The Latest Hellraiser Brings More Pleasure Than Pain
All the way back in 2007, discussions of a new Hellraiser reboot/requel/whatever were publicized for all to see among the horror community. With a plethora of attached personalities and failed achievements, Hellraiser lingered in development hell for what seemed like centuries of suffering. But with the critical and commercial success of 2018’s Halloween, Miramax Films confirmed plans for multiple new entries in the beloved Cenobite oriented franchise. Now in 2022, Hulu (after the success of the recent Prey) have released David Bruckner’s newest vision of Hell. Would Bruckner’s Hellraiser prove a cinematic delight or another waste of good suffering?
Hellraiser follows several characters in different ways, but the focus is Riley (played by the wonderful Odessa A’zion) as she struggles with drug addiction and the nightmarish need to quell her own personal demons through a quick fix. Under the influence of her boyfriend, Riley is convinced to assist in breaking into a storage warehouse and upon doing so, finds a mysterious puzzle box. With the acquisition of this mysterious puzzle box, Riley finds her sanity tested by unknown forces wreaking havoc around her.
David Bruckner’s Hellraiser starts slow, much like the original cult classic, as it attempts to modernize for newer audiences. With a clear focus on character and plot development rather than constant jump scares (which, let’s face it, are the growing norm nowadays), Bruckner chooses to focus on what is fundamental to the stronger entries in the Hellraiser franchise that preceded this update. That means less Cenobites and more character and motive tuning, which worked perfectly for me but may not be the case for others. This modern reboot is, at its core, focused on the fundamental components of Clive Barker’s 1987 film.
Everyone in Hellraiser does a terrific job with what they are given, which is already of a high standard (truthfully, much higher than I anticipated). The core group of young adults are reactive and sensible in most situations. Early on clear motives are established, and the motives make sense to take things forward in satisfactory fashion. Although some cliched twists and turns peek their head out from the gutter here and there, the writing is of a strong standard, and it is easy to see with multiple writers behind the material that it has been fine tuned into a cohesive shocker.
Bruckner’s direction is also of an impressive standard. Much like his previous work on cult hits like The Ritual (2017) and The Night House (2020), Bruckner opts for intensifying atmosphere as opposed to a sadistic focus that may otherwise teeter on the dreaded line between arthouse banality and torture porn. With each Lament Configuration interaction, Bruckner provides an extremely polished and never tiresome new vision of Hell merging with our world that conjures up some striking labyrinth like disorientation to unsettle viewers. Even some moments felt like an ungodly mix of Silent Hill and Hellraiser and personally, I was all for that. More importantly this all looks, feels, and sounds like a Hellraiser movie, all essential factors that were missing from the numerous ill-advised sequels that followed Hellraiser II: Hellbound.
Now onto the juicy stuff everyone wants to know about – what are the Cenobites like? Truthfully, they are surprisingly great. There is less of a focus on leather and more of a focus on distorted flesh, but the Cenobites in this latest rendition all look different to one another and, more importantly, act different to one another. Never is it a case of reusing the same design but changing certain aspects to make it seem like a new creation. Fan favourites, like Chatterer return too. One of the Cenobites has a striking resemblance to Angelique, and the Hell Priest, this time played by the superb Jamie Clayton, is a nice change from Doug Bradley’s Pinhead. Jamie Clayton’s Hell Priest is more of a faithful recreation of the source material in The Hellbound Heart, and Clayton does a terrific job of filling the shoes of cult legend, Bradley. The Cenobites are creepy, disgusting and atmospherically terrifying, like they should be.
There are a few issues with this new rendition of Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart, though. In the final third, certain scenes and aspects can take too long to wrap up and some familiar character cliches rise to the surface too, but I was willing to overlook these in favour of the well-developed character structure that preceded it all. It can also take a while for The Cenobites to make a fully fledged appearance, but when they do – it was well worth the wait.
The new Lament Configuration lore, although it may be fascinating and add new layers to the Hellraiser franchise mythology, can be a bit messy at times. Where the original punished whoever solved the puzzle box, in this newest reincarnation it is dependent on who gets stabbed by the knife that protrudes from the center after solving it. It leads to some messy interactions and confusing sacrifices here and there but, as mentioned before, this new Lament Configuration has a bit more depth than its older counterpart, which is always a plus in my eyes.
Overall, 2022’s Hellraiser is a great little movie. Everyone involved this time around had a great admiration and respect for the novella source material. David Bruckner has crafted one of the stronger entries in the franchise to date. Although it doesn’t quite hit the highs of the original or Hellbound (still my personal favourite in the series), there is a large amount of DNA from both aforementioned movies present in this modern update. The slow start may rub some the wrong way, but if you stick with it, 2022’s Hellraiser is a great addition to a (hopefully) revived franchise. A new entry that doesn’t feel like another waste of good suffering.