Clive Barker’s original Hellraiser undoubtedly raised the standards and depths of the horror genre back in the 1980’s. He was actually the original writer of the book the franchise is based on. The gory details of his universe were ghoulish and probably a bit naïve but they offered decent fun. His vision to create hellish humanoids unable to distinguish between pain and pleasure, who prey on the vulnerabilities and vices in man’s character was uncompromised.
If nothing else, Hellraiser should be acknowledged for Barker’s sadistic vision and the courage to remain stout in bringing it to life.
Having not been an audience to the prior instalments does give first-time viewers a fresh perspective. For all we know, Bruckner himself would have refrained from seeing them before starting to conceptualize his new reboot. Hulu’s remake is arguably a standalone film independent of the franchise. Even some lore of the novel has been done away with to give Hellraiser a completely new look. The director’s ability to craft simmering slow-burn horror is quite well-known.
With the help of co-writers Ben Collins and Luke Pietrowski, both accomplished in the genre, he uses his ability of storytelling to reimagine the Hellraiser mythos with modernist sensibilities that were perhaps missing in the first few instalments. He does so while characterizing the familiar figures in the story with a unique quality for each one. Although the courage and style are definitely there, the source material is somewhat lost in the excitement of his treatment of the same.
The Night House was perhaps a groundbreaking film in the stylized horror genre that emphasizes more with the “unseen” rather than the “seen”. It is certainly not to say that the time of jump scares has passed. But there is a newer consciousness that leans towards a more abstract interpretation of what horror looks like to different individuals. With Hellraiser, Bruckner changes the tone completely. It is what you see here in the form of Cenobites that arouses fear in you.
The title of the movie comes from the little puzzle box that begins the chaotic events of summoning cryptic humanoids who demand the blood of the mortals. They play God by taking the lives of whoever is pierced by the knife inside the puzzle box. This action does not happen by itself and Roland Voight, a billionaire infamous for his notorious occult practices, starts it. Several years later, Riley, a recovering waitress, has to confront its evil effects after she and her boyfriend steal the box from an abandoned warehouse.
After they discover it was kept hidden on purpose and Riley’s brother disappears, they frenetically look for a way to stop it. A frightening figure, called The Priest, or Pinhead, gives Riley an almost impossible choice in order for her to give Riley’s brother, Matt back.
His creative choices to humanize Riley, soundly build a working plot, and give a sharper visual aesthetic to the Cenobites demand validation. They are arguably the highlight of this reboot. Maybe with the exception of Hellraiser II, none of the other franchise siblings cared for the ethos of a build-up. Their setups worked better on their own, giving viewers a disconcerted feeling as a whole. Bruckner makes sure that those flaws aren’t repeated here again. Maybe if there is an extension of this reboot in the franchise, the legacy problems won’t repeat.
Some of the logistical choices, though attract scepticism and pessimism instantly. The runtime has been unnecessarily stretched to mark the film in Bruckner’s blood. While it is understandable for the director to want to leave his mark, some more trimming in that department could have been more appreciated.
The visceral horror, however, emanates from the brilliant conceptualization of the other dimension. This was the missing aspect that Bruckner really drove home. Every time the Cenboties arrived and the space around the “marked” moved like the staircases at Hogwarts of the maze in Game Room, you’d get a repulsive throwback from the inside. The hair on your neck would stand up in anticipation of what would be coming.
The designs of the cenobites, however, are suitably unnerving, if not outright scary at times. They would entice imaginative readers and fans of the franchise, while also staying authentic to the franchise’s legacy.
Hellraiser might not be an overly satisfying reboot. It does manage to creep away from the presumed notions about visual and aesthetic styles but just misses the mark with the end product.