Let’s take the “professional journalism” hat off for a bit. Hellraiser kicks ass. Longtime fans of the series have been let down constantly by poor decisions by studios (Miramax and Dimension, you suck, Harvey Weinstein, you really suck) and subpar, half-baked, direct-to-video installments that have little to nothing to do with Clive Barker‘s original story. They usually take an existing script, slap Pinhead in it, write something about the Lament Configuration, and boom, you’ve got your own Hellraiser sequel.
However, with Hellraiser, we’re getting something new. Something that isn’t a reboot, remake, requel, or even really a continuation of the original story. There’s no Kirsty Cotton appearance, no Doug Bradley, but there are some new Cenobites, a new actor playing Pinhead, and some fresh ideas on display. Director David Bruckner takes cues from Clive Barker’s original masterpiece of horror but doesn’t ever verge into the territory of simply emulating it. Don’t get me wrong, there are still the gothic stylings and sweeping angelic sounds to juxtapose against horrific acts of painful pleasure. But this is his own movie through and through. Screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski give us a story that befits something with the Hellraiser name. It’s simple, and with things like this, going too grand gets you something like Hellraiser: Bloodline.
Audiences haven’t seen Pinhead and the Cenobites in a long time. They need time to gel again before we can get to stories about Hell, Leviathan, and other areas of the Hellraiser mythos. Luckily, they found just the right people to show us how the Cenobites roll.
The Cenobites, Including Pinhead, Are The Best Part Of Hellraiser
If you were worried that anyone other than Doug Bradley taking up the mantle of Pinhead/The Priest would fall flat on their face, I’d like to introduce you to Jamie Clayton. The actress might have stirred up “controversy” when she was cast as Pinhead (go actually read The Hellbound Heart and its description of Pinhead and come back to me), but it’s safe to say that she absolutely kills as Pinhead in this movie. The de-facto leader of the Cenobites doesn’t need to be a slasher villain, they simply need to be an almost unstoppable, but fair, force of the unnatural. That’s what you get with the Cenobites in this film. They’re not here on Earth to kill everyone, there’s no sister they need to murder, or camp counselors banging that they need to stab through the neck with an arrow.
The Cenobites are impartial arbiters and they’re here to provide the fullest extent of pleasure, through the most “pleasurable” act imaginable, horrific pain. Luckily for us, not only are the Cenobites absolutely terrifying, but they look and sound fantastic. For people worrying about CGI faces or whatnot, they’re mostly practical effects. The costumes are real, it’s people in suits.
Our new Cenobites also add a new layer of fear with names like The Masque, The Gasp, and The Asphyx. However, the real star of the movie is Pinhead. Jamie Clayton embodies the character with a reserved glee in the face of handing out immense amounts of punishment. People’s bodies are vivisected, hooks catch on flesh, and painful implements are jammed into bodies, it’s a bloodbath. She revels in all of it. If we don’t see her in the role again, it would be a shame.
The Other Performances And The Lows Of Hellraiser
The humans of Hellraiser are equally as important to the overall formula. Luckily, they have a charismatic and vulnerable performance from Odessa A’zion as Riley, a tortured recovering addict who finds herself caught up in the Lament Configuration and its powers. Joining her are Adam Faison, Drew Starkey, Brandon Flynn, and Aiofe Hinds, The “villain” of the film is Goran Visnjic‘s Voight. However, here’s where Hellraiser loses a bit of steam. Like I said before, the Cenobites are supposed to be scary, they’re supposed to be brutal, but they’re not the true villains of Hellraiser. Visnjic’s performance as Voight works in the film, he’s almost sympathetic because of what the Cenobites have done to him, but his motivations are almost zero. Why does he want the Lament Configuration in the first place? Why does he need to get it again?
His character reminds me a lot of Dr. Channard from Hellbound: Hellraiser II, but the obsession and need for validation from the Cenobites aren’t here with Voight. Those questions all arise while watching Hellraiser, and it takes a bit away from the film that the villain isn’t really there for a lot of it. His motivations behind it all are unclear at best. It might just be an excuse to have a vehicle for more scenes with the Cenobites. The ending of the film sets up for a sequel, but it also doesn’t really make sense why it ends the way it does for his character.
The “twist” of the film is also incredibly predictable and not really that consequential when it happens. It feels unnecessary and doesn’t really have emotional weight. However, the way the film ends, and some of the characters meet their end, is satisfying and fitting.
Hellraiser Rips, Tears, And Entertains
All of those concerns are secondary though. Hellraiser finally gives us a great movie in the franchise. After years of being hamstrung one way or another, with direct-to-video movies made in two weeks to hold onto licenses, sequels that took away from the motivations of the Cenobites, and others that needed far bigger budgets to properly tell a story, Hellraiser from Hulu takes it all back to basics. You get an instant-classic performance from Jamie Clayton as Pinhead, a sympathetic lead with Odessa A’zion, and plenty of gore, blood, flesh, and kills.
Throughout the film, it takes twists and turns, goes through dark corridors, and shows us a side of pain and sadism that mainstream audiences don’t get to see. What made the original so special is part of this film. The most refreshing part of Hellraiser is that it takes plenty of lessons from the first Hellraiser film, but doesn’t set out to copy it.
Hellraiser brings the series forward and paints a blood-soaked, dark, and exciting future. Watch it on Hulu on October 7th.
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