The original Hellraiser movie, based on the ’86 Clive Barker novella The Hellbound Heart (written and directed by Barker himself) was and is a masterpiece. Inspired by Barker’s time as a sex worker in the ’70s, the demonic cenobites got their look from the attendees at S&M clubs that the writer would frequent.
The 1987 film and its immediate sequel offered a believable glimpse into hell, where pain and pleasure are one and the same, referred to by lead cenobite the Priest (usually known as Pinhead) as “sensation.” The hooks and chains tearing flash, the leather and latex — it was chillingly stylish and grotesque, made all the worse by the fact that the victims sought out their eternally unthinkable fate while trying to find ultimate pleasure.
After Hellraiser II came eight more sequels which were generally good fun but ranged in quality from B-movie to Z-movie. The Priest became less scary and more of a wisecracking Pinhead the more we saw him (much like what happened to Freddy Krueger). Approach them with caution. But the brilliance of the first movie in particular couldn’t be dampened by a sloppy franchise.
This new movie has been referred to as a remake, but “reboot” is more accurate. It’s an entirely different story from the original, so it could be a sequel if not for the recasting of the Priest. Doug Bradley famously played the role of the Pinhead character for the first eight movies, then Stephen Smith Collins and Paul T. Taylor got one film each. In this new one, actress Jamie Clayton is sporting the pins, and of course, that gender switch has been met with accusations of “wokeness and virtue signaling” from clueless fuckwits. Those who read the novella know that Barker described the Priest as being feminine but without gender — it’s entirely true to the source material to cast a female in the role.
And in fact, Clayton’s turn is the best thing about the movie. Her Priest is less shouty than Bradley’s, but her cold and ritualistic performance is chilling. While Bradley said the line, “We have such sights to show you” with relish, Clayton says the same line here with mechanical cruelty. Her Priest simply has a job to do and that job is taking the victim to hell and having them experience excruciating agony for the rest of time.
Besides Clayton though, the film falls annoyingly flat. The story — of a woman struggling with addiction who is tricked into stealing the puzzle box that as long time fans know, opens a door to hell for the cenobites to slowly walk through — serves no purpose other then to offer up a bunch of unlikable souls for the cenobites to feed on.
There’s a metaphor in there about Riley McKendry (Odessa A’zion) already living in hell due to her unshakable addiction, but the character isn’t developed enough for us to really care (not A’zion’s fault). Much of the film is set inside a mansion, equipped with a special shield that keeps the cenobites out, or outside in the woods. But the thing is, the cenobites aren’t scary outside. They’re not Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees. They’re terrifying when they’re making walls slide away to reveal blink-and-you-miss-them visions of literal hell and when chains are flying in from all corners and tearing people limb from limb, all the while saying things like, “Don’t you want to feel things? Why would you not want this?”
Goran Višnjić is fascinatingly sinister as Roland Voight, a connoisseur of the occult and the owner of said mansion. And there are a couple of excellent cenobite designs, notably Selina Lo’s Gasp who has her throat wired open like a medical school anatomy display.
But at the end of the day, if you’re going to make a song and dance about a Hellraiser remake/reboot, and smash a glass ceiling in the process, you have to remember to make a bloody scary movie, jam packed with the sado-eroticism that infected the original. Director David Bruckner and writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski didn’t do that. From the gore effects to the plot to the general scares, this movie is inferior to the 35 year old original in every way. And this Priest deserves better.
Hellraiser is available to view now on Hulu.
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