Producers: David S. Goyer, Keith Levine, Clive Barker and Marc Toberoff Director: David Bruckner Screenplay: Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski Cast: Odessa A’Zion, Jamie Clayton, Adam Faison, Drew Starkey, Brandon Flynn, Aoite Hinds, Jason Liles, Yinka Olorunnite, Selina Lo, Zachary Hing, Kit Clarke, Goran Višnjić and Hiam Abbass Distributor: Hulu
Clive Barker’s 1987 “Hellraiser,” about the sadomasochistic, other-dimensional Cenobites and their leader Pinhead, who torture human victims in extraordinary ways, was a gruesome and ugly, but undeniably efficient, horror movie—one whose financial success surprised even its maker, who’d sold off the rights to the property. Nine sequels followed from other hands (though Barker retained some connection with the franchise), embellishing the mythology he’d invented to diminishing effect. Now we get the inevitable reboot, which comes nowhere near to equaling the impact of the grisly original. David Bruckner’s “Hellraiser” piles on the characters and details, but not the scares.
It begins with Roland Voight (Goran Višnjić), a wealthy collector of esoteric items who’s become obsessed with experiencing the gifts the Cenobites claim to offer. Through his lawyer Serena Menaker (Hiam Abbass) he lures a callow young fellow (Kit Clarke) into his lair, where he invites him to explore the elaborate mechanical puzzle that, when solved, leads to his torture and demise. Voight must provide a stipulated number of such victims to earn his reward.
But the focus quickly shifts to the real protagonist here, a frazzled drug addict named Riley (Odessa A’Zion). She and a Trevor (Drew Starkey), guy she’s just met, break into the Voight mansion and steal the notorious puzzle. Afterward she has an argument with her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), with whom she’s been living, and is tossed out of the apartment he shares with Colin (Adam Faison) and Nora (Aoife Hinds); and when Matt goes to find her, he has an unfortunate encounter with the puzzle. That leads Riley and Trevor back to the Voight mansion, where they are soon followed by Colin and Nora.
A number of surprises confront the group, most notably the appearance of a slew of Cenobites headed by the “Hell Priest” (Jamie Clayton), who’s effectively the new Pinhead. She’s accompanied by some other similarly ghastly figures; the actors playing them are identified in the credits as The Chatterer, The Weeper, The Asphyx, The Gasp, and The Masque, which offers some indication of their awfulness. The rest of the picture involves the humans’ efforts to escape their potential tormentors. But a couple of twists add to the threat.
The first hour of “Hellraiser” is actually pretty tame, by the standards of the franchise; the deaths that occur are depicted rather discreetly. The lack of gore is redressed in the second hour, when the level of bloodletting and skin skewering increases exponentially. But this brings little in the way of genuine tension or fright; the grotesquerie comes off as rote and surprisingly tedious.
The acting is of little help. Under Bruckner’s heavy hand most of the cast does pedestrian work. But Višnjić chews the scenery with enthusiasm—an excess of it, in fact. Kathrin Eder’s production design is good, especially in terms of the Voight estate, but Eli Born’s cinematography keeps everything shrouded in gloomy darkness, and David Marks’ editing—along with Bruckner’s slow pacing—makes for a lugubrious ride. Ben Lovett’s score opts for somber tones except in the moments where it strives, unsuccessfully, for an awesome feel. Fans of shredded bodies will be happy to know that the makeup by Jack and Sierra Russell, as well as Jacob Eaton’s visual effects, are disgustingly effective.
Barker’s “Hellraiser” is considered a classic of its kind. None of its successors, including this one, will ever achieve that status.