You either love the Cenobites or you don’t. You’re either interested in freaky BDSM emo-demons or you’re not. You either like non-linear otherworldly sci-fi based horror or it holds little interest to you. It’s possible there’s a third category — indifference — and that’s probably where I fall on the Hellraiser spectrum.
Hellraiser has traditionally been a hyper-gory and somewhat mercurial mythos involving a gaggle of demons (or by some accounts malicious angels) who actively seek out earthly individuals in search of intense pleasure and pain. Don’t be fooled though. It’s really all one big ruse to inflict more pain — emphasis on the pain.
Sometimes these Cenobites find their prey and sometimes their prey unwittingly unlocks the pleasure and pain dimension through a pretty slick looking puzzle box. The box will afford its victim seven different kinds of pleasure and pain AKA the Lament Configuration. Sometimes its just a blurry and bloody mess that forces the audience to gasp and simultaneously say “huh?”
The most recent Hellraiser offering provides us with a big dose of huh? It’s entirely unclear why the franchise needed to be rebooted, coupled with the fact that this reboot is a pale and confusing companion to 1987’s original bout of sadomasochism.
In the newest installment director David Bruckner (VHS, Southbound, the Ritual, and The Night House) opts for a contemporary take on the opioid crisis and financial greed. In much the same way that 2021’s Candyman dove further into race and economic disparity, and 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre looked at aging and gentrification, Bruckner throws us some on-the-nose metaphors for our current societal woes.
The film follows down-and-out junkie Riley (Odessa A’zion) her dirtbag boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey), and her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) and his boyfriend (Adam Faison). Riley is taking the steps to get clean and stay clean, but there’s always something nagging at her — and this mostly takes shape in the form of her dirtbag boyfriend. Trevor hatches a plan to steal a bunch of cool stuff from a billionaire’s abandoned warehouse, but all they end up stealing is the Lament Configuration.
Riley and Trevor stupidly open the gate to the Cenobite dimension and they’re forced to try and piece apart Pinhead and friends’ motivations for the large majority of the film. There are some exciting sequences and superb visuals, but there’s very little to like and no characters for the audience to invest in. Eventually Pinhead and his gang of ghoulish sadists are forced into a showdown with Riley and she, because of the twisted and unclear rules of Cenobite masochism, is given a “choice” that she’ll have to live with for the rest of her life.
The Hellraiser reboot concept has been kicking around for nearly 20 years. Many directors, writers, and actors have been attached to the film, but have ultimately walked away. When people like Pascal Laugier and the original Pinhead, Doug Bradley, give the reboot a pass you know it might just be cursed. Which is not to say the 2022 reboot is bad, it’s just unnecessary. Also unnecessary? The fact that we’re now referring to Pinhead as “the Priest.” Pinhead’s worked just fine for decades and there’s no need to rebrand in 2022.
Nothing new is brought to the table — save for Pinhead’s new moniker. No new effects. Passable Cenobite upgrades. No furtherance of an already confusing story. There’s less gore than its 1987 forefather and frankly the story is a whole heck of a lot less satisfying.
If you’re jonesing for some demonic sadomasochism, check out what 1987 had to offer, or at the very least 1988’s rather bonkers and hyper-gory Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Both will scratch, tear, bite, and claw at that nagging Hellraiser itch.
Hellraiser is Rated R and currently streaming on Hulu.