by Jordan Thomas
When I heard that there was a new reboot of Hellraiser coming to Hulu, I was initially ecstatic about the news. Finally, the movie that perhaps scarred me the most as a child, would be getting a much needed update. I remember being on pins and needles when watching the movie on my 15” tube television screen. I’d mute the scenes that I thought would be too terrifying to hear. As if muting a scene where a skinless sadist wearing his brother’s skin and flirting with his niece could really save me from emotional scarring. Hearing the announcement of this new reboot brought me back to being truly unnerved and scared as a child– feelings which I hoped to revisit as a 28 year old curmudgeon.
It seemed that with each new announcement regarding the project, my excitement grew exponentially. When Sense8 star, Jamie Clayton, was cast as the Priest, any initial skepticism that may have laid dormant in my mind was ripped away by Barkeresque chains. Finally, they were going to get the character right. If you haven’t read The Hellbound Heart, the character that we know as Pinhead, played by a sharp Doug Bradley, was genderless in the source material. This is not to rip away any praise from Bradley’s work in the role, but more so praising an encouraging leap forward for representation from the LGBT+ community, as Clayton is an openly trans actress. When the first photos of Clayton as the infamous Priest surfaced, I was sold. We could finally move past the true terror that was Hellworld.
The puzzle was finally solved without any true lamenting. Right?
Unfortunately, the nostalgia of the 80s camp and charm that made the initial Hellraiser film so fantastic was absent in the newest entry. The film seems to take notes from two or three different reboot films that are anything but Hellraiser itself.
The story is centered around Riley, a young woman who struggles with drug addiction, trying to sort out her life in a twelve-step program. This aspect of her story is rarely shown beyond a few comments peppered into the film about her program and the strength of pain pills she finds. To me, this seemed a little derivative of Mia, the main character from Álvarez’s Evil Dead reboot, where we see a deeper story surrounding addiction. Riley lives with her brother Matt, his boyfriend Collin, and their randomly British roommate Nora. The relationship between Matt and Riley is tense, as they clearly have struggled to maintain a healthy relationship most likely from Riley’s addiction. However, in a movie franchise that is known for its real tension, the characters rarely show any true filial tension at all. We don’t really know the characters outside of their contempt and disdain towards Riley’s addiction and their dislike of Trevor, her boyfriend she met in their twelve-step program.
Riley and Trevor break into an abandoned storage unit, where they stumble upon a box with the infamous Lament Configuration, where Riley insists on taking it with her. Matt becomes an innocent victim to the Lament Configuration early on due to Riley messing with the puzzle box. Matt’s death stands as Riley's motivation for most of the film, as she feels tremendous grief for their fight being their last interaction and wonders if she had some part in his disappearance.
After an encounter with the Cenobites, Riley does some digging and finds that she can resurrect Matt if she solves the puzzle. Her sole mission is to bring her brother back from Hell, while the rest of the Scooby Doo gang deny that she’s telling the truth about the sights she’s seen because she’s an addict. After rifling through eccentric, sadistic millionaire Roland Voight’s mansion, Riley finds an exposition dump of sorts that explains the Lament Configuration marks its victims to bring forth the Cenobites and their Priest. When the Gang comes to get Riley, Nora gets stabbed by a very much still alive Roland Voight, which leads into a wonderfully chilling scene with Clayton’s Priest. The twist that Voight survived his encounter with the Cenobites in the beginning of the film and hid in his mansion, is straight from Thirteen Ghosts (sans the device that twists his nerve endings at random), which the third act of the film feels dangerously close to.
We get a considerable amount of Cenobite action in the third act, which was both neat and disappointing. In the first film, the Cenobites played as secondary, or even tertiary antagonists, as Frank Cotton served as the primary, and Julia serving as the secondary. The Cenobites were akin to Vader’s relationship to Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, rather than being the forefront villains. The original showed how evil humans truly were and that their antagonistic qualities were only slightly accentuated by the Lament Configuration. When Bradley and the gang showed up, you knew things were serious.
The reboot ends with Riley “beating” the Cenobites by not accepting their gifts, as Voight did twice in the film. Voight gets sent to Hell to gain the power he craved, getting turned into an extremely on the nose Christlike Cenobite, while Jamie goes on haunted by the choices that she made throughout the film. The introduction of what the Lament Configuration truly meant, which entailed living with all of the dread that came with the solving of the puzzle, was a nice touch, but it didn’t help save the overcomplication that came from the introduction of a myriad of new configurations that the box took.
Overall, the film wasn’t my favorite, but it was still a strong entry in the franchise. It blasted most of the sequels out of the water, while establishing a road for more Jamie Clayton’s Priest and more innovation in Cenobite design, which I’m sure everyone will enjoy. I have to say, the design for Clayton’s Priest and the Cenobites are one of the saving graces of this film. The designs are well thought out and unnerving. Although they are missing the leather from the 80s that was inspired by BDSM garb, they are still wonderfully haunting and spooky. The other saving grace of this film was the cinematography, with the film having a plethora of beautiful shots and sequences. My compliment of the cinematography is to the chagrin of my wife, as she attempted adjusting the brightness of the film once or twice out of frustration of how dark it was, but I stand by the compliment.
No matter how this film sits with viewers, it will still lead a new generation to the Hellraiser franchise. That in itself is worth it in the end.