In Hellraiser, recovering addict, Riley McKendry, and her boyfriend Trevor, break into a shipping container on the hunt for valuables. Inside the container there are no jewels, no wads of cash, and no valuable documents, only a safe which contains a mysterious puzzle box.
Taking the box from the safe, the pair go their separate ways and Riley returns home, to the house she lives in with her brother, Matt. However, after a heated argument with Matt, she heads out into the night with her belongings, including the puzzle box.
Stopping at a nearby park, Riley examines the box and activates its internal mechanisms, causing it to reconfigure its shape. In this same moment, a group of demonic entities – later identified as Cenobites – appear in front of Riley and inform her she must choose a sacrifice.
Riley doesn’t quite understand what they mean, nor does she believe what she is seeing and begins to black out. The Cenobites then disappear as Matt arrives to find his sister in a bad way.
As he attempts to keep Riley conscious, Matt cuts his hand on the box. This brings forth the Cenobites, who promptly drag Matt away from the mortal realm, believing him to be the sacrifice that Riley was asked to make.
Although Riley does not witness Matt’s disappearance, she quickly becomes aware that he has vanished and she believes the puzzle box is responsible. Moving forward, she attempts to unlock its secrets, as well as the secrets of the Cenobites, in order to find her missing brother.
Directed by David Bruckner, Hellraiser is a supernatural horror movie which arrives in the UK today, just in time for Halloween. The film is the latest entry in the long-running series of the same name, arriving six years after 2018’s Hellraiser: Judgment, and is the eleventh instalment overall.
‘ELEVENTH(?!?!)’, I hear you cry! Well, yes; but don’t worry, this film is a reboot!
Ignoring entries one to ten, Hellraiser jettisons everything that has come before, wipes the slate clean, and takes audiences back to the beginning. All the stuff that happened in the previous movies no longer matters, as this is a whole new chapter which is not concerned with the past.
As such, Hellraiser acts as an accessible entry point for a new generation of horror fans, while at the same time refreshes the brand for long-term Hell-followers. And it is a refresh that has been long overdue, as the Hellraiser franchise lost its way many years ago, getting bogged down in a series of increasingly shoddy sequels, that few audiences cared about or even watched.
Now, I’ll hold up my hands here and say that I am neither a franchise lover, nor someone who has cared about any of the recent sequels. My interest in Hellraiser died long ago, and in all honesty, outside of the very first film that came out in 1987, I don’t really have any strong attachment to the series at all.
So, when I heard that Hellraiser was getting a reboot I was largely nonplussed. On the one hand, it could prove to be a new gateway to hook me back in and make me care about this franchise; while on the other hand, this could be another dud in a series that should have been euthanised long ago.
It brings me some pleasure then, to say that Hellraiser is very much the former. While it is not perfect and is a tad slow in places, this reboot does something few other entries have ever done: It held my interest, entertained me, and left me wanting more.
In fact, I was surprised at just how much I liked Hellraiser. OK, so it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor will it be for everyone, but for me, this is a competent, very well-presented horror tale, which isn’t overly complicated, and is occasionally quite creepy.
As discussed above, this is a whole new slate for Hellraiser, so this means re-establishing the core premise of the series, as well as reintroducing iconic elements such as the puzzle box and the Cenobites. The film understands that many (younger) audiences won’t have watched the original film, nor will they have any knowledge of the sequels, so it really needs to start at ground level and work its way up.
The approach is to strip everything back, get to the heart of the story, and keep things simple. Some may argue the story is a little too simple (which is a fair criticism), but for me this is what is needed with Hellraiser right now.
The franchise needs to go back-to-basics, with something that isn’t too taxing for anyone. The story may not be all that challenging, but that can come in time with any potential sequels, for now this film is very much about getting people back on board and this certainly works for me.
With a fresh new look, the film introduces a completely new cast which includes Odessa A’zion, Goran Višnjić, Drew Starkey, and Adam Faison. There is also a new ‘Pinhead’ (or ‘Priest’ as the character is also known), with Jamie Clayton taking over from Doug Bradley, Stephan Smith Collins, and Paul T. Taylor, who all previously inhabited the role.
Clayton proves to be suitably sinister in the part, and while she doesn’t get a great deal to do, she does her best with her limited screentime. This feels very much like a role she will build on, if given the opportunity, and I look forward to seeing her again in the future.
As for everyone else, they all do a fine job and there’s no duff performances. I really liked Odessa A’zion as Riley, and as with Jamie Clayton, I hope we get to see more from her too.
From a visual standpoint, Hellraiser looks good, offers up some decent moments of horror, and manages to get in all the S&M content long-time fans will expect. This film might have a new coat of paint, but all the stuff fans want to see is still under the hood, so there shouldn’t be any major disappointment in this respect.
I must say, after recently watching Terrifier 2, the scenes of torture in Hellraiser now pale in comparison, but this isn’t really the fault of this film, it’s more an indication of how violent Terrifier 2 is. However, if we do get a sequel to Hellraiser (and I expect we will), I do think it will have to crank up the gore to ensure it keeps up with its peers.
My only real criticism of Hellraiser is that it is a touch slow in places, and struggles to make its story stretch to fit its runtime. Some scenes could be shortened to quicken the pace, and it certainly doesn’t need to be two hours long.
But this aside, I like Hellraiser very much. Director David Bruckner and writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski have found a way to get me re-engaged with the material, and I class this as a win.
I’m a big fan of horror movies, who up until now hasn’t cared all that much about Hellraiser. And while I still have no desire to revisit all the sequels from the past, I very much look forward to this franchise’s future.
Should you wish to check out Hellraiser for yourself, the movie is available to rent or buy in the UK from today, via all the major video-on-demand platforms. In the US, the movie has been available on Hulu since the beginning of October.
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