Spoiler-free review of Hellraiser, which premieres on Disney+ on October 7.
Hellraiser, by David Bruckner, is an excitingly reverent reworking from Clive Barker’s original horror classic and the author’s novel. Screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski take David S. Goyer’s treatment of the story into alternate realms of sensual punishment, favoring ’80s horror trends of a more stripped-down but graphic nature. Bruckner is able to broaden the narrative and the scope, going with a “bigger” mindset that still writhes with hellish carnal pleasures. He is respectfully indebted to Barker’s psycho-sexual confrontational eroticism and violent punishments. However, Bruckner never tries to retrace what Barker has already colored outside the typical lines of horror. Hellraiser thematically poses Hell in its newly revamped terms.
Odessa A’zion stars as Riley McKendry, an addict in her 20s trying to clean up her habits with a 12-step program. Hers Her brother Ella’s Matt (Brandon Flynn) is her loving but pushy roommate, who kicks her out after another night in which Riley shows up at her house drunk after seeing her new boyfriend. Trevor (Drew Starkey). However, that night she was not only marred by substance abuse: Riley and Trevor steal an old puzzle box that Riley unlocks after ingesting a few pills. In a drug nebula, she is visited by The Priest (Jamie Clayton), this cross between angel and devil with pins stuck in her soft head. She warns him of the box’s hunger for blood and what it demands, which kicks off another Hellraiser story in which humans are shown images they cannot understand, bloody images that flay, pierce, and tear away the skin.
Clayton is a forerunner vision as Pinhead, introducing repulsively chic new cenobitic shapes. Gone are the black leather BDSM outfits; pale corpses with exposed muscle tendons are like peeled bananas from the underworld. Effects artists Josh and Sierra Russell re-team with Bruckner after The Ritual and The Night House to bring concept designer Keith Thompson’s Cenobites to life. There is nothing to be missed with the new Cenobites, acting as creatures of the hunt and stalk through the mansion grounds of the Berkshires. From The Mask (Vukašin Jovanovic), with his fleshy facial canvas where his head should be, to The Gassier (Selina Lo), an extreme upgrade of an earlier Cenobite dubbed “Deep Throat,” Bruckner’s extradimensional beings appear as masters of the exiled wishes from heaven and achieve a disgustingly seductive look while breathing new life into the franchise.
the way that Clayton nods to original Pinhead actor Doug Bradley, is evident in the Stoic mannerisms, but Bruckner’s Pinhead breaks away thanks to Clayton’s interpretation. He paces with eerie grace and looks through the characters while curiously questioning his darkest desires. Perhaps “philosophical” is not the right word, but almost. Clayton’s inquisition as Pinhead is appropriately unsettling: his voice echoes with an ethereal reverberation as he stands stone-faced as weeping mortals beg for mercy. He embodies the allure of the superior power of the Cenobites who grant the users of the box the ultimate pleasures they seek, blurring the lines between fear and excitement to depths indescribable.
Meanwhile, A’zion shines as the flawed addict trying to do better and still unable to deny momentary urges. Everyone is in danger because Riley can’t say “no”: Matt, Trevor, Matt’s boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison), and his other roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds). A’zion explores the evidence of addiction and who gets hurt in the process, using the choices Riley is forced to make when the box starts claiming souls. As befits Hellraiser, A’zion and Clayton’s performances are key: Pinhead says that as long as Riley owns the box, fate is in her hands. Riley begs for repentance, howls in agony, and transitions between countless emotions that A’zion executes with off-screen emphasis.
Clayton is a pioneering vision like Pinhead, introducing repulsively chic new cenobitic forms.
Hellraiser, on the other hand, transforms Frank Cotten’s penthouse sex dungeon aesthetic into something far more marbled and elaborate. The box has six configurations that change shape, giving the props department freedom to redesign each geometric evolution. Goran Visnjic plays the film’s most outspoken character, Roland Voight, who leaves behind his estate in pursuit of decadent pleasures that ultimately becomes important to Riley’s unholy plot to defeat the Cenobites. Hellraiser leans more towards puzzle quirks, benefiting from the mobile labyrinthine houses as in 13 ghosts or even the horrors of the escape rooms. Bruckner delves into the unholy cult of the corrupted by box possibilities, despite its proven damage, sometimes doing too much within its slightly too bloated length, though it does exemplify how reboots can carefully recontextualize and rebirth iconic franchises. .
Surprisingly, Bruckner falls short of the extreme practical stickiness of the 1987 Hellraiser tortures. The first target claimed by the cenobite doesn’t even earn a euphoric ending on screen. The filmmaker’s psychological dread found in The Night House translates into wonderfully trippy moments in which cenobites appear from randomly materialized tunnels or in which Riley’s regret, not the violence itself, is emphasized. Though the gore still exists between the exposed wounds of the Cenobites and the mechanisms that, for example, pull the nerves of chained users through moving gears that continually cause lingering pain. Hellraiser is more dazzling than sickeningly sadomasochistic through slimy gore effects as a stylistic differentiation that leaves Barker’s bloodletting intact, nor is the tone nearly as poisonously stale.
Hellraiser is a heartwarming revival of a soulless horror legend who never tries to unseat Clive Barker’s original film. Director David Bruckner, along with screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, examine the themes of Hellraiser with spectacle flair to boot. Jamie Clayton is the Pinhead a new generation deserves, swamped by Bruckner’s coldest cinematography hiding redder lighting to discover that humanity is where the real monsters reside. Hellraiser may be comparatively less grotesque, but a heady calibration of “pain or pleasure” storytelling has Hellraiser screaming for joy in a reinvigorated setting for the franchise. It’s cleverly timed, saving the gore for maximum impact and valuing the psychological edge inherent in cenobitic storytelling, never losing itself in kinder intentions just for masochistic distractions. There are developments that feel lighter and less explored even at almost two hours in length, but that doesn’t stop Bruckner from delivering one of the best Hellraiser movies since the original.