‘Hellraiser’ reboot approaches an experience beyond limits
More of a reboot than a remake, Hellraiser (2022) gets back to the basics, and while it’s nowhere near approaching Hellraiser (1987) it is a hell of a lot better than anything the franchise put out since Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988).
This new telling is the story of Riley (Odessa A’zion), a mess of a young woman with money troubles and drug problems. Her boyfriend sees her struggling with life and has a suggestion of how she can get back on her feet. She can help him rob a deserted artifact shipment container that was intended for a private art collection. Like you do. As you would expect that artifact they recover is the Lament Configuration.
It begins wreaking havoc on Riley’s mental stability and her home life, beginning with her getting kicked out of her apartment she shared with her judgmental older brother and his roommates.
Riley’s brother comes looking for her, accidentally giving his blood to the puzzle box in the process and vanishing into the realm of endless pain and suffering. The rest of the film follows Riley’s quest to find out what happened to her brother, ultimately leading to a confrontation with the Priest (Jamie Clayton) colloquially known as “Pinhead” and her band of extradimensional minions the Cenobites.
Director David Brucker (The Night House) and writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski — working from a story treatment by David S. Goyer — deliver what is clearly a labor of love that draws inspiration from the Hellraiser comics and as far back as Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart.
Clayton is a breath of fresh air as the Priest. Ever since Doug Bradley’s retirement from the role, the franchise has struggled to find an adequate replacement.
In a Q&A at the film’s world premiere at Fantastic Fest, Brucker acknowledged that there is no replacing Bradley and he leveled with Clayton immediately when she came on to the film that attempting to channel him would be a mistake. Instead, Clayton was to strike out on her own and make something new.
Her portrayal is not too far of a departure from what you want from the Priest. She’s at once cold and curious, regal and seductive. The result is solid and enough to build on if the franchise were to continue.
The film also delivers on the gore and creative body horror we come to expect from a Hellraiser movie. While Clayton steals the show, the Cenobites around her are marvels of creature design and a return to evoking the feeling of unease we all felt when we first saw them in 1987.
HELLRAISER ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: David Bruckner
Written by: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski, David S. Goyer
Starring: Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Adam Faison
Running time: 120 min
Bruckner revealed in the same Q&A there was a deliberate move away from the aesthetic of BDSM black leather for the Cenobites as he felt the culture has moved beyond the sort of moral panic that imagery incited in the ’80s. Not sure the LGBTQ+ community would agree with that. In any case, the creature designs landed in a place where their own flesh serves as their garments, which is a novel and appropriate idea.
As exciting as a good, new Hellraiser film is, it’s not without faults. While the gore and violence are there, the sexuality feels oddly tame for a franchise that has pushed the boundaries of sex on screen. The second act also suffers from pacing issues and too much exposition. And while A’zion gives a spirited performance, Riley is no Kirsty Cotton. Still, the future seems bright and hopefully full of more pleasure and pain.
It’s a shame that such a visually striking film is yet another missed theatrical release opportunity with Hellraiser hitting streaming exclusively on Hulu on October 7th. But, hey, Hulu is now two for two on resurrecting horror franchises and that counts for something. If you told me that Disney would have such sights to show me, I would’ve never believed you. And yet here we are. Somebody give them a crack at Friday the 13th.