Hellraiser (2022) – We Have Such Disappointments To Show You

2 out of 5 stars

In 1986, Clive Barker published what many believe to be one of his most thought provoking novellas, The Hellbound Heart. Only a year later, Clive Barker would translate his story to the big screen in the original Hellraiser (1987) film. That film blew the lid off of the horror industry. Clive Barker’s story offered something new original to the horror world. It also created some of the most iconic characters to ever exist in the horror pantheon. The most of iconic of those would be played by man named Doug Bradley and the character would be affectionately known as Pinhead.

Clive Barker’s delves into the deepest recesses of the human psyche. He investigates the intersections of depraved sexual desire, sadomasochism and eternal damnation. The story takes the audiences deep within themselves to question their own desires and fetishes. On top of all of it, Barker add character to the story by layering in a tale of family dysfunction and betrayal.

Somehow, this fantastic kernel of horror greatness veers off into the ditch at the second sequel. Only Halloween rivals this franchise’s propensity for BAD sequels.

For the record, Malevolent Dark LOVES Hellraiser II: Hellbound. Those of you that disagree with that will be dealt with later.

Hellraiser (2022) - Odessa A'zion performs the lead, Riley
Odessa A’zion does an admirable job playing Riley, despite a weak script

A Worthy Reboot?

We often talk about Hollywood’s relentless strategy of rebooting things that we love. the practice is so prevalent that it’s almost cliché to mention that this trend sucks. “Oh hey, look at this guy over here in his tight jeans and smart mustache playa hatin on reboots.” However, due to the massive love for the premise and the litany of brutal sequels, the prospect of a reboot for Hellraiser intrigued anyone vested in the horror community. As early as 2006, rumors persisted that Clive Barker had begun writing a screenplay for the project.

18 years later, Hulu finally bestowed a reboot on the world. Directed by David Brucker and notably not written by Clive Barker, a full-feature film designed for streaming released on October 7th 2022. This time, Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski provide the screenplay. In producing the film, the team decided not to constrain themselves to decisions of the past when it came to mythology and casting.

At this stage in his career, Doug Bradley had extended beyond his window to play the Hell Priest, Pinhead. Instead, the casting department smartly reached for something different. Actress Jamie Clayton takes the role of Pinhead, the Hell Priestess. On paper, the decision feels good, and early leaks of her makeup looked freaking fantastic.

Hellraiser (2022) - Jamie Clayton as Pinhead, the Hell Priestess
Jamie Clayton as Pinhead, The Hell Priestess

Angel to Some, Demon to Others

Owing to the title of this review, Hellraiser (2022) fails miserably on a lot of levels. Let’s start with the stuff that works.

    • Odessa A’zion as Riley proves to be one of the best casting decisions in the film. She provides one of the only sympathy deserving characters. Her performance toes the line between attractive, intriguing and completely disheveled. Unfortunately she fails to overcome the limitations of her script. She did the best she could with what she had.
    • Jamie Clayton looks really good as the new Hell Priestess but her performance fails to overcome her sparse appearance, poor script and general lack of presentation by David Bruckner. To be fair, we wouldn’t be talking about Doug Bradley had he been dealt the same hand.
    • The makeup team creates some really awesome Cenobites… but they also create some stinkers. We do applaud a scene that follows the whole path of a giant pin through someone’s esophagus.

Had this film not been in the position of resurrecting a beloved franchise, it might make the grade of slightly above average. Unfortunately, the shadow of its predecessor is massive, dark and very real. Hellraiser (2022) simply fails to rise to the occasion. What’s most disappointing is that the playbook for success has been on a shelf since 1987. Someone just needs to pick it up and follow the blueprint.

Hellraiser (2022) - The Lament Configuration
The Lament Configuration

Jesus Wept

The biggest problem plaguing Hellraiser concerns the general disregard for the substance that made it so fascinating in the first place. The real undercurrent of the franchise is sexual depravity. People seeking Lemarchand’s Box sought sexual pleasure far beyond the limitations of humankind. Their well of depravity ran so deep that they could only experience through pain. Far beyond the fleeting pain of S&M, the Lament Configuration brought eternal pain, disfigurement and eternal damnation.

Frank Cotton became the torch bearer for this. The audience could cut Frank’s desire with a knife and smell the rank musk of his lust. This storyline all but disappears in Hellraiser. Sure, they hint at it when a prostitute wanders from a sex party to Roland Voight’s Hell chamber, but it’s simply not the same. Instead of the plot being about the sins of man and people falling victim to their own dark desires, the writers turned it into a giant game of demonic pass-the-trash. It’s not about what the character did, but what someone else did to the character. Everybody’s a victim.

While not unique to this Hellraiser episode, could the box be any more trivial to solve? It’s as if they are playing hot potato with a mousetrap, and anyone that touches it is screwed. At least Kirsty spent 5 minutes with it before inadvertently solving it.

It feels like an hour before the Cenobites come on the scene, and their entry couldn’t be less impressive. Remember the tolling of distant bell, the rumble of concrete sliding over itself,  smoke and blinding white light. Yeah, nothing like that. They appear like wood faeries with almost no fanfare at all. Considering the profound nature of the dialog in the original, the writers fail to create any iconic lines for the Hell Priestess. The best they can do is to recycle, “We have such sights to show you” with 10 minutes left in the film.

We question the decision to include a Pinhead at all. The story needs a Hell Priest. The fact that the original had pins in his head was consequential. Since the production team chose to cast a female lead, why not give her a completely new character? It seems unfair that Jamie Clayton has to live up to the reputation set by Doug Bradley when the film also chose to disregard so many other story points.

Hellraiser (2022) - The Chatterer
The new and not necessarily improved Chatterer

The Cenobites range from completely awesome, to questionably lame. Jamie Clayton looks the best of the best. A female Pinhead works perfectly and she looks fantastic in her makeup. We also like the Chatterer, but maybe slightly less than the original. Finally, we really liked Asphyx as well. This new Cenobite concept pulls a flap of skin over the gaping maw of an Asphyx-iating Cenobite. Specifically, the design concepts were great on these characters, but they all still suffer from the aforementioned lack of atmosphere and sense of dread.

Hellraiser (2022) commits a most egregious sin by humanizing Cenobites. The original Cenobites transcend the realm of man. They are ethereal beings that live in trans-dimensional space. They are not constrained by earthbound rules. Their powers come from the manipulation of Leviathan and Hell. The Cenobites in this film feel all too real. In fact they feel more like monsters than anything mythological and powerful. It feels silly when these being chase their victims around on foot. Roland Voight completely immobilizes Pinhead simply by closing the door in her face. Lame.

Finally, Hellraiser (2022) does nothing to expand the Universe or mythology.

If You Couldn’t Tell…

Hellraiser (2022) could not be less impressive. For all the hope and dreams of Hellraiser fans everywhere, this film fails them at every corner. To be honest, it’s hard to imagine a more uninspired film to be made. In fleeting moments it visually looks good, but it simply fails to raise the Hell that the original films did. We are a bit shocked that Clive Barker put his seal of approval on this, but to be fair, his own written follow-up The Scarlet Gospels was atrocious. Maybe this franchise has been dead all along.