For fans of the original, this remake might feel a bit… lacking.
The story follows Riley, a down-and-out seventeen-year-old girl whose life is ruled by drinking, drugs, and dating a boy with a criminal past. But when the two of them find a mysterious puzzle box, they hope their lives will get easier. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case…
Hellraiser was originally released in 1987, written and directed by Clive Barker. It released in an era of body-horror cinema, before computer effects and at the height of practical effects. It was a little clunky, but the visuals alone are so twisted that it remains in memory even today. That film followed a woman attempting to restore the cadaverous remains of her brother by killing people for the delights of the Cenobites, otherworldly people who pursue the limits of sensation.
2022’s Hellraiser is much the same, but also quite different. We follow Riley, who upon finding the puzzle box that can summon the Cenobites, has her brother disappear (taken by the Cenobites) and is lost on a quest to rescue him.
However, the characters don’t feel especially genuine in their various objectives. This is mostly due to the screenplay having to bend over backwards to get members of the group to be alone so that nasty things can happen to them. Characters will, rather doggedly, demand to return to a place (or leave a place) whether it fits their personal motivations or not, just so the plot can continue. The characters aren’t even especially likeable, introduced with in-fighting and awkward interactions of cold shoulders and sexual tension. A similar beginning to Cloverfield; where you feel nothing for the host of characters, and fully expect them all to die.
This is a problem from the very beginning, where we see a young man Joey, without any context or background or reason, entering a sex dungeon and inconceivably start talking to a woman twice his age.
But we aren’t here for the human characters, right? That’s rapidly becoming a familiar phrase. Humans are just set-dressing and there’s no reason to make them believable… likeable… or logical in anyway. We are here to see the Cenobites, the torture porn, the gore.
Unfortunately Hellraiser 2022 also stumbles here too…
1987 was a long time ago now (right, fellow millennials?) and yet you can’t really forget the original movie. The 2022 Cenobites themselves are pretty great, actually, they are hauntingly grotesque, lithe, naked figures with flesh pulled apart and pinned in elaborate ways. The colours used are quite stunning, ghostly white, blood red and literal pin-points of ice blue. The designs are on point. The puzzle box itself is well done, too, having a sense of weight but also extremely otherworldly; it feels like there is a rich lore behind it.
But, the film lacks any particularly gruesome kills. On a personal note, I am no gore-hound, but when you agree with yourself to watch Hellraiser you have certain expectations. A 1:1 comparison with the original is someone being ripped apart by chains: in the original, it is a practical effect and horrifically gory, in 2022, it is a CGI blood splatter as the person disappears.
Or how about the inevitable betrayal towards the end. Surely this character will have their comeuppance in a particularly horrific way? No, they just vanish into a pit.
Considering everything that the Saw franchise has shown us, and considering those of us who have watched those films struggle to forget some of the imagery (a man getting his limbs twisted off? Yep, that’s there forever now…) it is quite a sorry state to say that the Hellraiser remake is… forgettable.
The Cenobites are easily the most memorable part of it, Jamie Clayton as the new Pinhead (in this movie, credited as The Priest) is marvellous. It easily makes you wish they were part of a more gutsy (literally) production. One that isn’t burdening itself with numbing character interactions and the worst forms of slasher movie screenplay clichés.
Another, more nuanced, positive is that the film is its own beast. While it isn’t well written, at least it isn’t full of cameos, call-backs and references, like so many remakes these days are wont to do. It doesn’t even sequel-bait, making it a rare breed indeed.
Watch it if you are a horror fan, even for the younger horror fans who may not know what Hellraiser is. It is flashy, it has brief moments of intrigue, but the more one thinks about it, the more they are reminded of the Friday the 13th remake. It is passable, but it should have been so much more.