Hellraiser is one of horror’s most long-lasting and impactful franchises. It began with Clive Barker’s brilliant story The Hell Priest (nee The Hellbound Heart). Barker then adapted that into the stunning 1987 horror classic Hellraiser. Tony Randel made a sequel back-to-back with a story by Barker. Those films sparked a series of movies that expanded the lore of Hellraiser, and gave us nine direct sequels to the original. Over the years there have been many rumors and rumblings of a Hellraiser remake or reboot. But it was The Night House’s David Bruckner who transformed rumors into reality with Hulu’s Hellraiser. Though this reviewer long feared their favorite franchise getting the reboot treatment; Bruckner has gifted us with a darkly delightful horror steeped in Barker’s sensibilities. The biggest disappointment is that this Hellraiser won’t be getting a wide release in theaters.
Bruckner’s vision introduces us to debauched billionaire Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic) who holds a lavish party in his Berkshire Estates. In the dimly lit halls, a young man named Joey (Kit Clarke) is drawn into the bowels of the mansion. It’s here that those familiar with the world of Hellraiser will get excited. We learn that Voight’s home is built to replicate the puzzle box at the heart of the franchise, the Lament Configuration. Occult architecture has long been a part of the Hellraiser sequels, most famously in Hellraiser: Bloodline, which seems to have been a large influence on the film. It’s a nice nod which also introduces new viewers into the intricate visual world of Barker’s lore. Joey quickly falls victim to the puzzle box. And we learn Voight is a man who’ll do anything to connect with the creatures unleashed by LeMarchand’s infamous Box.
Enter struggling addict Riley (Odessa A’zion) and her shady enabler boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey). Currently crashing with Matt (Brandon Flynn), his empathetic boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison), and their roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds); Riley is hardly the perfect house guest, and it’s her relationship with Trevor that throws Riley into the world of the Cenobites. Speaking of the most iconic part of Barker’s stories, Bruckner brings them to life in spectacular fashion. Led by a haunting performance by Jamie Clayton as The Priest; (a version of Pinhead), the Cenobites instill the kind of nightmarish anxiety that they should. The Priest is joined by the Chatterer (Jason Liles), the Weeper (Yinka Olorunnife), the Gasp (Selina Lo), and the Asphyx (Zachary Hing); all of whom bring a specific type of terror to the screen.
None of that would be possible without the unreal work of the special effects department. Supervised by Dragan Radic, the crew has crafted visions of hell that feel like they’ve directly walked out of Barker’s stories. It’s a feat that many later Hellraiser movies have struggled with, and allows this version to sit happily alongside the original two films in tone and visuals. Ben Lovett’s echoing score plays a key part in building that atmosphere. Pulsing, haunting, and at times beautiful, I would’ve loved to hear it complimenting the film through the sound system of an immense cinema screen.
While the Cenobites and their horrors are appealing, Odessa A’zion leads a talented cast that you want to root for as they face down a nightmare come to life. Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski’s script crafts a group of characters that you care about. And ultimately gives the story an almost entirely satisfying ending. But what could’ve been a brilliantly powerful final act gets slightly dampened by a strange very ’00s feeling stinger that sits more inline with the direct to video Hellraiser movies of the past than the powerful emotional choice that finishes the movie proper. Even with that, though, this is still a really great addition to the Hellraiser series that sits comfortably as just another chapter in the sprawling legend of the Lament Configuration rather than diminishing what came before.