Some horror franchises don’t get as much respect as others. The Hellraiser series is hardly put on the same pedestal as properties like Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, or even Saw. At the same time, there’s a hardcore fandom out there, one that worships Pinhead as one of the great movie monsters. It’s undeniably a product of the 1980s and author/filmmaker Clive Barker‘s popularity, with clearly diminished qualities over its many sequels. So, how does the reboot of Hellraiser fare, here in 2022? Better than you might expect, actually, due in no small part to a director of some note taking the reins.
Hellraiser is as much a David Bruckner film as a franchise reboot. While not as artistic as The Night House, it feels far removed from the dregs of cinematic society that it could have been. Bruckner and company make sure of it. There’s a missed opportunity to do something wholly new, but as a return to form for this series, it hits the mark.
A new take on the 1987 classic, this one follows struggling addict Riley (Odessa A’zion) as she comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box after pulling a robbery with her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey). Of course, she’s unaware that its purpose is to summon the Cenobites and The Priest (Jamie Clayton) aka Pinhead, but our prologue lets us in on that secret. When Riley’s overprotective brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) comes into contact with the box and accidentally activates its hidden blade, he summons the monsters, disappearing in the process.
Determined to find Matt, Riley and Trevor begin an investigation. Along with Matt’s boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison) and friend Nora (Aoife Hinds), the pair eventually come upon an abandoned mansion once owned by Voight (Goran Visnjic). How he factors into things you’ll just have to find out, but the Cenobites and their leader won’t be far behind.
As with most horror flicks, the acting is nothing to write home about. At the same time, when it comes to Hellraiser, most of the interest in this regard will be about who is playing Pinhead. Here, it’s Jamie Clayton, taking over for, largely, Doug Bradley, and she equates herself nicely. Clayton is effectively creepy, that’s for sure. Protagonist Odessa A’zion is a bit hit or miss, while the other characters are just paper thin. Then, there’s Goran Visnjic, who is certainly doing a thing. He’s the closest thing to campy in this otherwise deathly serious work. Supporting players here include Hiam Abbass, Kit Clarke, and more.
Director David Bruckner brings a solid visual flair and an interest in character to this version of Hellraiser. Working from a script by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (who both penned The Night House for him), which also has a story by credit for David S. Goyer, Bruckner takes a fairly average story and really drills down on the addiction subplot. It’s more in line with his prior work, and if it’s not quite as effective here, it still works. There’s also some nicely gnarly practical effects and gore, with The Priest and her Cenobites vividly old school. At the same time, a bit more of an involved plot would have certainly paid more dividends as well.
Hellraiser brings the franchise back from the dead. As a Hulu release hoping for some pre Halloween eyeballs here in October, it more than suffices. Is it great cinema? No. Is it at least the second best installment in the series? Yeah, that seems like more than a fair ranking. If you’re a horror maven, this is certainly one to check out.