Hellraiser (Movie Review)

Hellraiser (Movie Review)

Out of all the famous franchises in Horror, Hellraiser has probably had the roughest run out of them all. The first two films are considered classics, but debatably, even those were not very well directed and are a bit rough around the edges. The sequels went from mediocre to much worse, and strayed progressively farther from the vision and feeling of the original works. However, once word got out that Clive Barker regained the rights to the property, hope started to blossom. Those hopes were not unfounded, as on Friday, October 7, 2022 the brand new Hellraiser film arrived. 

Hellraiser still

Newly reimagining, the Hulu Original simply titled Hellraiser, focuses on addiction as its main character-driving theme, which fits well with the lore of the dreaded cenobites as arbiters of sensory extremism. The protagonist, Riley (Odessa A’zion: Nashville series, Let’s Scare Julie 2019) is a recovering addict living with her brother, Matt (Brandon Flynn: True Detective series, 13 Reasons Why series), his partner, and their roommate. 

Like many recovering addicts trying to get their life on track, Riley is in a fragile state mentally, and seems to be hanging on by a thread at times. She and her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey: Scream series, The Terminal List series) discover the infamous puzzle box in an abandoned warehouse, which longtime fans know is the start of some discoveries they will wish they hadn’t made. This time around, the box itself is much more complicated and meaningful than it has been before.

The other important character is an enigmatic and notorious hedonist Roland Voight (Goran Višnjić: ER series, The Boys series). He is the catalyst for the events in the film due to his obsession with the occult and extreme experiences. It is he who procures the box, experiments with it and researches its function, and records his meticulous, often painful progress in a journal complete with illustrations. His research is crucial to understanding the new lore of the cenobites and hell itself.

Hellraiser still

As for that new lore, there is a good amount of it, and almost all of it works very well in establishing solid cornerstones for a refurbished franchise. The cenobites had long strayed from their origins of detached, otherworldly monsters whose existence is so different from that of our world a human couldn’t comprehend it. Instead, they had slowly been morphed as moral judges, bringing righteous wrath to those who live wrong and do wrong. This couldn’t be further from what they are meant to be. Hellraiser pulls them back to where they belong – nameless disciples of a vicious God, ever finding those who seek them and their gifts. 

The puzzle box itself is now more complex. The lament configuration is no longer the name of the box, but one of several configurations the box has, each with its own purpose as a step along the path of eventually solving the final puzzle, which grants an audience with Leviathan. Voight has been working on this for years, acquiring sacrifices to further his study. Those who solve an aspect of the box are usually stabbed by a quick protruding blade that both intoxicates the victim and renders them vulnerable to the cenobites. Their ability to pull a victim into their dimension is scary, as they can even do it in an enclosed space with a victim’s friends right next to them.

Which leads us to the design of the cenobites who get a big overhaul as well, and for the better. Gone are the leather accessories, replaced by naked flesh, contorted and wrought into all manner of shapes and patterns. Some are so thoroughly twisted that one wonders how they are even ‘alive’. The overall look is much less S&M/Giger and more biomech/Beksiński. Lead cenobite, thankfully credited as Priest and not Pinhead, is played by Jamie Clayton (Designated Survivor series, The L Word: Generation Q series) who looks fantastic in the role and plays it very well. The voice, walk, and overall presence of the Priest is much closer to that of the source material than previous entries, legendary as Doug Bradley is. 

Hellraiser still

On top of all this it was wise to go with the very talented David Bruckner (Southbound 2015, The Night House 2020) to direct this new film. To many, this will be the best looking Hellraiser film and the cinematography is excellent too. The shifting walls, the seamless transitions from the real world to the hell dimension, even in the midst of people around the target, is impressive. Bruckner’s resume is short but solid, and includes the much-loved 2017 Horror film The Ritual. His talents behind the camera elevate the movie to what is likely its full potential.

Overall, Hellraiser is mostly what weary fans of the franchise have been waiting for. Yes, there are characters whose only purpose is to die, and yes, the story isn’t very deep beyond the struggles of the main character, but the good outweighs the bad. A’zion’s lead performance is good and believable, plus the cenobites new designs are equal parts gut-wrenching as they are fascinating. Furthermore, the overall lore of the puzzle box and the denizens of the hell dimension set this film up as both a long-awaited return to form and a solid starting point for further extreme experiences for us all. 

For being one of the most anticipated Horror films of the year, Hellraiser mostly delivered, bringing an all but dead franchise back on the right track, and for that Cryptic Rock gives it 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Spyglass Media Group

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Roger Maléspin
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Roger is a Writer and Editor born and raised in New York City. A lifelong bibliophile, he spends most of his time delving into stories or honing his craft. When not flexing the pen, he can be found in any number of bars and coffee shops around New York, drawing inspiration from the kaleidoscope of stories and experiences that make up the greatest city in the world. His love of the written word is nearly matched by his affinity for Horror movies, and he can quote from the classics up to today's films. Holding strong convictions rooted deep in the religion of Metal, do not be surprised if you run into him, literally, in a circle pit during a Metal show somewhere in the city.

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