Man, Dimension Films really took Hellraiser and screwed it into the ground, didn’t they? What started off as an adaptation of Clive Barker‘s The Hellbound Heart turned into a horror franchise that has more direct-to-video sequels than almost anyone. Originally, I was just going to do the theatrical films, but people deserve to see just how strange and let’s say, cheap, the Hellraiser series got in the direct-to-video horror era. With the new Hellraiser film coming out, October 7th on Hulu, there’s no better time to jump into the Hellraiser series and watch some of the best ones.
Starting off the list, we’ve got some really incorrigible stuff though.
UPDATE: This list has been updated to reflect Hellraiser (2022)’s release.
11. Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)
Look, I like to be positive here at Fright-A-Thon, you won’t see me trash many horror movies, but good god, Hellraiser: Revelations is unwatchable. Not only does the Pinhead in the film look like a Spirit Halloween costume version, but the Pinhead on the poster looks nothing like the one in the movie. If a movie was only shot so that your production company doesn’t lose the rights, that’s never a good thing. This was the first film in the series where Doug Bradley chose not to portray Pinhead, and he made the right choice.
It was filmed over the course of two weeks and was only shown in one theater for the crew of the film. It was released on DVD on October 18th, 2011. The plot is as thin as they come with a story of murder in Mexico, and mistaken identities through wearing someone else’s skin. It might as well be an SNL parody of Hellraiser. This one is not even worth the meme watch, and I feel really bad for the filmmakers that had to go through this rush job.
10. Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
Hellraiser: Hellseeker sees the return of Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton to the series, but her role is marginalized to a glorified cameo. It’s a shame because there’s an interesting story somewhere out there to tell involving her character. How does someone go on with their life after what she’s been through? It also fundamentally changes her character’s motivations and tendencies in the end. Laurence puts on the best performance she can with the material, but this one is a weak effort in the series.
Clive Barker was screened the workprint against the wishes of the studio, and he offered notes on the third act. His notes were not used and edited out in the final cut of the film. Goes to show how smart The Weinstein Company is.
9. Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)
This is another one that they produced and shot just to keep the license. Unlike Revelations though, Hellraiser: Judgment at least tries to make a functional film. Paul T. Taylor steps into the role of Pinhead for Doug Bradley, after Bradley didn’t sign on because the studio tried to force him to sign an NDA about the script. It has a more stylistic approach with some gory scenes and a murder mystery plot. If you’ve ever wanted to watch a Hellraiser film that acts like a police procedural, this is for you.
It does have some crazy expansions of the whole Cenobite lore, but those expansions are quite out-there and it leaves it open for a sequel that’s likely never coming.
8. Hellraiser: Deader (2005)
The whole thing with the direct-to-video sequels for Hellraiser is that most of them didn’t start off as Hellraiser films. They’re usually scripts that get bought and then retrofitted with Pinhead and Cenobites. This is one of those stories. Luckily, most of these pulpy stories fit well with the vibes of Hellraiser. Unfortunately, they usually lend themselves to feeling like Pinhead is a horror host of a TV show, coming in to frame the story and showing up at the end.
This one had zero involvement from Clive Barker and it shows. It’s simply mediocre, which is okay a lot of the time, but with the Hellraiser name slapped onto it, that makes it worse.
7. Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)
Yes, that is future Superman, Henry Cavill, in a direct-to-video Hellraiser sequel. This is one of the only sequels with an inventive plot featuring a Hellraiser-themed party being thrown by Lance Henriksen‘s character. In this world, there’s a successful Hellraiser MMORPG, one of the main character’s friends has committed suicide over the game. Throughout the film, they’re picked off slasher-style by Pinhead or Henriksen, until it’s revealed that the entire thing, the party, and everything else has been a hallucination.
It breaks the rules set by the previous films, but this one is more fun, thanks to the setting and anything with Lance Henriksen is at least watchable.
6. Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992)
This is what you get when you try to turn Pinhead into Freddy Krueger.
