The Hellraiser franchise returns with a number after the title, signifying a reboot: Hellraiser (2022) is now on Hulu, offering a robust array of bottomless pits, mumbling Cenobites and luscious fleshpeeling gore! If anything ever “deserves” a reboot, it’s this franchise, which began with the 1987 original – directed by Clive Barker, adapting his novella The Hellbound Heart – and racked up nine sequels, each more inessential than the last. Notably, the new film boasts director David Bruckner, who helmed excellent borderline-arthouse creeper The Night House; and David S. Goyer, scripter of Dark Knight and Blade films and The Sandman series, gets story credit. Will they make the Hellraiser franchise glisten like freshly butchered meat, or is it just the same old rotten, maggot-ridden blecch?
HELLRAISER: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: A sick and twisted billionaire (are there any other kinds of billionaires?) named Voight (Goran Visnjic) has quite the mansion. Its centerpiece is a massive room with a vaulted ceiling, skylight, obscure symbols on the floor and a handy button that triggers cagelike gates to slam shut so whoever he lures in is trapped and therefore can be sliced by a razor hidden inside Satan’s Rubik’s Cube and subsequently ripped to shreds by the hooks and chains of demoniacal fiends accepting the sacrifice in their honor. Do you HATE when that HAPPENS? I sure do! Being torn asunder by mysterious creepy supernatural devilishly pale occult beings with piercing fetishes and eyes like voids is very inconvenient, especially on busy days chock full of work and errands to run.
SIX YEARS LATER. Riley (Odessa A’zion) and Trevor (Drew Starkey) are going at it – loudly. The it they’re going at is obvious to her roommate brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison) and their friend Nora (Aoife Hinds). It’s kinda embarrassing and kinda funny to everyone but Matt, who doesn’t approve of his sister hooking up with someone she met at AA. Those guys are always trouble. Matt has a point, especially considering Trevor talks Riley into helping him break into a warehouse containing a shipping container containing a safe containing a wooden box containing a little box with moving parts that shift and ratchet and click and don’t seem to adhere to the rules of worldly physics, but that’s to be expected with Satan’s Rubik’s Cube or Cthulhu’s Puzzle Box or Xaphan’s Fidget Hexahedron or whatever it is.
Maybe you can see it coming, but things don’t go well for Riley from here. She fights with Matt, relapses on pills, passes out on a merry-go-round and the hallucinations she experiences, shadowy figures in the peripheral vision at night, have something to do with that damned little contraption, like, surely, literally damned. Matt finds her, farts around with the thingy and it cuts him and absorbs his blood, and when that happens, it is surely a happening of ominous portent, because inanimate objects can’t be vampires, that’s a rule. The humanoid nastycreatures emerge from the ethers and hurt Matt and take him away, probably forever, because one must assume there’s no reneging on the human-sacrifice deal, unwitting or otherwise.
From here, Riley Googles some shit and ends up at Voight’s abandoned mansion, with the Scooby Gang trailing behind. Her goal? Find Matt and rescue him from eternal torment. She finds the billionaire’s collection of rare occult books, and his nutso journals that might explain some of the stuff we’ve seen in the movie so far, and also his lovely sex oubilette, whose primary feature is a well that goes down, down, down, down, down, down, down, because Voight must be really turned on by pits, holes, crevasses and abysses. Christian Grey is such a lightweight! None of this, and I mean NONE of this, bodes well for Riley. I’ll say no more, but wait’ll you see blood drip UP for a change, it’s pretty wild!What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Full disclosure: I haven’t seen all the Hellraisers, and kind of pity anyone who has, especially considering I didn’t know some of those movies existed until about 45 minutes ago. But I will say Hellraiser (2022) is more concisely, thoughtfully plotted than the original film, which was more a collection of scenes with a Major Vibe than anything else; between the two, feel free to swap coherent writing for oogy atmosphere, or vice-versa, as you see fit. Otherwise, this is one of the better reboots of a big horror franchise – way better than the Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and the mid-’00s Texas Chainsaw re-dos, more visually inventive than Child’s Play Twenty-Nineteen and about on par with Fede Alvarez’s fiendishly fun Evil Dead and 2018’s rock-solid Halloween.
Performance Worth Watching: A’zion is quite good as our intrepid protagonist, perhaps destined to be a Final Girl (no spoilers!), but surely determined to wrestle with the film’s prevalent addiction metaphor in a convincing and empathetic fashion.
Memorable Dialogue: The lead creepo-being (Jamie Clayton) gets this winner: “SAVE… your BREATH… for SCREAMING!”
Sex and Skin: Medium-R-rated sex; a dude butt.
Our Take: “ENOUGH… is a MYTH.” So says Beelzebub’s personal assistant or factotum or ambassador or whatever – they’re hideous and terrifying, but also quite wise, we learn. The intimidating androgyne with the telltale pin-studded bald head – informally Pinhead, here dubbed The Priest and modified from the original to be less overtly male, and also known as a Cenobite, although we don’t hear that word in this movie – knows a thing or two about desire. They and their entourage of hideous hangers-on (yes, Teeth-Chatter Guy gets rebooted, and he’s nifty as ever) will never, ever stop wanting flesh or souls or pleasure or pain, and they’re willing to endure great, convoluted ceremonial nonsense to attain it. Since pills and booze are Riley’s demons, she’d be wise to view the Cenobites’ implied stories as cautionary tales. Or maybe they could just attend a meeting with her. Might do ’em some good.
So there’s a little bit of something in this Hellraiser to sink your tropological teeth into – the hell of addiction and the wayward desperation that those afflicted sometimes experience, reflected in A’zion’s relatively nuanced performance. Bruckner deemphasizes the sexual-fetish stuff of the original, perhaps in a quest to explore deeper, headier material. But nobody’s going to mistake this for “elevated” horror – we’re here for the gut-queasing splortch of some exquisitely satisfying close-up gore accompanied by the sucking-exhale sound the honey bear makes when you’re trying to squeeze the bottom-third of its guts out.
The ooze-factor helped define Barker’s original as a Forever Movie for devoted Fangoria readers; Bruckner knows what side his bread is buttered on, and delivers in turn. It’s gross, weird and inventive, heavy on the torture but stopping just short of the cold, clinical workmanship of torture-porn horror. There’s art in this splatter, is what I’m saying – one shot from the Pierced Windpipe Cam and you’ll understand the level of thoughtful consideration that went into this film’s presentation of nasty, nasty shit. I can hear the old diehards crowing about CGI as they genuflect at the altar of practical effects, but Bruckner finds a keen balance of the two, merging them into a full-on aesthetic. He’s not content to merely filet a body; he filets them with flair.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Hellraiser (2022) is better than it probably has any right to be. Is it ENOUGH… or do we want MORE… from this rebooted franchise? That’s always the conundrum, ain’t it?
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.