The Hellraiser franchise is best described as quantity over quality that spawned a total of ten instalments, with the last one being Hellraiser: Judgment in 2018. The first movie in 1987 was easily the best while the subsequent two films (1988’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II and 1992’s Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth) were inferior by comparison, even though they did contain some worthwhile moments. But after the potentially ambitious but messy prequel-and-sequel combo Hellraiser IV: Bloodline in 1996, I already lost interest in the franchise and barely care to check out the direct-to-video releases.
Instead of going for the legacy-sequel route similar to 2018’s Halloween and this year’s Scream, the new Hellraiser is given a reboot treatment. Director David Bruckner, best known for 2020’s The Night House along with screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski start everything fresh with a brand new story. One that has nothing to do with the Cotton family includes the recurring heroine Kirsty Cotton played by Ashley Laurence in the first two movies and also in the sixth film, Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker.
The new story follows Riley (Odessa A’zion), a recovering addict who has a boyfriend named Trevor (Drew Starkey) and lives at her brother’s (Brandon Flynn’s Matt) apartment. One night, Trevor convinces her to help him steal a valuable item, which turns out to be a mysterious golden puzzle box. The puzzle box, which fans of the franchise would recognise as the Lament Configuration, functions as a key that unleashes another dimension and summons the demonic beings known as the Cenobites led by The Priest (Jamie Clayton).
The long-gestating Hellraiser reboot has gone through over a decade of development hell (no pun intended), stretching way back to 2007 when Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo of 2007’s Inside fame were initially attached to direct the movie. It didn’t work out as planned and from there, more directors were announced including Martyrs‘ Pascal Laugier but they all eventually departed the project due to creative differences.
But at the end of the day, what we have here is a two-hour of unexpected blandness with equally bland characters, notably the lead protagonist Riley played by Odessa A’zion. The thing is, I find it hard to care about all her personal struggles including her estranged relationship with her brother, Matt as well as her subsequent involvement with the puzzle box.
Hellraiser also feels overlong that spends too much time on expository-heavy moments and by the time the story shifted gears with a protracted third act in a manor, the movie has already overstayed its welcome. Sure, there is a fair amount of blood and gore that you come to expect from a Hellraiser movie but somehow lacks the visceral thrills and intensity of the superior 1987 original. Even without the comparison, it still feels lacklustre all the same.
The 2022 reboot goes as far as re-introducing the iconic Pinhead, where transgender actress Jamie Clayton of Sense8 fame plays the leader of the Cenobites nicknamed The Priest. Jamie carries the role quite well while making the right choice not to mimic Doug Bradley’s signature Pinhead character in the past. But the overall appearance including the make-up and costumes of The Priest as well as the rest of the Cenobites somehow looks less intimidating.
Hellraiser actually opens with a promising setup including a brief Belgrade-set prologue followed by a scene, where a wealthy businessman named Voight (Goran Višnjić) lures a curious young man to solve the Lament Configuration. Too bad the rest of the movie is a hit-and-miss affair and given the bigger budget at David Bruckner’s disposal, he certainly can do better here.
Hellraiser is currently streaming on Hulu.