Hellraiser - New Release Review
Director: David Bruckner
Starring: Odessa A'zion, Adam Fasion, Jamie Clayton, Drew Stanley, Aoife Hinds, Goran Visnjic
Written by: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski, David S. Goyer
Produced by: Marc Toberoff, David S. Goyer, Clive Barker, Keith Levine
Cinematography by: Eli Born
Original Score by: Ben Lovett
A take on Clive Barker's 1987 horror classic where a young woman struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon the Cenobites.
It takes some balls to try to remake a stonewall classic in any genre, especially one as original and (still) shocking as Clive Barker's sadomasochistic 'Hellraiser' but David Bruckner has done it and the results are good. In actual fact Bruckner's new version isn't a remake of the '87 film at all, it's a reimagining of Barker's original source material 'The Hellbound Heart' and despite a few flaws, it absolutely delivers.
Honestly, the new version of 'Hellraiser' was always going to be fighting an uphill battle and there's a huge section of the horror fanbase and film community who will just straight up hate this because it doesn't have Doug Bradley as Pinhead. I am not one of those people and it's a shame that anything labelled "remake" is suffocated in negative energy. Whilst I fully understand the reservations fans had (I also was hesitant when it was first announced) the fact that it was written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski and had Brucker behind the camera, definitely eased my early fears. It didn't help that we had to wait so long for a release in the UK and then it just randomly dropped on Digital Platforms with zero fanfare. This, however, is not an indication of the quality of the film and seems to be more the biproduct of distribution rights politics. I'd like to repeat that this is NOT a remake of the 1987 classic horror film but a brand new re-adaptation of 'The Hellbound Heart'. Let's proceed.
Odessa A'zion plays Riley, a recovering addict who is still tormented by the release that her addiction gave her. She lives with her brother and his boyfriend, who have both supported and comforted her during her struggles. Riley and her lover Trevor concoct a devious plan to steal what they believe to be a high valued item from a collector so they can resell for a quick buck. Unfortunately for them the item they steal is a mysterious puzzle box which can modify it's shape (or configuration) and with each new configuration the hellish Cenobites appear seeking fresh blood.
The plot really doesn't have any resemblance to the original film, which is a good thing by the way, but it does in many ways still share some of the same themes. It's a film about addiction, temptation and obsession only in this new version the sexual desires are replaced with power and the deep and urgent devotion to acquire an unearthly level of ascendency. The puzzle box, which begins in the Lament Configuration (meaning "Life"), offers a step closer to godliness with every transformation (ending in the Leviathan configuration meaning "Power)
The Cenobites are still scary as hell and they feel more like stalkers in this new version. Although a glaring flaw is that it takes way too long for them to be introduced. The film sort of follows a standard modern slasher structure and when the demons (or angels to some) eventually show up the film really kicks into gear. The reality is that we're not really here for the human characters. Nothing against the cast whatsoever but when you have amazing villains like the group of Cenobites it becomes all about waiting for them to turn up. Trevor is highly unlikeable and although Riley is certainly no saint, A'zion plays the character with infectious charisma and there's something a bit bewitching about her performance. I really enjoyed it. Jamie Clayton plays the lead Cenobite, credited here as The Priest. She is pretty stunning and although there's just no way of not comparing her to Doug Bradley, I think she brings something a bit different to the role. Bradley spoke with a biblical eloquence whilst Clayton has something a bit more ethereal and sinister going on.
One of my favourite aspects of the film was the dreamlike shift in reality that some of the characters experience just before the Cenobites show up. It was like something out of 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' and I adored it. I was definitely down for the lore behind the puzzle box and its different configurations and it added something a bit extra, rather than it just being a prop. Aoife Hinds' death scene is awesome and very creative and we even get to see the infamous chains and hooks.
Like most modern horror films there is a twist and I didn't love it but the final stretch is super enjoyable and way more ambitious than I was expecting. As expected Collins and Piotrowski's script is pretty tight and Bruckner is just one of the best "newish" directors out there. His films always look gorgeous and his shot choices are usually on point too. It was so good to hear that familiar Christopher Young score too which was elevated by the new eerie and atmospheric compositions from Ben Lovett.
If you can go into this one with an open mind and refuse to constantly compare every single aspect with Barker's 1987 masterpiece then you will definitely enjoy the ride. Ultimately it will likely struggle to stand out on its own but I personally really enjoyed it and I'm eager to see Bruckner and the writers tackle a sequel of some sort. I think there is so much room to tell interesting and diverse stories within that world and I have an itching to see more elaborately creative Cenobites on my screen again.
- Gavin Logan
'Hellraiser' is now available to Rent or Buy in the U.K. on most Digital Platforms