I had not seen Hellraiser (1987) until October 2021, but I was definitely familiar with Pinhead as a horror icon. The things I’d heard about the Hellraiser franchise the most was how gory it was – and for a long time, that had kept me away. While I’ve only seen the first film, I very much like that movie, and was anticipating the reimagining of screenwriters Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski and director David Bruckner’s Hellraiser (2022).
Riley McKendry (Odessa A’zion) is living with her brother, Matt (Brandon Flynn), his partner, Colin (Adam Faison), and their roommate, Nora (Aoife Hinds), while struggling to complete a 12-step program. The only good thing to come of it so far is her new boyfriend, Trevor (Drew Starkey) – and, through him, Riley ends up in possession of an ancient puzzle box. Soon after, Matt vanishes and Riley is the only witness. However, she can only remember a strange and haunting visitation from otherworldly beings clad in tortured flesh, which she attributes to the substances she took.
It’s in the characters that this film feels like a big success. A’zion gives a tremendous lead performance. Her character is lived in, and her selfishness helps to really sell the themes that the film is tackling. Much like in the original Hellraiser, the characters are obsessed with pleasure – and in this desire to feel good, they lose sight of how they hurt those around them. The threshold of pain and pleasure is blurred and then embodied by the Cenobites. The relationships of the human characters and the performances of the actors elevate the material…but that’s not the reason people are drawn to the franchise.
The Cenobites, led by Pinhead (now played by Jamie Clayton and billed as “The Priest”), have some very cool and creepy designs. There is a familiarity to them, but all of the designs feel new for this film. Clayton’s presence in the costume is unsettling, as it is difficult to tell if Riley should trust Pinhead. The Cenobites are absolutely horrifying in design. How they come into the real world offers opportunities for compelling visuals and set design. The body horror associated with the franchise is present, but it never at any point felt excessive.
To me, Hellraiser (2022) is a great example of a franchise reboot. It doesn’t attempt to do the same thing that the original did, but it uses the trappings and style to tell a story that will hook its audience. It also offers an allegory about the way our addictions can impact the ones we love most, and how our choices in how we handle things ultimately reflect our character. Hellraiser earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.