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[Fantastic Fest ’22] ‘Hellraiser’ returns to gory glory at surprise Fantastic Fest World Premiere

Clayton and Bruckner bring pleasure and pain.

Hellraiser has an interesting legacy. It has been popular enough to spawn a number of sequels. And there is certainly no doubting Pinhead’s place as a horror icon. Unfortunately, much like Alien and Terminator, the sequels were often a case of “how the mighty have fallen”. Yet, even before it became a victim of franchise fatigue, Hellraiser was always a tier below the other horror heavyweights. Pinhead is a poster child for fear, but he surpassed his movies long ago.

Which is what makes a reboot of the series so interesting. While it is not one that people have been clamoring for, it has enough name value to draw interest. Serving as a new adaptation to Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, which was the inspiration for the 1987 original, the reboot of Hellraiser follows a woman named Riley (Odessa A’zion, Mark, Mary, and Some Other People) who is trying to get her life back together. When she comes into possession of an antique puzzle box, she is introduced to a new world of pleasure.

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Pinhead was made such a memorable character in no small part due to the performance of Doug Bradley. He played the role in eight movies, so it was met with some disappointment when it was announced he would not be taking part in the new incarnation. When in 2021, it was announced the Jaime Clayton (Sense8) would be stepping into the role, many wondered how well she would do. Bradley and Pinhead have been so closely associated that it was hard for many imagine the new Hellraiser recasting the lead Cenobite.

Fairly or unfairly, Clayton was going to be the focus of attention. Wisely, the actress puts her own spin on the character. There is no doubting that the Hell Priest is still incredibly terrifying, but Clayton brings a sensuality to the character. Every promise made and each deal offered is done with a sense of passion and danger. She is not just playing the part of Pinhead; she becomes the character and makes it her own.

Following The Night House and Hellraiser it is fair to say the David Bruckner is one of the best directors working in horror. His take on Hellraiser artfully builds to a gore filled third act. The preceding acts use great camerawork that at times mimic the puzzle box. There is great use of lighting and the choice to build the atmosphere instead of relying on jump scares gives the film adds a slight thriller aspect to the horror.

Which is not to say that the new installment shies away from the core aspects of the story. Pleasure and pain have always been a big part of the franchise’s lore, and that does not change here. This may be the goriest movie in the Hellraiser series, yet. As graphic as some of the scenes are, they never feel superfluous and feed into the idea of what the Cenobites are after.

The creature design has always been a big part of the franchise, and it looks great here. Longtime fans of the franchise will not be disappointed by what the 2022 version offers. Since Pinhead has long been the face of the franchise, it is only natural that many are curious about what she now looks like. There have been slight changes to the character that allows Clayton to step out of Bradley’s shadow. At the same time, Hellraiser does not totally reinvent the character. Overall, the new design looks great.

There is always some concern when it comes to remakes. Horror fans tend to be a little more forgiving since the genre is littered with them, but a tinge of hesitation is always there. The new Hellraiser is a much needed breath of fresh air to the long suffering franchise. Bruckner is amazing behind the camera while Clayton’s performance has her poised to be the new face of horror.

Hellraiser premieres on Hulu October 7

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