After decades of lacklustre sequels, the Hellraiser franchise returns with a total reimagining of Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart. Originally shot in 1987, the story moves to a hedonistic millionaire’s mansion owned by Goran Višnjić‘s Roland Voight. In league with hell’s disciples (aka the Cenobites), Voight seeks fresh souls so he can barter his way to an audience with god. However, when his gateway to hell in the form of a small puzzzle box is stolen by recovering addict, Riley, as played by Odessa A’zion, she unwittingly unleashes hell on all those around her. Can she save them all in time? Or is her reckoning with Jamie Clayton’s lead cenobite, far closer at hand?
... sensibly repositions Pinhead as a consequence of characters' actions than just being a demon-on-demand.
The first thing to say is that, much like, Prey, Hulu’s surprising Predator sequel, director Davis Bruckner has an immediate sense of reverance for the original movies that built the franchise. Gone are the cheap production values and the frankly questionable acting abilities of previous casts. This is Hellraiser taken seriously rather than knocked off as a straight-to-video, cash n’ grab. Which is all the more puzzling for movies of a box that can summon hell’s real angels. Question: when is a film good enough to be in cinemas and yet can only be seen via streaming? When it’s on Hulu. Again, please check out director Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey as proof.
Fortunately though, the first half of David Bruckner’s film focuses on relationships and is immediately far better than its recent forebears for doing so. The usual triggers for addiction are in all place but this time, unlike the other sequels, it isn’t all so painfully obvious. Odessa A’zion totally convinces as Riley and given her role of actually carrying the movie – once you get beyond Jamie Clayton‘s casting as lead cenobite “Pinhead” – A’zion actually steals the show. Initally the chasing cenobites are heard and not seen, and commendably, their character design and prosthetics have been totally re-worked for this reboot. Cleary taking an aesthetic cue from more recent horror hits, it’s fair to say that the pacing and stylings of American Horror Story definetly show their hands here.
So, why is Hellraiser such a revered property? Well, it’s worth remembering that when Hellraiser originally debuted in 1987, it blew the doors off what was thought possible, permissable and even predictable for a medium budget horror movie. Now, if anything, it feels like we live in more purient times where horror’s palette has become more homgenised, regularly featuring in episodic dramas or using gore to carry entire shows like The Walking Dead. In short, we now know how much red meat to expect. What we didn’t expect in 1987 was a small story to blow up into operatic grandeur by its third reel, which is in no small part due to the acting talents of Clare Higgins and Dirty Harry‘s original nemesis Andrew Robinson.
If anything, and I know this will incur the wrath of the Hellraiser fanbase here, Hellraiser 2022 is what Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth should have been. Director David Bruckner indeed does have “such sights to show you” and Jamie Clayton is a certainly solid step forward as Pinhead. Yet, whilst she lacks Doug Bradley’s callous charm, Bruckner has sensibly repositioned her Pinhead as a consequence of other characters’ actions than just being a demon-on-demand. Thereby having done so and not becoming the movie’s raison d’etre, Bruckner and co. have avoided the infernal pit that the other sequels fell into.
So, can you see Hellraiser 2022 without seeing the other movies? Yes. However, I think you’d be selling youself short if you didn’t the watch the original Hellraiser and its follow-up Hellbound: Hellraiser II first. 2022’s call-backs are delicously restrained and better enjoyed with the taste of the other two still in your mouth. Appearing instead as motifs in a franchise whioch was fatally gutted by opportunism (yes, looking at you Mr. Weinstein), the cenobites are now back in business and ready to plunge theirs hooks into another generation.
So, why not let Jamie Clayton‘s chains rain down around you as Odessa A’zion keeps the whole thing grounded? This time, for a welcome change, it’s more than financiers’ hands that will call you.