Hulu’s new Hellraiser film came as something of a surprise. A few months back, David Gordon Green announced he was planning on tackling the franchise when he finished up with the Halloween reboot. But this Hellraiser has nothing to do with Green’s version. This version, directed by David Bruckner, has been shrouded in secrecy.
Hellraiser is not another entry into the franchise (which numbered up to ten before this one); nor is it precisely a remake of the 1987 original, written and directed by Clive Barker, based on his novella, The Hellbound Heart. It is a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with the franchise, but I suspect that fans of the original Hellraiser will be left wanting more from this film.
Riley (Odessa A’zion) is a recovering addict who is living with her brother, Matt (Brandon Flynn), his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison), and roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds). She is dating a boy, Trevor (Drew Starkey) who is obviously not good for her. In addition to him casually goading her back into drinking and pilling, he convinces her to help him steal from a seemingly abandoned shipping container belonging to a wealthy – and presumably deceased – man.
Riley does, but all that she finds in the container is a puzzle box – what we all know is the Lament Configuration Box. She is transfixed by it and decides to hold onto it while they figure out where they can pawn it. While playing with it, the box changes shape, a knife pops out, it cuts someone, they die, and the box settles into its new form. Eventually, Riley has to do some research, and she discovers that the wealthy man who owned the shipping container was Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic), a bon vivant who was known for throwing kinky sex parties, which he would use to lure the unsuspecting into becoming victims of the puzzle box. The puzzle box calls forth creatures called the Cenobites from another dimension, one where pain and pleasure are the same thing, and they seek only sensation and experiences. Further research leads Riley to learn what each configuration of the box means, and Riley and her friends end up in Voight’s house with the Cenobites hot on their tail.
I gave up on the Hellraiser franchise after the third installment, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of the Hellraisers since the 1990s, but I seem to remember them being much deeper than just standard slasher flicks. Unfortunately, this Hellraiser wasn’t. And that’s okay – really! I love mindless killing as much as the next horror fan. But this was just… bland.
Hellraiser was the kind of movie I forgot about almost immediately after watching – which is really bad if you have to write about it. The characters were uninteresting. There was nothing special about them, nothing that stood out about them, either in a positive or negative way. They were just pretty standard tropes: a recovering addict, her bad-influence boyfriend, her good-influence brother, and his boyfriend.
I will say that the new Pinhead, played by Jamie Clayton, was quite good. Doug Bradley will always be my Pinhead, but Clayton was commanding in the role. Bruckner has said that he specifically wanted his Pinhead to be a woman, but I don’t really see why. There was nothing that this Pinhead did or said or wore that would specifically characterize her as a woman. Regardless of Pinhead’s gender, Clayton was a good choice, and she wasn’t overused, as I know Pinhead was in later installments of the franchise. None of the cenobites were overused, the way it should be. Their screen presence, while commanding, is best when limited.
There was also a bigger explanation of the Lament Configuration Box than I remember in the early Hellraiser movies. In this film, you get an explanation of each shape of the Box, and what the “grand prize” is. I rather enjoyed that bit of it.
My biggest problem with the newest Hellraiser film may seem like a small issue, but really, it’s not. It’s with the costuming. The Cenobites in this Hellraiser all looked like they were wearing full-bodied latex suits. They looked very high-quality, but they didn’t look menacing; they looked attractive, even fashionable. It looked like one piece that could be pulled on and off. I’m sure this was much easier for the actors and required fewer makeup people, but it made the Cenobites look less frightening. The Cenobites I remember wore black leather with strategic holes placed throughout, which revealed carefully crafted practical effects that made it look like their skin was actually being peeled back off their body and pinned to their chest. That felt intimidating. That felt real. These Cenobites looked like they were afternoon hobbyists; those Cenobites felt like hardcore BDSM enthusiasts.
Ultimately, the new Hellraiser isn’t entirely bad. It’s just bland. Forgettable. And in the world of horror films, isn’t that worse than being bad?