In 1987, author Clive Barker gave the horror genre a mighty jolt with his directorial debut, "Hellraiser." With a healthy lean on the twisted and the macabre, Barker's terrifying vision rooted its evil in both the supernatural and humanity, with the latter easily being the more wicked and vicious. At a time when the genre was saturated with slasher movies, "Hellraiser" gave horror fans something fresh and unique. But the movie had its share of detractors. Among them was film critic Roger Ebert who famously referred to the movie's "bankruptcy of imagination."
"Hellraiser" spawned one good (and even more bonkers) sequel and eight rather forgettable ones. Now, in keeping with the never-ending horror trend of reboots and remakes, we have a new "Hellraiser." It's directed by David Bruckner whose previous film was last year's terrific "The Night House" starring Rebecca Hall. Joining Bruckner from "The Night House" are screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski who clearly aim for the same dark and gnarly tone of the original "Hellraiser" film. And as fans should expect, they also serve up gallons of blood and gore galore.
But there's something missing from this well-made yet surprisingly vapid reboot. Visually it certainly looks in line with Barker's fiendish vision found in his 1987 film and in his 1986 novella "The Hellbound Heart." It's weird, gruesome, and even a bit sadistic -- all fun trademarks of the series. But "Hellraiser" 2022 struggles in other areas. There is some clunky plotting, it's overly long, and it's hard to make any sense of its rules.
But most significantly, and what makes the reboot pale in comparison to the original, is the lack of any compelling human villain. The filmmakers attempt to create something close, but it's no one near as interesting or as black-hearted as Julia (Clare Higgins) and Frank (Sean Chapman). They drove Barker's film and were its primary evil, with the mysterious Cenobites strategically used in a handful of terrifying encounters. Bruckner leans heavier on the Cenobites while revealing very little about them. They end up frustratingly hollow and zapped of the mystique that made the original Pinhead and company so compelling.
After a brief stop in Serbia, the story kicks off in The Berkshires, Mass., where a wealthy socialite and certifiable madman named Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic) is hosting a decadent party at his remote mansion. We quickly learn Voight is a collector of occult artifacts (gulp), and among his most prized pieces is an ornate puzzle box. Now this is not some fancy Rubik's Cube but a gateway to another plane of existence. When solved, the box summons mutilated extra-dimensional sadomasochists called Cenobites to "collect" those who have opened their portal.
Jump ahead six years and we meet Riley (Odessa A'zion), a troubled young woman fighting alcohol and drug addiction. Despite the warnings of her concerned brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), Riley is semi-dating a fellow addict named Trevor (Drew Starkey) who isn't the best influence. Case in point: Trevor convinces her to help him break into some mystery warehouse containing some mystery shipment belonging to some mysterious owner. Inside the warehouse they find a single shipping container containing a single safe. And I bet you can guess what's inside that safe -- the dreaded puzzle box.
To no one's surprise, the puzzle box is triggered and the Cenobites come calling. From there we're treated to streams of blood, flayed flesh, and a lot of chains with hooks. But the weirdest twist comes when Riley goes searching for answers about the box. It takes her to Voight's Massachusetts mansion and a third act that leaves you with more questions than answers. That is if you even ask questions. In a movie like this, it's probably better that you don't.
To the film's credit, it does try to offer today's horror audiences something unique, in the same way Barker's film did in the slasher-soaked late 1980s. But aside from some creative gore and a delightfully deranged concept, "Hellraiser" doesn't do enough to sell the need for a reboot. It's more lurid than frightening, and even its best moments are easily forgotten.
Then you have the 2022 Cenobites who offer little more than their updated new looks and a lot of otherworldly mumbo-jumbo. Out is the bloody black leather, the chilling entrances and the memorable lines. Rather these Cenobites are the brooding types and not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Their new look emphasizes peeled skin in elaborate patterns -- an interesting choice but not the most convincing one. Suffice it to say, some of the Cenobites look a lot more "real" than others do. That's pretty tough for a movie that relies so heavily on them. And with little else to pick up the slack, this new "Hellraiser" has a hard time bringing new energy to an already tired franchise.
78 Cast: Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Brandon Flynn, Adam Faison, Drew Starkey, Hiam Abbass, Goran Visnjic.
Director: David Bruckner
Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Streaming on Hulu