A Very Brief History of the HELLRAISER Franchise

It’s been 31 years since Clive Barker unleashed the cult classic film Hellraiser onto our mortal world. The franchise is still going strong with Dimension Films releasing the trailer for 10th installment on Tuesday. It looks like the writer of Hellraiser: Revelations—the last entry to the now direct-to-video series—is helming this new vision of Hell. Judgment appears to be a retread of Saw, Se7en, and a couple of earlier Hellraiser movies as it follows three detectives hunting a violent serial killer (who turns out to be Pinhead and his Cenobites). But the trailer seems to diverge from the bonkers past of the fantastical franchise.

Clive Barker was already seen as one of the most visionary voices in horror when he decided to adapt and direct a film based on his own novella, The Hellbound Heart, in 1986. Hellraiser was released in 1987, and with a budget of $900,000 was a marvel of lo-fi practical effects. It follows a man named Frank Cotton who manages to escape Barker’s hellish Cenobites, unintentionally bringing them back into our world. The film was relatively well received by critics and made almost $15 million at the American box office. This launched the three decades long saga that would see Hellraiser become a beloved cult classic, an underground horror smash franchise, and bargain bin DTV staple driven by the potential of a reboot that’s been in development hell for over 10 years.

Coming in the wake of the cultural phenomenon that was A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film as financially successful as Hellraiser immediately warranted a sequel. So only a year after the first film was released, Hellbound: Hellraiser II appeared on screens. It was the last entry to have the full collaboration of Barker, who executive produced this direct sequel to his original. It expands the world of Hellraiser, following the first movie’s final girl Kirsty as she recovers in a mental institute whilst trying to convince someone of the existence of the Cenobites and their deadly intentions. Another extreme experiment in practical effects, the film made over $12 million at the U.S. box office though critics were unsure of its surreal time-hopping storyline and visceral violence.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth was released in 1992 and is a very ’90s movie. Predominantly set in a nightclub, it follows the club’s owner who buys a strange artifact known as the Pillar of Souls which just happens to have the trapped spirit of Pinhead inside it. This film is particularly notable as it attempted to expand on Pinhead’s backstory, creating an interesting film that was more focused on the apparent villain, his past, and motivations than most horror movies of the time. During the film’s production Barker was in the process of making Nightbreed, a film that the studio would mangle with cuts, essentially destroying their relationship with the Hellraiser creator at the same time.

The fourth entry into the franchise is my personal favorite, a wild film that plays as both a sequel and prequel. This was sadly the last of the Hellraiser movies to be released theatrically after lackluster earnings and a general misunderstanding of the film’s true genius. Hellraiser: Bloodline begins in the future where a pilot has taken control of a spaceship that they want to use to catch Pinhead and the Cenobites once and for all. From there we’re thrown back in time to meet the creator of the Lament Configuration—the puzzlebox which holds the demons—and the wealthy sadomasochistic aristocrat who designed it. Oh, and that all takes place in 1784.

The subsequent films became more formulaic but still held onto a large audience with their new direct-to-video format. 2000’s Hellraiser: Inferno sees a detective discover the Lament Configuration whilst investigating brutal ritualistic murders (sound familiar?). Hellraiser: Hellseeker saw the OG final girl Kirsty return for a cameo before she was killed in a car crash, leaving her bereaved husband in a hellish dreamscape. 2005 saw the release of two Hellraiser movies: Deader and Hellworld. The first focused on a cult inspired by the Lament Configuration’s creator, and the second (and incredibly outrageous) mid ’00s entry focused around an MMORPG.

In 2006, Dimension Films announced a remake of Hellraiser. It would be scripted by Barker himself and directed by Martyrs’ visionary director Pascal Laugier. Alas, the film has been lost to development hell, with numerous creative teams being named to helm the project and Barker saying in 2017 he’d heard nothing after the script was delivered years before. This is where Hellraiser: Judgement and 2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations come in, both being movies made by Dimension without the original Pinhead, Doug Bradley. They were seemingly made simply to keep the Hellraiser rights, enabling Dimension to make the long rumored reboot.

Will you be watching new Hellraiser: Judgment? Wish they’d leave Barker’s masterpiece alone? Let us know in the comments!

Images: Dimension Films

Top Stories
More by Rosie Knight
Trending Topics