Given the uneven track record of the Hellraiser series, and Hulu’s previous, middling venture into the realm of Clive Barker adaptation (Books of Blood), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the new David-Bruckner-directed (from a script by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski), reboot-billed film. With a runtime of almost two hours, 2022’s Hellraiser is the longest in the thirty-five-year history of the franchise. I’m thrilled to write that it is also the most coherently mapped (the film features several satisfying plot twists and build to a tension-filled extended climax) and skillfully crafted installment since the 1987 original.
Bruckner’s Hellraiser presents various intriguing updates of Barker’s debut film (and Hellbound: Hellraiser II as well). The infernal puzzle box is equipped with new configurations and inherent dangers (including a switchblade that seems to drug and incapacitate its victim like a predator’s sting), and enjoys a more elaborate mythology. In its concerns with drug addiction–the sobriety-challenged protagonist Riley strikes as a combination of plucky heroine Kirsty Cotton and her dissolute Uncle Frank–the film offers a fine variation on the theme of sexual obsession that drives the 1987 movie. This Hellraiser also creates many clever callbacks to the unforgettable scenes (e.g. the rending of Larry-skinned Frank) and signature lines (“What’s your pleasure?”) from Barker’s cinematic classic.
The updated set of Cenobites are both visually stunning and aurally arresting in their chattering, wheezing mutilation (appropriately, they bear names such as the Gasp and the Asphyx). But what of Pinhead, the instantly iconic character who has become the face, and heart, of the franchise? Actress Jamie Clayton casts a decidedly more feminine figure, right down to her scarified body/bodice and blood-painted fingernails. This lead Cenobite is slyly seductive (bearing shades of the archvillainess Julia in the first two Hellraisers). Her delivery is low-pitched and gravelly (vs. Doug Bradley’s stentorian vocals), but the lines convey the same ominous philosophy for which the Hell Priest is renowned. Bradley’s embodiment of the role (one of the greatest performances in the history of horror film) can never be matched, but Clayton captures the character’s elegant menace while also taking “Pinhead” in fresh direction.
Exquisitely entertaining in its own right, this reimagining (which is flush with sinister surrealism and glorious grotesquerie alike) proves doubly delightful in the ways it bounces off its 1987 predecessor. Barker fans take heart: the new Hellraiser has such wonderfully dark sights to show you.