Hellraiser: Directed By David Bruckner
Reviewed By Nick Jones
It has (some) sights to show you…
Imagine, if you will, a ballgown. We’re not talking one of those slinky designer numbers that celebrities wear to galas and premieres, we’re talking the old-school, pre-French Revolution variety. The kind that took a team of people months and months to make, with yard upon yard of finely detailed stitching, lace, and all manner of fanciness and filigree.
And now, imagine someone like me wearing it. A dumpy, ugly, middle-aged chap with a dad-bod who’s not even bothered to shave and shower for the occasion. A most lamentable configuration, to be sure, and that’s the experience of watching David Bruckner’s contemporary retooling of Hellraiser in a nutshell. Just with less back hair.
WHAT I LIKED: Without giving away too much, there’s a lot to recommend in this new riff on Clive Barker’s vision. The production design is, for want of a better word, incredible. Much has been made of Jamie Clayton and her take on the Hell Priest/Pinhead, and rightly so. The cold, emotionless placidity she brings to the role elevates it in a new direction that, sadly, the rest of the film can’t quite live up to. She is the single best feature of the film, along with the redesigned Cenobites, who are captivating and horrifying in equal measure. In fact, it may not be a stretch to say that Clayton is the definitive iteration on Pinhead, offering a new vision of the character that’s as brilliant a reimagining as Ledger’s Joker was.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: The problems with Hellraiser 2022 are perhaps signs of the age of the franchise. The original is a brutal, grotesque, and gore-flecked collision between sadomasochism and occult horror, full of as much sexual energy as it is blood. But in a time when we’ve become used to anatomical injury, thanks to the mid-2000s obsession with torture porn flicks, rather than try to compete Bruckner instead largely sidesteps gore, death, torture and sex in favour of lurking dread, to mixed results. The film is, regrettably, largely not scary, mostly down to the decision not to show anything that might make the viewer squeamish for most of its over 2 hour runtime.
While it’s a smart move to take the film in a different direction, using a new setup to explore the mythos and lore of the Lemarchand Configuration and the Cenobites, sadly the new crop of victims don’t elicit sympathy like Kirsty did in the original. They’re by turns whiny, hysterical, stupid, and thoroughly unlikable. Part of this may be down to sudden and inexplicable shifts in character, such as one character going from having a full on breakdown at the sight of a Cenobite to then moments later being a cool-under-pressure field medic with a plan to hunt them. In fact, it’s a bit of a pleasure to watch some of them meet their untimely end, which is another facet that prevents the film being truly terrifying.
SHOULD YOU WATCH IT? Unequivocally, the answer I would give would be yes. This new vision on the series was never going to please everyone, and admirably it doesn’t try to. It has its own identity, its own purpose, and brings a new perspective and sensibility to the otherworldly predators and their ceaseless hunt for new sensations. It’s not just a retread, and it doesn’t rely on nostalgia to try to justify itself, and any reboot that takes such a bold leap I think should be applauded for it.
It’s also, clearly, an absolute labour of love that’s been made by people with a deep affection for both the source material and the kind of audience who would be excited to watch a new Hellraiser film after countless direct-to-video insults. The attention to detail is fabulous, the score is fantastic, the integration of the mythos is magnificent, and the doorway has hopefully been opened to allow more to come.
As a last note, the final few minutes of the film make it worth the price of admission alone, it’s just a shame that we had to wait so long for it to get there. But, then again, we’re used to a wait. We’ve already waited for an age to see justice done to the franchise, and thankfully it seems like our prayers to Leviathan have been answered.
It may not tear your soul apart, but at least it doesn’t leave a sour taste in your mouth.
Paramount has announced Hellraiser 2022 is available via Prime Video for UK viewers to buy or rent.
Nick Jones is a writer and horror enthusiast from South Yorkshire, who lives on a farm with his wife, son, and small fat sausage dog. He is a co-founder and fiction editor of Northern Gravy, a showcase for new writers, and wishes he got more horror submissions in the inbox.