Hellraiser, which of course was the brainchild of horror maestro Clive Barker, has spanned ten horror movies across thirty years, with the most recent being 2018’s Judgment. It’s surprising that Pinhead doesn’t have that much screen-time in the 1987 original, which is rightfully considered a horror classic, because he went on to become very much the focus of the franchise moving forward.
Now – David Bruckner, who recently impressed with 2017’s The Ritual and 2020’s The Night House, has added his take to the franchise. And as is the current rage with reboots, legacy sequels or whatever you want to call them, his 2022 entry is simply just called Hellraiser.
Hellraiser (2022) focuses on Riley (Odessa A’zion), a young woman who has been in rehab for around six months, and her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) is desperately trying to keep her clean. One night, Riley’s boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) persuades her to commit a safe-cracking heist at an abandoned warehouse and guess what’s inside the safe?
That’s right – the puzzle box that has become iconic for its use throughout the franchise – the Lament Configuration. The first victim of the box is Matt, whose hand is punctured by the blade that shoots out of the box each time a stage of the puzzle is solved. He then disappears, prompting Riley, Trevor, Matt’s boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison) and their roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds) to set out in pursuit of him.
The mysterious antagonist of the story is billionaire Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic, and it’s good to see him in another villainous role after another Halloween classic – 1998’s Practical Magic). We see in a prologue that Voight was obsessed with the Lament Configuration, believing that it would allow him to ascend to another plane of existence, and this appears to be the case, because he disappears for six years before we pick up the main storyline, centred around Riley. Hiam Abbass, as Voight’s lawyer Serena, gives one of the best performances in the new Hellraiser movie.
Considering the focus on the casting of Jamie Clayton as the new version of Pinhead – known as The Priest – and on the fact that everyone will be excited to see the new Cenobite designs, they are not in the thriller movie as much as you might expect. It takes 45 minutes before we get a good look at any Cenobites, and over an hour before we properly see and hear The Priest.
It’s a shame, because the creature designs are extremely cool – there’s The Weeper, The Gasp, The Asphyx, The Mother, The Masque, and of course a fan favourite – The Chatterer. The practical nature of the latex and make-up work on the Cenobites is palpable, with them creaking as they move. Bruckner and his team have devised some ingenious ways to tear the body asunder – stretching muscles, skin and sinews to their absolute limits.
Having had the long build up to get to know Riley and her relationships does help with getting us to care more once the torture starts, of course. While the spotlight has been on Clayton in the build-up to Hellraiser’s release, this is A’zion’s film. Hopefully this will be a breakthrough role for her, as she is impressive as a classic horror ‘Final Girl’, who the entire film revolves around. The rest of the young cast all fit their roles well, and casting is certainly one of the main strengths of Bruckner’s film.
Kathrin Eder’s production design, particularly of Voight’s mansion, is impressive. The mansion begins to function like a puzzle box, with walls that suddenly slide open, gates that come down, and other configurations that keep it moving and confusing. The small apartment that Riley, Matt, Colin and Nora share is authentically crowded. Trevor mysteriously seems to be able to afford a gorgeous apartment, despite doing similar kinds of odd jobs to the impoverished Riley.
Composer Ben Lovett has worked with Bruckner twice before, and specialises in horror movies such as The Wind, I Trapped the Devil, and The Wolf of Snow Hollow. His work here certainly aids the atmosphere, and becomes fittingly grandiose as the themes such as Heaven and Hell become more apparent towards the end.
Hellraiser (2022) does go deeper into the lore of the puzzle box, with the Lament Configuration just being the first of several stages, each with a different name. This could have been made clearer though, with each stage fitting with its victim better, or there could have been a different Cenobite in charge of each configuration. The writers – Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski – could maybe have paced things better, so we’re seeing Cenobites at more regular intervals and that some scenes just revolve around one, so we can take in all of their cool details.
It is a tricky balancing act in any horror film – the villain or villains are really the main selling point, especially if they’re supernatural and have cool creature design with impressive practical make up effects. But you have to judiciously deploy them, mainly in the second half of the monster movie, and of course build to a climax surrounding them. This can lead to frustration whenever they’re not on screen, because they are really what we’ve come here to see and experience.
Despite this, Hellraiser (2022) is a solidly entertaining addition to your October horror watchlists. It is certainly elevated by Odessa A’zion and wouldn’t be anywhere near as good if she didn’t get us invested in Riley. It’s good to see Goran Visnjic back on scenery-chewing villain form again. The creature design and practical effects involved in the Cenobites is great, it’s just frustrating that we don’t see them used to their full potential.
Given the – uneven – nature of the Hellraiser franchise, it’s not going to take too much for this to be considered one of the better entries. Hellraiser (2022) doesn’t break the mold, but is a fine addition to the hellish world sparked by Clive Barker over three decades ago.
A solidly entertaining addition to the long-running franchise, with a particularly impressive performance from Odessa A’Zion.