MOVIE REVIEW: Hellraiser (2022)
Bar the extensive, chauvinistic backlash over the oh-so-shocking prospect of a female Pinhead, horror fans had plenty of reasons to be sceptical about the remaking of Clive Barker’s original, 1987 masterwork when news of a Hellraiser reboot first broke back in 2019. For one, skipping an official theatrical release and opting instead to stream it via Hulu may have raised more than a few suspicious eyebrows from the get-go, if we stop, for a moment, to consider the straight-to-video format’s less-than-glowing track record. Factor in the generally lamentable quality of horror remakes, let alone the additional butchering of many an iconic classic at the hands of a cocky and overambitious rookie director, and David Bruckner’s 2022 reboot may as well have already been condemned to that great Blockbuster bargain bin in the sky before it had even seen the light of day by September 2022.
First and foremost, however, this is so much more than just a typical remake fastidiously seeking to ape and emulate its iconic predecessor down to the last slavishly minute detail. On the contrary, much like the many ornately configured, interlocking facets and mechanisms from which Barker’s iconic puzzle box is forged, this is a complex and meticulously crafted piece purveying a vision quite distinctly different from that which came before. A unique entity occupying its own fiercely individualistic space and time but, in the same breath, richly steeped in all the wanton bloodlust and morbidly entrancing, otherworldly magic that’s long been synonymous with the 1987 original.
Reorienting Barker’s original narrative in the gritty and intensely bleak thematic territories of addiction and the various casualties incurred along the way, Bruckner’s psychologically-inclined angle can hardly be described as groundbreaking. But with emotionally complex characterisation, exquisitely beautiful art direction and thought-provoking musings on the human condition and our many assorted personal demons, Hellraiser is a darkly absorbing gem in a genre otherwise littered with pale imitations and pretenders.
When recovering addict Riley McKendry (Odessa A'zion) relapses and breaks into an abandoned storage facility to discover, and subsequently steal, a curious-looking occult artefact with a view to making a quick, opportunistic buck, our troubled young protagonist inadvertently sets in motion a terrifying trail of supernatural carnage. Tormented by a monstrous collective of demonic beings whom she has unwittingly summoned from the abyss to unleash very literal Hell on Earth, Riley embarks on a perilous quest to unravel the many twisted conundrums of the puzzle box and bring an end to its merciless reign of sadistic bloodshed.
True to the cenobites’ trademark proclivity for inflicting brutal and fiendishly inventive acts of torture on their hapless human victims, Bruckner’s adaptation revels in a veritable bloodbath of stabbings, dismemberment, strangulation by piano wire and one exceptionally inventive sequence involving a punctured (yet still very audibly active) larynx. As Barker’s beloved Lead Cenobite, Pinhead, Jamie Clayton displays coldly calculating malice and majestic presence in rich, darkly flourishing abundance, with costume designer Kathrin Eder’s nimbly rendered touches of raw, glistening sinew and exquisitely intricate detail adding no small amount of ghoulishly entrancing elegance to the mix.
But however gratuitously appealing these various bloodcurdling, cinematic highlights may be, the most profound and authentic horror of this bleakly insightful chiller resides, above all else, in the various self-absorbed, cruelly deceitful and grasping human beings we meet along the way – each one consumed, and eventually undone, by their respective vices and addictions. Together with the petty thief and the deranged, power-hungry millionaire, relentlessly calamitous protagonist Riley makes for a particularly unlikeable and arguably totally irredeemable theatrical lead, by turns either indulging her mindless, hedonistic impulses or otherwise helplessly wallowing in self-pity. Enslaved by her all-consuming addiction to booze and pills, her every recklessly impulsive action serves to endanger and, on several occasions, completely destroy the lives of every ill-fated soul unfortunate enough to cross her path.
Beyond its infernal, ghoulishly mesmerising aesthetics and liberal lashings of sex and gore, Hellraiser is, at its deepest, ink-black core, a tale forged out of the most wretched and tragic facets of the human condition. Poetically embodied by the puzzle box’s richly symbolic ‘Lament’ configuration, Bruckner here poignantly highlights the ultimate futility of an existence forever burdened by mortal frailty, irreversible error, regret and – lest we forget – abject and unending suffering.
Hellraiser is now available to stream via Amazon UK