Friday, October 07, 2022

Hellraiser (2022), on Hulu

Amongst their many sins, the Weinsteins were irresponsible stewards of the Hellraiser franchise. After the lackluster Hellraiser: Judgement, rebooting and retconning away some of the accumulated lore wasn’t such a bad thing. There is still plenty of gore, but the S&M fetishism is somewhat dialed down in David Bruckner’s Hellraiser (2022), which premieres today on Hulu.

Quite fittingly, Selena Menaker acquired the notoriously evil puzzle box for her wealthy boss, Roland Voight, in the sinister-looking city of Belgrade, during the prologue. Despite his desire to master its infernal secrets, he disappeared from the world under mysterious circumstances and his estate was mothballed. A few years later, Riley McKendry, a recovery drug addict, agrees to help her low-life boyfriend Trevor steal the last remaining box in his old storage unit. Of course, that holds the Rubik’s cube from Hell, which she accidently activates.

However, it draws the blood of her infinitely more responsible brother Matt instead of hers. When he inevitably disappears, to suffer the demonic Cenobites’ torments in their Netherworld (known as the Lament Configuration in previous films), she immediately makes the connection with the box. However, Trevor and Matt’s boyfriend Colin assume it is the crazy junkie in her, coming out again. Nevertheless, she convinces Trevor to help her research Voight’s lurid past, starting with the infirm Menaker.

The reboot got a lot of cheerleading publicity from the announcement a woman had been cast as the Hell Priest (a.k.a. Pinhead). Jamie Clayton is certainly makes a scarier, more interesting Pinhead than Paul T. Taylor in
Judgement, but she still cannot match Doug Bradley regal wickedness as the original.

To compensate, Goran Visnjic contributes some colorful human villainy as Voight, while Haim Abbas performance as the guilt-wracked Menaker is unusually complex for the horror franchise. In general, the Cenobites look more Giger-esque this time around—so British action star Selina Lo is nearly unrecognizable as “The Gasp.” The real trouble is Odessa A’zion and Drew Starkey have to carry a large portion of the film, but their portrayals of Riley and Trevor completely lack charisma and common sense. It is hard to picture a less appealing on-screen couple.

Yet, the look and style of
Hellraiser (2022) go a long way towards redeeming (an ironic word to use in connection with the Hellraiser franchise) its shortcomings. Some of Bruckner’s sweeping camera work is worthy of De Palma’s attempts to channel Hitchcock. The box remains a source of fascination, but the way the design team used it as a model for the design motifs in Voight’s creepy mansion is very cool. Unfortunately, the story and screenplay, credited to Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski, and David S. Goyer essentially follows the formula of numerous Ouija movies, with the box replacing the board.

Still, Bruckner clearly understands what made Clive Barker’s original films so popular. It stays true to their malevolent spirit, while showing off some distinctive flair of its own. There are problems, but it is a vast improvement over the final Weinstein-produced installments. Consequently,
Hellraiser (2022) is still mostly recommended for long-time franchise fans (rather than civilians), when it starts streaming today (10/7) on Hulu.