Hulu has something special going with its ’80s horror reboot movie department. First, they got things right with Prey, a fine reboot of the Predator series and one of the year’s best horror films.
A few months later, they’ve score again with Hellraiser, a decent reboot of Clive Barker’s original terror-fest that spawned one horrible sequel after another. This one goes back to the roots of Barker’s horrific prose, gives us a female Pinhead (Jamie Clayton), and has a director with class and a way with visuals in David Bruckner.
Riley (Odessa A’zion), a barely recovering alcohol and drug user, makes for a decent, if slightly unreliable, protagonist. She’s the one who winds up with that most horrible puzzle box. Which opens a dimension to hell and allows the creepy cenobites to show up. Once tampered with, she finds herself in a battle with the evil cenobite realm to retrieve a loved one who got sucked into their dimension.
For those unfamiliar with Hellraiser lore, a cenobite is a once-human monstrosity cast into another dimension; deformed in some funky way involving skin, muscles and teeth; and forced into an eternity of making those unfortunate enough to meet them suffer. Once a cenobite, the conscience seemingly goes out the window, so ripping the flesh off of some helpless human is as routine as taking somebody’s order at Olive Garden.
Bruckner and the makeup team deserve a lot of credit for fresh takes on these monsters, such as the chomping cenobite, a slow-moving demon that continuously chatters its teeth. God damn, that scared me in the ’80s, and it still unnerves me today. I remember a lot of leather defining the original cenobites. Now, it seems their own skin and muscles are being used to shape their horrifying outer form. Man, some makeup artists are truly twisted.
This reboot has a lot in common with David Gordon Green’s well-done take on John Carpenter’s Halloween (the 2018 film, not the horrible sequel Halloween Kills). It follows a lot of the same steps as the original, with a look and feel that respects the origins while tweaking things enough to make it feel a bit fresh. Bruckner knows that a powerful soundtrack, lots of chains flying into people, and gloomily lit cenobites pave the way to terrorizing Hellraiser fans.
Jamie Clayton is a great Pinhead; she steps right in and makes it all work. Her slow, matter-of-fact musings on the beauties of suffering feel very faithful and spot-on when it comes to Barker’s intentions with his writings. She’s not a typical slasher villain; she takes the job of making people suffer very seriously and professionally. The thing about Pinhead that is so scary is that she has no concept of evil; she’s just terribly evil by default as she does the job provided to her by the universe. Clayton is so good you won’t really miss the original Pinhead, Douglas Bradley, who participated in some of the dreadful sequels.
The actors playing the humans, including A’zion, are mostly OK, if not altogether memorable. They are required to do stupid things that drop them into situations where they’re terrorized and mutilated, and the film isn’t incredibly original in its setups, although the strange large home, where much of the finale takes place, is an interesting set piece—as it is sort of an architectural version of that trouble-causing puzzle box.
We shall see if the sure-to-come sequels fall into the pattern of the first films, with one good one, followed by an almost-good one, followed by pure crap for decades after that. Maybe Hellraiser is good for one decent scare every 35 years or so—and then needs to be put in mothballs for a long nap.
Hellraiser is now streaming on Hulu.