There will be mild spoilers. They probably won’t actually reveal anything as much as they may confuse those who have not yet watched the film. Proceed at your own discretion.
You may have noticed on this blog that we are Hellraiser fans. I mean serious ones… I have watched all the movies, even the ones that most people don’t know about. I have written defenses of some of the less beloved ones like inferno, bloodline, and even revelations. I have done up Hellraiser costumes, and in fact even documented the process of crafting my pinhead make up years ago in a series called the Hellraiser Project. I’ve read the books, and more importantly I’ve read the comic books. By the way, the epic ones of the late 80s and early 90s are far superior to the stuff that Christopher Monfette said he was riding with Clive Barker for boom.
So the time has finally come, for a new Hellraiser movie. I know that a lot of us were really hoping to see a continuation of Judgment in some way. Paul Taylor did the role of pinhead justice, but with him banished to earth in a somewhat cliffhanger ending, going further in the series may have explored more of the auditor and the Stygian Inquisition. All of that would’ve been welcome. What wasn’t going to be embraced, was the dreaded word…”remake”.
As production went on though, the word remake shifted to reboot, and then barker himself redefined it as a reconfiguration. That may well be the best description of this film.
Hulu (via IMDB) describes it as “A take on a Clive Barker’s 1987 horror classic where a young woman struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that it’s purpose is to summon the Cenobites, a group of sadistic supernatural beings from another dimension.” When opened, you have a choice – let them take you, or let them take someone else and feed the box. It continually changes into diffrent shapes, diffrent configurations -and with each human sacrifice getting you closer to the final configuration, and an audience with the god Leviathan (I’m so pleased to see Leviathan back BTW, and he’s never looked better!) who will grant you a boon. However, you must remember, that just as described in the Hellbound Heart, Leviathan and the Cenobites don’t percieve things the same way we do. “his real error had been the naive belief that his definition of pleasure significantly overlapped with that of the Cenobites.
As it was, they had brought incalculable suffering. They had overdosed him on sensuality, until his mind teetered on madness, then they’d initiated him into experiences that his nerves still convulsed to recall. They had called it pleasure, and perhaps they’d meant it. Perhaps not. It was impossible to know with these minds; they were so hopelessly, flawlessly ambiguous.”
I do take this film as another sequel, not a reboot. Different box, different demons, different methods and aim – same god and same universe. Some elements work, and some don’t. There are times I’d like to see some leather on the cenobites. They’ve taken the description fromn the book to it’s extreme ” the scars that covered every inch of their bodies, the flesh cosmetically punctured and sliced and infibulated, then dusted down with ash”. The problem is the skin doesn’t always look real. It’s too much of that pale color and when lingered on great expanses (such as the skirt on Pinhead or the habit like veil of flesh on Deep Throat) it comes off as fake and rubbry rather than skin. just a touch of leather or some other tatters to break up the monotony of the vast expanses of flesh would have gone a long way to making this perfect. (and to those who keep trying to insist that this is truer to the novella, allow me to remind you ” Frank had difficulty guessing the speaker’s gender with any certainty. Its clothes, some of which were sewn to and through its skin, hid its private parts, and there was nothing in the dregs of its voice, or in its willfully disfigured features that offered the least clue” Yes. There are garments involved in those cenobites too). The gift of the cenobites too – that was really bad looking. I understand they are trying thier own take on “There are conditions of the nerve endings,” it said, “the like of which your imagination, however fevered, could not hope to evoke.” yes, but I feel like I’d perfer this done hands on, not with a clumsy infernal machine. Whenever it’s tried – whether it’s the transformation chamber in Hellbound, or the more tech based cenobites of part three or the tech feels in Bloodline – infernal machinery always feels ….off. They try to hard to tie the look to the box and always make it too big. I just don’t like it. Where it does work however, is on the box itself. The new take on the box though is really interesting with it shifting shape after each death and taking on different configurations. These don’t have to look like anything but macabre art and that’s really where it’s strength lies. It’s also fascinating to see a new puzzle – one that works in a different way. I’ve long held that Event Horizon is also a Hellraiser sidequel and that the ship itself was the puzzle. That’s really as close as we’ve truly gotten to a puzzle that works differently in this context until now. I am absolutely here for it.
I like the overall story. It’s as good as any of the sequels, an better than some. I wonder though, if it realizes how much it borrows from the late series entries?
While this feels mostly steeped in Helbound, stalked in the mansion gives me Hellworld vibes (so did the stabby box). A house designed as a trap/cage feels very Bloodline. Multiple victims (Them instead of you) reminds me a LOT of Hellseeker (I’d go as far as to wonder if Kirsty has heard of this cenobite order and it’s methods and thought she might give it a try with Dougs Pinhead). While Helbound establishes only the one the cenobites has come for can see them, that expanded take on “stalked and visions of cenobites” is very Inferno. I feel like there’s bits and pieces of a lot of the series, tossed into a blender and inserted here.
Approaching it as a sidequel he is really what allows me to enjoy the Evil Dead remake as well, and it’s particularly effective here, because despite some of those cosmetic changes, this feels like it fits into that world.
it’s not without it’s flaws though. It’s VERY much a 2022 film, with all the tropes of current year movies. Not bad mind you. but I can already see boxes being checked off (You can see it in 80’s and 90’s movies too) in ways that make it less timeless than the first two. The recasting of not only Pinhead (and by the way, I’m really not one of those guys that insists ONLY Doug Bradley should ever play Pinhead), but honestly, most of the speaking line cenobites as women along with the heavy homoerotic elements might be less obvious in another political climate, but in 2022, they almost standard diversity slots that studios are obsessed with filling whether they come organically or not. They fit well enough here, but are in your face enough (far more than say, the shoulder pads in Julia’s blazer in the original) that someone looking at this movie will be able to pinpoint EXACTLY when it was made. That’s not necessarily a dealbreaker though. Hellworld has similar problems. It’s a VERY 2000’s movie, but I like it too.
Ultimately I think I’m on board. It’s not a bad sequel, and I think this may be one of the few reboots that could spawn it’s own sequels. That’s a tough trick – reboot is frequently the end of the line for a lot of franchises, (NOES, Night of the Demons, Friday the 13th) other’s fizzle out and return to a different continuity or something ambiguous (Children of the Corn, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween). It’ll be interesting to see where we go from here, and what Clive Barker may have up his sleeve in the future.