Starring: Odessa Aegean, Jamie Clayton and Drew Stark
Directed by: David Brueckner
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Something about 1987’s “Hellraiser” has always made me feel unclean and uncomfortable. It’s not that I don’t like the movie, I really enjoy it, but it always manages to make my skin crawl more than any other horror movie. I feel bad watching and doing anything during this time, whereas a movie like “Hostel” or “Candyman” doesn’t affect me. I can still eat during those movies unlike “Hellraiser”. Even “Hellbound: Hellraiser II” gets me on some level. However, none of the other films in the franchise do this. So when I first debuted “Hellraiser” of 2022, I waited to see if that indescribable and unique feeling would resurface.
Riley (Aegean) is a recovering drug addict who lives with her brother and her boyfriend. One night Riley and her ill-fated partner Trevor (Starkey) hide in an empty warehouse where a shipping container awaits. Trevor tells Riley that they should find some value in it, and in some ways they do. Once inside the shipping container, the only thing they find is the moan configuration, even though neither really knows what it is, what it does or why it’s there. However, the box creates its own problems before all hell is removed. The act of stealing it is what drives Riley’s addiction away. She argues with her brother over the issue of being kicked out of the apartment, and takes down a few bullets before taking herself and the box to a nearby playground. While tinkering with the strange box, she inadvertently removes the Cenobites while her bullets take effect and her brother, worried about his sister, stumbles into a waking nightmare.
Without revealing too much, it works on reboot/sequel/whatever. For those who have been following along for years, and for those who don’t know, the “Hellraiser” franchise is kind of crappy. The saga’s first two entries are not only funny and creepy, but mix horror, drama, and sensual sensuality so that the stories feel genuinely terrifying. The 2022 version does exactly that. This is why Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth through “Hellraiser: Judgment” never really worked. Those 8 movies never worked together, made sense back-to-back, and never really stuck with any theme or idea about what the Cenobites were and what their purpose was. At least in this updated version, Cenobites isn’t focusing on killing video gamers (“Hellraiser: Hellworld”), terrifying quips, (“Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth”) or the movie “Se 7en” ( “Hellraiser: Judgment”). So you could say that “Hellraiser” has a very low bar to articulate in terms of quality.
The real red meat of these movies, Cenobites, is as gruesome as ever. Macabre, mutilated creatures from an alternate plane of reality (or hell) pop onto the screen with glistening viscera, bulging needles, exposed and curved flesh and various other body horror images. For the big enchilada, Pinhead (or as Clive Barker prefers, The Hell Priest), Jamie Clayton captures a bit of the essence of what Doug Bradley did in those first two movies. His menacing, cold, calculated stare is almost imitated by Clayton, who has little to do with this performance. She simply smiles casually when listening to others or expresses her words in such a harsh way that you can only imagine the horrors behind her simple words of “happiness.”
Everything else in the film is fine. Aegean plays Riley as a likable, flawed heroine who sees that her conspiracies mix with the other-worldly intrigues of the Cenobites. This provides a particularly interesting theme, while at the same time adding another layer of intrigue to the Cenobites and their “hell” that they populate. To Trevor, the running dumpster appears to be no good, serving its intended purpose, although it’s little clear why it’s there. As for Riley’s other friends and family, they find nothing but Cenobite torture snacks. A character of interest, but “Hellraiser” fans would appreciate me not revealing more.
Despite years of bad sequels, confusing plots, and a seemingly scattershot approach to how the franchise should go, 2022’s “Hellraiser” lays right of course and leaves audiences with the last 20 years of poor “Hellraiser” Gives the sequel something to wash their mouths off. Clayton’s performance, Brueckner’s direction, and story all add up to a film that has the same kinky green and sweet pain as the original. While “Hellraiser” is sure to delight fans old and new, the film has its setbacks, such as the need for an editor who recognizes the film, as well as some supporting characters and ideas that never pay off or in between. No fresh coat of blood and guts lives in. I didn’t even get that feeling when I saw the first two movies, but that’s okay because I enjoyed the scenes that were shown to me.