Hellraiser will be streaming on Hulu on Oct. 7, 2022.
David Bruckner’s Hellraiser is an excitably reverent retooling of Clive Barker’s original horror classic and the author’s novella, The Hellbound Heart. Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski take David S. Goyer’s story treatment into alternate realms of sensual punishment, far from Kirsty Cotton’s encounter with the Lament Configuration. Barker’s Hellraiser favors ’80s horror tendencies of a more stripped but graphic nature — Bruckner’s able to expand storytelling and scope, going with a “bigger” mentality that still writes with infernal carnal pleasures. It’s respectfully indebted to Barker’s psycho-sexual confrontation of eroticism and violent punishments. Yet, Bruckner never attempts to retrace what Barker’s already colored outside typical horror lines—Hellraiser 2022 thematically raises hell on his newly renovated terms.
Odessa A’zion stars as Riley McKendry, an early-20s addict trying to cleanse her clothes with a 12-Step Program. Brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) is her loving but overbearing housemate, who chases her out after another night when Riley stumbles home drunk after seeing new boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey). That night wasn’t just tainted by substance abuse, though — Riley and Trevor steal an ancient puzzle box that Riley unlocks after ingesting a few pills. In a drug haze, she’s visited by The Priest (Jamie Clayton), this cross between angel and demon with pins stuck into her smooth head. She warns of the box’s hunger for blood and what it demands, which begins another Hellraiser tale where humans are shown sights they cannot comprehend — gory sights that flay, pierce, and strip away skin.
Clayton is a harbinger vision as Bruckner’s The Priest (aka Pinhead), introducing repulsively chic new Cenobite forms. Gone are the black leather BDSM costumes; pale cadavers with exposed muscle tendons are like peeled underworld bananas. Effects artists Josh and Sierra Russell reteam with Bruckner after The Ritual and The Night House to bring concept designer Keith Thompson’s Cenobites to life, honoring favorites like “The Chatterer” with the instruction to ensure silicon suits could handle mobility. There’s nothing lost with Cenobites covering more ground, acting as hunt-and-stalk creatures throughout Berkshires manor grounds. From The Masque (Vukašin Jovanovic) with his flesh-stretched facial canvas being where his head should be to The Gasp (Selina Lo), an extreme upgrade to a prior Cenobite dubbed “Deep Throat,” Bruckner’s extradimensional beings appear as wishmasters exiled from heaven and accomplish looking revoltingly seductive while breathing new life into the franchise.
The way Clayton nods to original Pinhead actor Doug Bradley is evident in stoic mannerisms, but Bruckner’s The Priest separates itself thanks to Clayton’s performance. She saunters with spectral grace and gazes through characters as she curiously questions their darkest desires. Maybe “philosophical” isn’t the right word, but close? Clayton’s inquisition as The Priest is appropriately unsettling—her voice echoes an ethereal reverberation as she remains stone-faced while sniveling mortals plead for mercy. She nails the higher-power allure of Cenobites who grant box users the ultimate pleasures they seek, blurring the lines between fear and excitement to unspeakable depths.
Meanwhile, A’zion shines as the flawed addict trying to do better who still cannot deny momentary impulses. Everyone’s endangered because Riley can’t say “no”: Matt, Trevor, Matt’s sweetheart boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison), and their other housemate Nora (Aoife Hinds). A’zion explores the trials of addiction and who gets hurt in the process, using the choices Riley is forced to make when the box starts claiming souls. In proper Hellraiser fashion, the performances of A’zion and Clayton are key — The Priest says as long as Riley possesses the box, fates are in her hands. Riley asks for repentance, howls in agony, and transitions between countless emotions that A’zion executes with emphasis that pours out of the screen.
Elsewhere, Hellraiser 2022 transforms the sex dungeon aesthetic of Frank Cotten’s attic into something vastly more marbled and elaborate. The box has six shape-shifting configurations, granting the props department freedom to redesign each geometric evolution. Goran Visnjic portrays the film’s Frank-iest character Roland Voight, leaving behind his estate dedicated to decadent pleasure-seeking that eventually becomes important to Riley’s unholy plot to vanquish the Cenobites. Hellraiser favors more of a puzzlemaker’s oddity, benefitting from movable labyrinth houses like in Thir13en Ghosts or even escape room horrors. Bruckner digs into the godless worship of those corrupted by the box’s possibilities despite its proven harm, which sometimes does too much within its a bit too bloated duration — yet exemplifies how reboots can thoughtfully recontextualize and rebirth iconic franchises.
Surprisingly, Bruckner — responsible for grotesque bodily mutilation in his Southbound segment “The Accident” — doesn’t meet the extreme practical gloopiness of 1987’s Hellraiser tortures. The Cenobite’s first claimed target doesn’t even earn a euphoric end on-screen. The filmmaker’s psychologically driven dread found in The Night House plays into wonderfully trippy moments where Cenobites appear from randomly materialized tunnels or stress the regret that weighs on Riley — not the violence itself. Although, gore still exists between exposed Cenobite wounds and mechanisms that, for example, tug on wearers’ nerves strung through moving gears that continually cause nagging pain. Hellraiser is more dazzling than it is sickeningly sadomasochistic through slimy gore effects as a stylistic differentiation that leaves Barker’s bloodletting untouched — nor is the tone as poisonously randy.
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