SPOILER WARNING FOR HELLRAISER 2022.
Let me just start by saying I am a massive Hellraiser fan. It was an eye-opening experience as a teen and my gateway into horror. Safe to say, I would not be writing this or writing at all, if not for Clive Barker and the Cenobites. The newly released sequel is the 11th entry in the series—and yes, I have watched all of them. With diminishing quality as they go along, with the only saving grace for eight of those films (and for nearly 20 years!) Doug Bradley was front and center as Pinhead, the Hell Priest. His voice and presence encapsulate the beauty and grace that go hand-in-hand with chains and flayed flesh. He is the embodiment of pain and pleasure.
That being said, I was excited upon hearing of the Hulu original being developed, with the team that brought us The Night House—an incredible film dealing with grief and subtle supernatural elements. Jamie Clayton, who I knew for her role as Nomi on Sense8, was cast as Pinhead. This was met with some resistance as Jamie is an openly trans actress. For those of us in the LGBT community, it was a celebration.
Hellraiser has always been queer. Clive Barker is an openly gay man and his works feature gay characters. The Cenobites take direct inspiration from Catholic cassocks and S&M fetish gear. In the original book, The Hellbound Heart, they are of indeterminate gender, or with aspects of feminity and masculinity both present. I consider it an essential part of the story. Doug Bradley himself gave his blessing to Jamie.
Okay, with that out of the way: I adored the new Hellraiser. It exceeded my expectations in all respects. The attention to detail, the cinematography, and the Lament Configuration itself are all gorgeous. This is what a reboot should be.
The film begins with a rich and powerful man, Roland Voight, acquiring the infamous puzzle box. It’s long and rectangular, unlike the cube we’re used to. He suggests to Joey, a young man attending a party at Voight’s estate, that he solve the puzzle. When he does the Cenobites unleash their trademark chains. Voight then prays to Leviathan, although we do not see the result.
We then cut to Riley, who we follow for the rest of the film. She’s a recovering addict, living with her brother Matt, his boyfriend Colin, and another friend, Nora. Trevor is introduced as her new boyfriend, the pair having met in a 12-step program. Matt does not approve and voices this, frustrating Riley. Desperate for rent money, she agrees to rob a storage facility with Trevor.
Of course, they find only one thing: The Box. As Riley smashes open the safe to get at it, she casually says “there’s a trick to everything.” Perfect throwaway foreshadowing, honestly.
The puzzle is a bit more complicated this time around, but I really enjoy this extra lore. As you work your way through solving the box, a blade will eventually pop out, stabbing the wielder. This sacrifice of blood is what summons the Cenobites. Riley miraculously avoids this fate, the blade barely missing her and instead claiming her brother Matt.
We’re then led on a journey as Riley and Trevor attempt to discover the owner of the box. They seek out Serena, Voight’s lawyer and the owner of the storage facility. She tells them it was locked up there on purpose, and that it is dangerous. While wrestling with Riley for it, she is stabbed. The Cenobites soon come to claim her, and we get some really excellent shots of individuals. I found it particularly interesting that Serena is dying of a lung condition, and the first Cenobite she sees has skin stretched taut over their face, restricting their breathing as if a mirror of Serena herself.
The Cenobites themselves are no longer clad in leather, but instead essentially naked, their only coverings the flayed skin peeled back over their limbs and the metal bits that keep it in place. Each one has pins—which seem to be how they claim their victims and is a nice visual to tie them all together.
Our old friend the Chatterer is here, but the rest are new designs; the above image is of The Weeper. They all adhere to this naming scheme: The Asphyx, The Gasp, and one we only see for a brief moment—The Mother, who is visibly pregnant, adding another layer of disturbing. I like all the additions, although I am unsure how I feel about The Masque. It’s difficult to describe but his face is a thin, stretched piece of flesh, and when he turns you can see there is nothing behind it, the Masque is his face. It feels almost silly, but maybe I’ll grow to like him over repeat viewings.
Another new twist (literally) is the Box having multiple forms or Configurations. The cube is still referred to as the Lament Configuration and is “phase one.” Riley discovers Voight’s notebooks, full of sketches and notes on seemingly every aspect of the box. Each phase ties in with a value or gift. Lament is Life, and the second appears diamond shaped and corresponds to Lore or Knowledge. Next, a star, or Lauderant/Love, a smaller cylinder, Liminal/Sensation, the larger one we saw at the beginning of the film is Lazarus/Ressurection, and the final spike is Leviathan/Power.
Voight’s goal is to solve the box until he reaches Leviathan, which grants you an audience with God who will bestow one of these blessings. Hellraiser fans will know that Leviathan is a returning “character,” as the giant spike towering over an endless labyrinth appears in Hellbound: Hellraiser II. This appears to be the Cenobites God, although their worship and work for it are unknown in exact detail.
It’s revealed Voight already made his choice: Sensation. Sealed to his chest is a metal contraption that slowly winds his nerves out of his body and evades any attempt to remove it. He seeks to reverse this “gift” and had Trevor gather victims to get the Box to its final layout. When Pinhead does show up they explain gifts cannot be returned, only exchanged—So Voight chooses Power.
Riley also reaches this final step and is asked by Pinhead what she desires. Originally planning on resurrecting her brother, she tells them, “I wish for nothing. I know what you do and I refuse.” “You choose regret. You choose to carry that weight,” Pinhead responds. As the only survivors, Riley and Colin leave, definitely scarred for life.
The final scene is some gorgeous and horrifying flesh stripping as Voight becomes a Cenobite himself, potentially opening the door to sequels in the process.
Overall, yes, I loved it. Some hardcore fans may find it questionable that the Cenobites no longer seek the person with the intention to open the box, but the one who spilled blood. I don’t really have a problem with this. I see this as it is: a reboot, with differences from the old Hellraiser. They are still terrifying, beautiful, and dedicated to their “jobs.” Leviathan should give them all raises.
Hellraiser is now streaming on Hulu.