Fantastic Fest Review: ‘Hellraiser’ raises the bar for the franchise, but how high?

Hellraiser Jamie Clayton
Image via Hulu

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3.5
On September 29, 2022
Last modified:October 5, 2022

Summary:

Hellraiser is a fresh entry to the decades-old franchise and it's also a fresh breath of air to the many fans that have long suffered from below-par sequels. But though it easily clears the mark of weaker entries, does it achieve the horror masterpiece status of the Clive Barker/Wes Craven original?

Hulu has such sights to show you. The much-awaited reboot of the Clive Barker/Wes Craven Horror classic Hellraiser was opened up by audiences at last night’s special screening at Fantastic Fest 2022 and the fans seemed more than delighted by the prospect of being dragged into hell yet again. And it seems that the relaunch did not disappoint — but after years of lackluster entries in the Hellraiser franchise, how high of a bar did it manage to clear?

Directed by David Bruckner, Hellraiser 2022 is easily the best of the franchise in years, easily the superior of anything released since 1988’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II. In some ways, the film even manages to improve upon the original, with production values that are easily superior to anything the franchise has produced thus far. The Cenobites are back and better than ever, eschewing their ‘80s-era black leather for a look made up of their own flayed skin.

Jamie Clayton is particularly effective as the Hell Priest, aka Pinhead, putting in a subtle performance every bit as chilling as her worthy predecessor, Doug Bradley. Fam actress Odessa A’zion also turns in formidable work as Riley, the movie’s protagonist and heir apparent of series stalwart Kirsty Cotton. Goran Višnjić is also impressive as Mr. Voight, a nod to the franchise’s original antagonist/hedonist that is the cause of all this mess, Frank Cotton. The film also delivers a more elegant and detailed backstory to the Cenobites and the mysterious puzzle box that summons them.

That said, Hellraiser doesn’t quite make it past the bar of the original film, partly due to the obvious freshness of the original’s concept, but also due to the current version’s somewhat-plodding first half, which only delays the real momentum that picks up when the Cenobites appear in force.

We are quickly introduced to Riley, a recovering addict, and her somewhat feckless boyfriend/fling Trevor, and then to her protective brother and roommate Matt, his boyfriend Colin, and his other roommate, played by Selina Lo. When Riley, aching to establish her independence, helps Trevor break into a cargo container, she finds the mysterious ancient puzzle box and sets the events of the story in motion.

And it’s here, and the inevitable journey to Riley’s confrontation with the Hell Priest, where the film falters. The relationships between all the principals seem paper thin, with little more meat to them than their descriptors: boyfriend, roommate, eff-buddy, etc. This lack of characterization inevitably lowers the stakes when the monsters appear; the course from point A to point B to Point Cenobite loses interest fast, only picking back up once the third act kicks off.

However, there is little doubt that fans of the original Hellraiser are going to find this new chapter worthy of the name. And there’s a fair chance that once it airs, the franchise may gain a new legion of devoted fans — as well as a string of sequels.

Hellraiser will begin streaming on Hulu on Oct. 7.

Hellraiser (2022)
Good

Hellraiser is a fresh entry to the decades-old franchise and it's also a fresh breath of air to the many fans that have long suffered from below-par sequels. But though it easily clears the mark of weaker entries, does it achieve the horror masterpiece status of the Clive Barker/Wes Craven original?