In the first two movies, the Cenobites are more following orders and remain part of their natural place. For this film, they not only get into the real world but go on a rampage killing people. It plays out like A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, where the rules set by the previous films are broken in the name of getting a higher body count.
That doesn’t mean this one isn’t entertaining though. You get some good work from Doug Bradley between Captain Elliott Spencer and Pinhead, but this one just feels like an overindulgent series running away from what made it special. It does feature a small cameo from Ashley Laurence and the band Armored Saint. The best part of this film is Motorhead’s song “Hellraiser” and the accompanying video though.
5. Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)
For horror fans, Hellraiser: Inferno is the directorial debut of Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange, The Black Phone). This was the first film to hit direct-to-video and is the fifth entry in the series. This follows a corrupt Denver police officer played by Craig Sheffer, who discovers the famous puzzle box at a crime scene. It also features James Remar as our main character’s therapist, who is later found to be Pinhead in disguise. The entire film is pretty stylistic and shows off what Derrickson would do later in his career. It’s an interesting “small” scale Hellraiser story. It doesn’t feature a whole lot of Pinhead, however. But the disgusting imagery and gore will keep you occupied.
4. Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
Man, if only this movie had a bigger budget and didn’t have Miramax meddling with it at every possible stop. The story is awesome, telling a three-generation long tale about the offspring of a French Toymaker trying to stop Pinhead once and for all. It’s a story of the ultimate light vs. the ultimate darkness and while the original script was much larger and more complex, the one on film does the job. It finishes off the original story for Pinhead in an explosive and almost epic way.
Miramax intervened during production and demanded that Pinhead feature more heavily in the film which caused tensions on set. Director Kevin Yagher left the film and it was finished by director Joe Chappelle. The movie features a true adversary to Pinhead in Angelique and a good performance by Bruce Ramsay as Phillipe Lemarchand, John Merchant, and Paul Merchant.
3. Hellraiser (2022)
The new Hellraiser brings the franchise back into the light from plenty of horrific direct-to-video sequels. The new film on Hulu features a spectacular performance from Jamie Clayton as Pinhead. It sheds the weight of any previous films and just gives us a smaller story about the Cenobites, and a girl trying to escape from addiction. Check out our full review:
2. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Now here is how you do a Hellraiser sequel. This is a direct sequel that follows up Hellraiser where we left off. Kirsty is in an asylum after the traumatic events of the first film. This expands upon the lore and what was set up in the first film. We get to see Hell, the labyrinth, more Cenobites, and the being that controls everything. We also get more of an origin story for Pinhead here. Outside of the excellent story, the gore here is turned up even more. Pinhead and the Cenobites aren’t the stars of the show, it’s Julia who’s the true villain of everything. If Clare Higgins was more down with returning to the franchise, we might have a different course of history when it comes to Hellraiser.
They wanted her to be the villain of the series, but Higgins didn’t want to return for more films. Fan reaction made it so that Pinhead would be the focus of all the sequels after. Higgins turns in an equally as evil performance as hers in Hellraiser, with Kenneth Cranham also providing a terrifying Cenobite as Channard. Ashley Laurence is fantastic in his film, which would be her final starring role as Kirsty in the franchise.
1. Hellraiser (1987)
What else could be the top spot? This is where everything started. We had Clive Barker writing and directing the film. Doug Bradley gave his first performance as Pinhead here. Clare Higgins and Sean Chapman are frighteningly evil as Julia and Frank. Ashley Laurence shines as Kirsty Cotton throughout the whole film. The gore effects, story, and script all combine to give us one of the most visually striking horror films of the decade. It helps that this one is still just as shocking and unsettling as its ever been. This is the genesis of a horror icon, and the Cenobites aren’t even in it for very long. Maybe Miramax or Dimension could have learned that less is more sometimes in horror.
We’ve got the release of the upcoming Hellraiser film on Hulu to look forward to. Hopefully, it can equal or eclipse the original in terms of excellence. We’ll have to see when that one releases on October 7th though. What do you think of the list? What’s your favorite Hellraiser film?
For more on Horror, make sure to check out the 2022 Fright-A-Thon Index for all of our horror marathon content!