Hellraiser brings the chains and the existential sadness to this Halloween season

Hulu’s latest horror offering is a bloody and beautiful addition to the franchise. 

First things first: Hellraiser (2022) doesn’t need to be Hellraiser (1987). The goal of a remake/reboot/what-have-you should be to put a unique sheen on the material, to make it one’s own, not a carbon copy of what’s already been done. That being said…it’s hard not to watch David Bruckner’s new Hellraiser without wishing just a little bit for what used to be. 

Like previous Bruckner directorial outings The Night House and The Ritual, Hellraiser is, on its surface, a story about grief and how it affects our connections and how we let it affect us. This grief manifests itself in the crumbling relationship between Riley (Odessa A’zion) and her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn); Riley is an addict living on her brother’s goodwill and it’s clear from the first moment we meet them that said goodwill is fading fast. Desperate for money, Riley agrees to help her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) rob a warehouse where nebulous “rich people” (including Evil Billionaire Archetype Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic))  have goods delivered; they not stacks of bonds but instead a Puzzle Box which Riley takes home in the hope that it’s worth something. 

Riley can’t help but play with the Box, of course; the repercussions of that act are swift and bloody. Matt’s disappearance at the chains of the Puzzle Box expands the grief to his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison) and their roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds); Riley takes her guilt and sorrow to Trevor. Like the survivors’ guilt and blame that tears at the group of hiking friends in The Ritual, these feelings tear everyone apart long before any creatures start showing up. Riley’s quest for a way to bring Matt back leads her and her friends to Voight’s abandoned Berkshires mansion, a place tricked out in metalwork that looks awfully like the Box itself. That can’t be good.

Hellraiser (Hulu)
A scene still from Spyglass Media Group’s HELLRAISER, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of Spyglass Media Group. © 2022 Spyglass Media Group. All Rights Reserved.

And so, the creatures. The Cenobites. Though the human characters are arguably the strongest part of the film (particularly A’zion, doing a lot of heavy lifting), the Cenobites are the focus of much of Hellraiser 2022’s sense of anticipation. Pinhead and the gang are who we’re really here to see, after all. As the leader of the Cenobites, here called “The Priest,” Sense8’s Jamie Clayton cements herself as a horror icon. Breathless and eerily still, The Priest appears briefly enough to be a genuinely mysterious figure yet gets some of the best one-liners (a Pinhead must).

The rest of the gang includes The Weeper (Yinka Olorunnife), The Gasp (Selina Lo), who gets a lot of well-deserved screentime, and fan favorite The Chatterer (Jason Liles), still thoroughly wigging us out after all these years. The Cenobites’ designs are appropriately violent and grotesque, there’s a strange element of…cleanliness to the whole affair? Some shots make the makeup and effects seem a little plastic, especially when immediately followed by a truly terrific angle. It’s never enough to decry the costumes as bad, but it’s a lingering issue. 

Both movies are stories about desire. The desire for the flesh, desire for love, desire for power. Final Girl Riley craves her pills, friend with benefits Trevor desires Riley’s love, and Voight begs for a boon from Leviathan itself. Hellraiser (2022) falls short of its predecessor because of how these desires can go astray. The events of Hellraiser (1987) circle Frank and Julia Cotton, two people so overwhelmed by their desires (for sex, freedom, autonomy) that they willingly turn to magic and murder.

Hellraiser (Hulu)
Odessa A’zion as Riley in Spyglass Media Group’s HELLRAISER, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of Spyglass Media Group. © 2022 Spyglass Media Group. All Rights Reserved.

What lacks in the remake is that spark, that sense of force behind a character’s actions. Yes, original Final Girl Kirsty (‘87) has much of the action thrust upon her, as with Riley in ‘22, but there are forces at work around her. Things just sort of happen to Riley, and the universe shrugs, and when a grander scheme unfurls in the second half, it hardly matters.

Visually, Hellraiser escapes the perpetual darkness of so many recent horror outings; while there are certainly plenty of shadows and nighttime to play in, there’s also sunlight! Electric lighting! There’s something so much more chilling about a brightly lit room with a Cenobite staring you down from across it. Ben Lovett’s score pays excellent homage to Christopher Young while remaining its own creepy creation. There’s nothing quite like that Hellraiser theme, is there?

As previously noted, everything is just a touch too clean. Disfigured in horrifying ways, the Cenobites are still very antiseptic (which is a valid design choice, but it’s never clear that it was one), and wounds on the human characters are bound and largely forgotten. Even Voight’s abandoned sex/murder party house is just a little dusty. This is Hellraiser! Give us grime! 

The pain, the suffering, the music, the blood, the chains…it all comes together as a fine little horror film and an excellent new member of the Hellraiser franchise. Is it perfect? No. Does it have to be? Choose a Configuration, get a cozy blanket, and settle in. They have such sights to show you.

Hellraiser is currently streaming on Hulu.

Hellraiser Trailer:

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Megan Sunday

Megan Sunday is a writer, archivist, and cohost of Let’s Get Weirding: A Dune Podcast. She lives in the DC area with her family and her growing collection of horror paperbacks.

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