Well, here we are, the Hellraiser remake. A film that has been a long time coming. I remember hearing of an up-and-coming Hellraiser remake around 10 years ago. It has been a long, long wait from then until now and the big question is, was it worth it?
Just for context, I kind of have to do this review because, a few years b?ck, I did an entire Hellraiser retrospective for the original film’s 30th anniversary as a Halloween special. So, I’m back with the latest film in the long-running franchise and on Halloween too. I just can not get away from these films, can I? Still, this can kind of be a Halloween special for this year, even though I already have something more substantial coming soon.
So then, synopsis time. Hellraiser (2022) begins with Joey (Kit Clarke) opening the famed puzzle box. He is stabbed in the hand by the box and is taken by the Cenobites. Several years later and Riley (Odessa A’zion), is a young woman struggling with drug addiction. She comes across the puzzle box and opens it but does not get stabbed, and so avoids the wrath of the Cenobites who tell her to find another to pass the box onto. Matt (Brandon Flynn), Riley’s brother, thinks that Riley is relapsing and using drugs again as she tries to tell her story about being visited by the Cenobites. Matt ends up cutting himself on the box and so, the Cenobites take him instead. Riley is offered a deal, solve more configurations of the box and use her own friends as bait, in exchange for getting her brother back. There is a bit more going on, but I don’t want to get into spoilers here, that is just the general gist of the plot.
I have been thinking about how best to sum this film up. It took me a while, but I eventually got it. This is the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake all over again. A really great and interesting take on a horror icon (hey, I enjoyed Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy) but put in a film devoid of anything worthy of note. The main characters in this are instantly forgettable. I watched Hellraiser three times for this review. I watched it once just to watch it, again to take notes for this review and a third time to refresh my noodle as I sat down to write the review proper. Even then, even after watching this three times, I still had to look up the characters’ names on IMDb. Everything about the main characters is just so ‘cookie-cutter’,bland and taken from just about every horror film made in the last 20 years. I had the exact same problem with the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake too.
Just going back to the original flick for a second. Those characters were memorable. Uncle Frank, Julia (one of the best villainesses ever), Larry and of course, the awesome Kirsty. Even the delivery men hoofing the bed up the stairs. They’re memorable because they were well-written and acted. Here though, nothing. Just very bland, very forgettable characters. What you have are just some really annoying people who scream and run a lot, with IQs lower than your average TikTok user.
Still, as I already said, I did like Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy in the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and I can say the same about Jamie Clayton as ‘Pinhead’ in this. Just to make this clear, she’s (if the Cenobites have a gender and is a she) not actually called Pinhead in the film, the character is credited as being The Priest, even though everyone is just going to call her Pinhead, if she is meant to be female. Anyway, I liked Clayton in the role and thought that the performance was good enough. Filling Doug Bradley’s shoes is impossible and not even worth trying (see the last two Hellraiser sequels for proof). Still, this new version of Pinhead (that’s not Pinhead) was good enough and one of the few things I actually enjoyed about the film.
The other Cenobites are used well too. They are kind of underused well in the first half of the film, but they begin to take centre stage as the film progresses and builds to its finale. There’s some great effects work here and it does get rather bloody and gruesome at times. That is, if you can see what is going on. This film is just too damn dark and I don’t mean for atmosphere or aesthetic reasons either. There is just poor lighting throughout the film. The opening scene with two characters talking, no horror, no Cenobites, etc. Just two people talking, it was really hard to make out what was going on. The entire film is like this too, just dark for no reason. Did the director not know that films can use lighting setups? Even so, this never feels as visceral or raw as the original film. It is bloody, but it is subdued gore.
I did kind of enjoy how the lore of the puzzle box was done here. It is different to the original films and admittedly, it does do something interesting with the mythology. It is just a shame that it was used in a film with really shitty characters that I didn’t care for. I would even say that there is actually too much going in here. There’s about two or three films worth of plot squeezed into 120 minutes and as a result, this film drags a lot because it gets weighed down by exposition. Then there are times when a whole lot of nothing happens. This is a Hellraiser flick it doesn’t need to be 2 hours long an doesn’t need to be this heavy with exposition. I don’t really understand why this is even a remake. Outside of its use of the box and the Cenobites, it has nothing to do with the original film. To the point where it could’ve just been another low-quality sequel that the franchise became known for. Seriously, slip this somewhere in between Hellraiser: Hellworld and Hellraiser: Judgment and it wouldn’t feel out of place at all.
Look, I’m not saying that I expected a beat-for-beat recreation of the original. It is more a case of the fact that things are so vastly different here that it really does feel like one of the latter sequels over a remake (just wait for someone to tell me that it is not a remake and is a re-adaption of the novella). Good effects work, good make-up and they did the right thing by using the original Hellraiser music too. But the final product is a very bland and ‘meh’ experience. This film is okay, at best. Of course, it sequel-baits like crazy at the end (because a film can’t just be a film these days, it has to set up a franchise). But after this, I really don’t want another. Please stop making Hellraiser films for me to write about. At this point, my suffering is legendary, even in Hell.