There have been whispers of a Hellraiser "reboot" for over a decade, with the project entering and exciting various stages of development, changing hands between production companies, writers, directors--you name it. It seemed strangely appropriate, if disappointing, that a franchise founded on the idea of being trapped in a nightmarish liminal reality would find itself in production hell for so long. But now, thankfully, the puzzle has been solved at long last and the Hellraiser reboot is finally here with director David Bruckner (The Night House) at the helm and Hulu acting as distributor. And better yet--it turns out that it actually was worth the wait, however hellish the road to this point may have seemed.
It wouldn't be completely accurate to call new Hellraiser a proper reboot--it doesn't attempt to retread any of the ground covered in either the original Clive Barker novella, The Hellbound Heart, or the original movie from 1986. The characters--barring one or two familiar-ish Cenobites--are brand-new, the story is brand-new, and the mythology of the world has been changed to benefit them. It's as much a "reboot" as any of the franchise's other installments (there are 10 of them--11 now, counting this one) that tossed out new characters and ideas without so much as a backwards glance to the story put forth across 1, 2 (and 6, kind of, if you want to get technical).
In this new movie, recovering addict Riley (Odessa A'zion) accidentally finds herself in possession of a strange puzzle box thanks to her bad influence boyfriend, Matt (Brandon Flynn). The two of them--and their friends, Riley's brother, Trevor (Drew Starkey), his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison), and their roommate (Aoife Hinds)--are very rapidly pulled into a mind-bending nightmare populated by the Cenobites that may or may not cost them their lives. Leading the Cenobites this time around is the familiar Hell Priest ("Pinhead" if you're nasty) played by Jamie Clayton--but she's far from the only monster skulking around behind interdimensional walls. Hellraiser introduces a whole new Gash of Cenobites--some vaguely familiar, behind their redesigns, some wholly original, all of them sick as hell.
While this movie may be a stand alone one-off in terms of the franchise, it intrinsically understands what makes Hellraiser such a cool property to begin with. The Cenobites are disgusting and brutal, but also strangely sexy and alluring. They're not slasher killers, they're not mindless monsters--they're cunning, measured, patient. They've got a set of rules they play by, and those rules can be bent. Clayton's Pinhead glides around with the intention and grace of a high fashion model, speaks in eerie booming whispers, and directs her fellow Cenobites with subtle gestures of her hand and fingers. Meanwhile, other Cenobites shamble and wheeze, not quite clumsy but certainly not as seasoned or as human-adjacent as their siblings. It's a whole spectrum of monsters that are all equally fun to watch, all done with impeccable practical effects that hold up to scrutiny. And you'll want to scrutinize--each Cenobite is riddled with detail, from flayed skin to horrific grafts that give them unique personalities and silhouettes.
Hellraiser's practicality doesn't end at the creature designs, either. The set pieces are lavish and decadent--some even call to mind movies like 2001's Thirteen Ghosts which, regardless of quality, pulled off one of the most iconic haunted house designs of all time. Bruckner's eye for architecture shines through shot after shot where the intricate designs of the puzzle box get reflected in set pieces and rooms around every character. It's clear that he is establishing a very specific niche for himself as a horror director between this and The Night House, and he pulls it off brilliantly.
In terms of the story itself, Hellraiser does a perfectly serviceable job of providing a vehicle for its carnage. Refreshingly, the movie centers the story of two queer characters--a first for the franchise, despite its place in the queer horror pantheon thanks to its creation by queer horror icon Clive Barker--and makes even more use of multiple queer actors. The plot isn't really trying to make a statement, but the spirit of Barker's work is very, very close to the surface. It's fun to watch--certainly much more fun than the last decade-and-change worth of Hellraiser sequels we've been given--even when big plot beats skew towards the silly or the absurd. There are a handful of noticeable jumps in logic and monster-less moments that drag on a bit too long, but it's not hard to forgive them when the rest of the movie is having such a good time.
The set pieces and designs are bolstered tremendously by great sound work--both in terms of sound design for the Cenobites themselves and the soundtrack, which deliberately echoes the scale and drama of the original Hellraiser score. You want ominously tolling funeral bells? This movie has got 'em. Meanwhile, the Cenobites gurgle and gasp as they glide and/or shamble toward their victims. It gives each scare depth and tension, considering the Cenobites aren't interested in jump scares or really moving any faster than they absolutely have to.
This new Hellraiser stands out in the franchise as a real gem--it's off-beat and unexpected enough to keep even die-hard fans guessing, but familiar enough to feel like a genuine return to form of the series' earliest days. It's been a long, long wait and the road to get here has been marked with disappointment, but it's safe to say that a Hellraiser rebirth is finally well and truly here.