Of all the long-running horror franchises to arise from the genre boom of the 1980s, none is more surprising than that of “Hellraiser.” Directed by Clive Barker in 1987 and based on his 1986 novel “The Hellbound Heat,” “Hellraiser” wasn’t really a slasher film. Rather, it was a revenge story that just so happened to center around a group of demons known as Cenobites. These demons found pleasure in the pain and suffering of others and were led by Pinhead, who throughout most of the franchise was played by the talented Doug Bradley. While the first sequel, “Hellbound,” would stick closer to the tone of the original film, each subsequent entry increasingly leaned towards your traditional “Friday the 13th” style slasher flick. The series would also find itself banished to direct-to-DVD outings, culminating in 11 movies. However, the eleventh and newest film, simply titled “Hellraiser,” has decided to mix things up once again, rebooting the franchise with both a whole new story and a whole new Pinhead.
The film follows Riley McKendry (Odessa A’zion), a young woman struggling to recover from a severe drug addiction. Her new boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) tells her of an abandoned warehouse that could contain millions in riches. When they break in, however, all they find is a strange-looking puzzle box. When Riley attempts to solve the puzzle box she learns why it was locked up so heavily. The box summons The Cenobites, led by the Priest,a.k.a Pinhead (Jamie Clayton), and they slowly begin to target not only Riley but those closest to her as well.
Now, right off the bat, it’s important to discuss the biggest point of contention surrounding this new movie, and that is the new Pinhead. Naturally, with any role that was originally played by a man, now replaced by a woman, you’re going to have certain people on the internet up in arms. In this instance, you also have those who can’t see anyone other than Doug Bradley in the role. Audiences should understand that Bradley is 68 years old, and I’m sure the makeup process for the Pinhead look is one that is both long and grueling. He simply can’t play the part forever. Thankfully, Clayton is great as the new Cenobite leader and does enough with the character to make it her own. There was never a point in the film where it felt like she was trying to imitate or copy Bradley’s performance, it’s entirely new and unique to her.
I also appreciate that the film tries to be its own thing. Sure, there are callbacks and references to the original, mainly in the film’s score, but for the most part, you don’t need to have seen any of the previous entries to understand this one. It could’ve been very easy for the film to just repeat the same story we’ve seen before, but it thankfully approaches the story in new ways. However, I don’t think the film gets to these new story beats in the most engaging manner.
Unfortunately, the new “Hellraiser” is nothing spectacular and this is mainly a result of some really bad pacing and a rather weak script. For starters, I want to say that the angle with Riley’s character being a drug addict is interesting, except for the fact that it’s already been done in another horror reboot, 2013’s “Evil Dead”. In that film, it’s used in a far more natural way. Here, however, it’s brought up early on in the film, but once the Cenobites enter the picture it’s never returned to. The film has a bad habit of setting up interesting character moments or story beats and then going absolutely nowhere with them. This is especially apparent in the film’s final act. Without giving too much away, the film decides to throw in a rather pointless twist villain, and right when something unique is set up with them, they’re written out of the movie entirely. On top of that, you have some very flat directions by David Bruckner, who is no stranger to the horror genre, but for some reason, the film looks flat and rarely does anything worthwhile with how it’s shot and composed. If you were to put a shot from this film next to shots from other recent horror releases like “Jigsaw,” I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Overall, the new “Hellraiser” may be one of the better entries in this franchise, but that’s really not saying much upon closer inspection. While the cast is giving it their all, they’re given virtually nothing to work with. The kills are good conceptually, but they’re either poorly directed or in most instances, done completely off-screen. Worst of all, just when the film decides to do something interesting, it’s over. Fans should get a kick out of this new installment, but for most casual viewers there’s simply not enough there to hold their interest.
“Hellraiser” is currently streaming on Hulu.
By Adam Beam