By George Bate
Hellraiser is one of many horror movies of the 1970s and 1980s that spawned a slew of enjoyable, although admittedly subpar sequels. The newest film in the twisted horror franchise, simply titled Hellraiser, is the series’ 11th entry and, convoluted plotting and poor pacing aside, is the best installment since the 1987 original.
Hellraiser (2022) follows Riley McKendry (played by Odessa A’zion), a recovering addict whose encounter with a puzzle box leads to the arrival of the deformed and disturbed Cenobites.
Hellraiser (2022) is to Hellraiser (1987) what Halloween (2018) was to Halloween (1978). Similar to David Gordon Green’s reimagining of the Michael Myers franchise, director David Bruckner approaches this new Hellraiser with a craft and style missing from the franchise since, perhaps, Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Bruckner’s previous work includes The Ritual and The Night House, both of which prove to be spooky and contemplative genre entries. Bruckner brings this sensibility and craft to his work on Hellraiser. From the cinematography to make-up to production design, Hellraiser is a beautifully horrible (or horribly beautiful) looking movie. Bruckner does not shy away from the gory elements of the Hellraiser franchise, delivering some of the best kill sequences of the series. Bruckner knows just the right amount of gore and violence to show his audience – it’s certainly grotesque, but never over-indulgent.
Where Hellraiser struggles is its convoluted world-building and storytelling. Part of the original Hellraiser’s brilliance was its simplicity – nothing was over-explained and Clive Barker’s stunning visuals did the talking. Here, the world of Hellraiser feels clunkier, in part due to its meandering pace. Scenes drag, exposition becomes overwhelming, and tension is lost in a story that over-complicates things and overstays its welcome.
Hellraiser also yields mixed results in terms of its exploration of deeper themes. Taking a page out of the Evil Dead remake, our lead character Riley has a history of addiction that hovers over the entire film. The psychosexual themes of the original Hellraiser are replaced by explorations into the parallels of drug addiction and the pleasure/pain dichotomy. Unfortunately, these explorations are too surface-level and are hindered by the film’s poor pacing.
Of particular note, however, is Jamie Clayton as Pinhead. The disturbing face of the Hellraiser franchise returns with The L Word: Generation Q star taking over the role made famous by Doug Bradley. Intelligently, Clayton does not try to replicate the terror of Bradley’s performance, instead lending a different sensibility to the role. Whereas Bradley’s Pinhead was horror personified, Clayton’s Pinhead is less scary and more unnerving. She isn’t as expressive as Bradley and perhaps not as menacing, but is effective in a different, more reserved way.
Hellraiser fails to reignite the terrifying franchise that has scared audiences since 1987. David Bruckner directs a beautiful looking, threatening film that is, unfortunately, hindered by heavy-handed plotting and pacing. Needless complications and convolutions result in a film that lacks the raw simplicity and, in turn, the terror of the original. Strong performances from Odessa A’zion and Jamie Clayton and a series of well crafted kill scenes mean the film will likely entertain horror fans this spooky season and is surely the best the franchise has had to offer for many years, but it’s hard to not want more out of this reimagining of Clive Barker’s classic.