Hellraiser review: Horror update looks great, but lacks danger and scares of the original

pinhead-hellraiser-jamie-claytonSpyglass Media Group

Some 35 years since the release of the original Hellraiser, a new team both behind and in front of the camera have such sights to show you. But while their iteration looks amazing, it lacks the danger, and raw sexual intensity of the 1987 movie, making it a less interesting watch.

Hellraiser comes from the twisted mind of Clive Barker, with his 1986 novella Hellbound Heart inspiring that first terrifying movie, as well as a bunch of sequels, of varying budget and quality.

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But now the horror franchise has received an expensive makeover by some horror heavyweights, with The Night House helmer David Bruckner directing, from a script by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, whose Super Dark Times is one of the most memorable chillers of the last decade.

They take the story in a new direction, and explore new ideas and themes. But something gets lost along the way, with this Hellraiser failing to ever truly strike fear into the heart.

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Double cold open

Proceedings kick off in Belgrade, where a mysterious businesswoman – played by Hiam Abbass -exchanges something mysterious for a mysterious box which we’re told “isn’t to be taken lightly.”

The cold open then cuts to Massachusetts, where a handsome young man is searching for something at an opulent party in an equally opulent country estate. The same businesswoman sends him to meet host Mr. Voight, where he finds a box. “It’s a puzzle” says Voight, who is played by ER star Goran Visnjic. “The only one of its kind. Forgotten until now.”

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“If I solve it, do I get a prize?” asks the youngster. “I do,” comes the response from Voight. The kid succeeds, and we won’t spoil what happens next, but it involves chains and flesh in classic Hellraiser style.

What is Hellraiser about?

Then the story kicks in proper, six years later. Riley (Odessa A’Zion) has been six months sober, but is now hooking up with a guy from her 12-step program, a relationship that concerns her friends, and angers her judgemental brother.

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But he’s probably right, as the dude is a bad influence, convincing Riley to help him rob a shipping container, in which they find a box inside a box, which just happens to be the afroementioned puzzle. Though to be honest, it isn’t much of a challenge, with Riley solving it just as quickly as that first unfortunate soul.

Her brother comes to the rescue, but Pandora’s Proverbial has already been opened, putting her sibling directly in danger’s way. Meaning Riley is forced to step up, and battle the demons from her past to save her brother in the present.

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I Know What You Did Last Hellraiser

1990s horror clearly has an influence on what happens next, as much of the movie is now concerned with a group of good-looking friends trying to solve a mystery before they get killed. Making it feel less like Hellbound Heart, and more akin to I Know What You Did Last Hellraiser.

Riley visits the businesswoman, who turns into Basil Exposition, with talk of monsters, sadism, and the box’s configurations summoning angels who are really demons.

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An ancient manuscript provides more detail. While the Internet leads them to where the tale began, in Voight’s house of horrors. And here, finally, the film kicks into high gear, as Riley comes face-to-face with the Cenobites.

Meet the Cenobites

Whether you see them as heroes or villains, the Cenobites are the reason audiences return to the Hellraiser franchise time and time again, and mercifully, the new film nails them.

Jamie Clayton has the unenviable task of stepping into Doug Bradley’s shoes as The Priest – aka Pinhead. And she knocks it out of the park, her appearance frightening and her voice terrifying as The Priest offers boundless gifts, then delivers pain beyond imagination.

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Hellraiser icon Chatterer also makes the cut, as do several other fan favorites from previous instalments. Their arrival means Hellraiser suddenly looks like a Hellraiser movie, even if it doesn’t truly feel like one.

The Verdict – Is Hellraiser good?

There’s lots to like in the new Hellraiser. The performances are good, with Jamie Clayton the stand-out, breathing new life into a horror legend, and making you wish she had more screen-time.

The budget is all up there on screen as reality shifts through the movie. Indeed, the final few scenes are bigger and more spectacular than anything yet seen in the Hellraiser universe, most notably during a breathtaking sequence where the heavens open.

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But it all feels a bit safe, lacking that sense of danger that pervaded Barker’s original book, and the 1987 movie. Which contributes to the 2022 version being much less scary.

That lack of fear isn’t helped by the fact that the engine driving the movie – the central sibling rescue – feels like it could be from any horror movie in any horror franchise. And is much less interesting than the sexual desire – and ultimately love – that drove the original, as well as the best of its sequels. Resulting in what amounts to a good horror movie, but only an average Hellraiser flick.

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Hellraiser premiered at Fantastic Fest, and will stream on Hulu from October 7. You can sign up to Hulu here.

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