing horrors await. Practical effects reign supreme here, even in the overall look of the cenobites. The kills themselves are not necessarily super unique (especially having familiarity with the rest of the films), but they hit hard. By the final act, I was so invested in the characters that I was biting my nails in suspense. Riley makes for a great lead character, anchored by a nuanced performance from Odessa A’zion. It is also worth noting that Hellraiser looks absolutely gorgeous, featuring perhaps some of the best cinematography to emerge in the entire series.
2022’s Hellraiser makes more than a few big changes to the long-running franchise. For one, it adds a couple new horrifying cenobites, all in varying states of mutilation. Creature design is top-notch, reveling in the kind of cosmic body horror that Hellraiser has always done so well. Clayton’s Pinhead lords over them with impressive stage presence, adding a femininity to the character not seen since Barker’s novella, The Hellbound Heart. The Lament Configuration now feeds off one’s blood, cutting the user and absorbing it into its center. It also has six distinct configurations, which is a major change that I just loved. For the most part though, Bruckner and company recognize what worked so well in the first few films, honoring the legacy that came before while making it accessible to newer audiences.
In terms of how it stacks up against other entries, for me personally, this Hellraiser is the best one since the original. 1987’s Hellraiser is so singular in scope with that distinct 80s flavor, an unparalleled horror masterpiece; it has been a wild journey of highs and lows, but sweeping in for a second-place slot is truly impressive. I would love to see the franchise continue with Clayton now firmly established in the role. What other series has been even semi-successful shifting the action to outer space, as in 1996’s Hellraiser: Bloodline, other than maybe Jason X? As a whole, the Hellraiser movies have taken some big swings. While they definitely do not always work, I have to appreciate this back-to-basics approach to the material. Jamie Clayton firmly positions herself in the annals of horror history as one of the very few to successfully take over the role from their predecessor. Bruckner’s assured style, the script’s operatic sensibilities, a notably queer approach, and a tastefully horrific take on the world of Leviathan makes this Hellraiser well worth the “great delights” that await the viewer.
Hellraiser has such sights to show the audience when it debuts exclusively to Hulu on Friday, October 7th.