I saw the original HELLRAISER when I was a teenager and just discovering Clive Barker. I remember the newspaper ads, and the trailer and had no idea what to expect. In 1987 horror was still in the grips of the slasher craze and Freddy, Jason, and Michael still ruled the theaters, they and their ilk. I dunno that horror was in a rut so much as those were the movies that got the interest from fans. There were definitely other horrors films of that era (SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW is around that time as well) that were trying to get our attention but weren’t quite breaking through.
Then came HELLRAISER.
Barker, known as an emerging author, adapted his own short story and created a horror film unlike what we were used to. Bathed in sexuality and dressed up in the finery of bondanage and sado-masochistic kinks, it presented the idea that the deepest pleasure lies in pain. We were given a film about adults, with adult issues, and dealing with things we hadn’t seen often if ever in horror. This was a film about desire and how dangerous it, and how addicting the further realms of pleasure can be. With the Cenobites we were given horror’s new icons and Pinhead still stands as a villain that can stand with any of the classics. To say HELLRAISER changed horror is to put it mildly, but that’s the easiest way to put it – it changed horror.
It was also a nearly impossible act to follow.
HELLRAISER 2 served as the franchise’s ALIENS, with more Cenobite action, more background, and more violence. It’s a fun movie but it doesn’t pack the same punch as the original and from there things only get worse. As much as I may enjoy the third entry, it’s not great at all. The fourth has a good premise but was treated like one of the Cenobite’s victims and cut to shreds. From there it’s a mess. The filmmakers and producers focused on Pinhead and the Cenobites and it was all a pale pantomime of the original. The further it got from Barker the worse they got.
There was talk for years of reviving the series in earnest but it never seemed to take hold. Until now.
And finally HELLRAISER has returned, and it’s about time.
HELLRAISER is a story of addiction. The film begins with showing a young man being engaged to meet with a rich benefactor, seemingly as sex work, but what the rich man has in mind is far beyond sex. We are introduced to the new world of the Lament Configuration and given a taste of what is to come before the film shifts to a young couple having sex and then walk of shaming it into an apartment of people. The young woman’s brother who is there doesn’t approve of the man, or the relationship, and makes it clear. She is a recovering addict and her lover is as well and that can equal disaster. She won’t hear it though and won’t stop seeing him. The couple is desperate for money so they take on a score the man has discovered which leads to a seemingly forgotten transport container and a safe, and inside it is the box. Unsure what it is, the woman takes the box and soon realizes it is a puzzle box and quickly opens its first configuration, gaining the attention of dark entities she can sense but not see, and opening a gate she doesn’t know how to close. As she solves puzzle after puzzle in the box, drawn to it in an unnatural way, the entities get closer and closer and their promises seem to equal their demands – give them what they want and they will offer a prize, but however can anything be worth what they demand?
I will say it outright, this is a good movie.
A surprisingly good movie.
It gets right what the first did and that’s that it doesn’t make the movie about the Cenobites but about the characters. Sure, they come into play and are front and center for the last third of the film, but they aren’t flouted as if they are all there is to offer. The star of the show is the Lament Configuration and its secrets. These new Cenobites are creepy. Pinhead is back, as is another old fave, but they are joined by new ones that are as creepy as any of the ones from the past. We get more lore this time around and while there are few concrete answers, there are a lot of glimpses at a bigger, more dangerous world.
This film is clearly aping the original, in its tone, music, lighting, and how it plays out, but it adds enough spice to the formula to keep you guessing.
The acting is pretty solid with the standout being the new Pinhead, who nails the cool monotone that you need and does create a presence as the spokesperson for the Cenobites. I’ll never understand anyone’s angst about this role going to a woman as it’s just shy of an a-sexual role and as long as you nail the tone, and she does, that’s all that matters.
Pinhead has a presence, and you have to match that.
While this story doesn’t choose to dance into the sexuality of the original, it does get into the addiction of it all, and how the box chooses damaged people who are looking for a fix of one kind or another. They don’t delve too deeply into the addiction in general, and definitely not to the box, but it’s clear that is what they are going for here.
The big knock on the film is that once things ramp up it becomes a big chase with action and horror sequences and the characters are sort of lost. There could have definitely been more work done to make the characters compelling and interesting and more than cutouts.
There are also a lot of questions here with few answers, though I am OK with that as that’s part of the power of the series is that we are given a lot of information but not quite how it all fits together.
This film apes the original, a lot, which I was OK with since it’s re-establishing things, but some may get frustrated with how the character beats play out and some of the film plays out. Again, I won’t knock it too much here because it is working to remind you of why these films matter while trying to set its own table.
As it stands, it’s easily the third best in the series and definitely worth a look from fans. No, it’s not the original, nor as bonkers as the sequel, but it’s a great return to form and promises the birth of a new franchise if they do things right. They are going to make these films eventually, no matter what, so isn’t it better that it’s done with care, by people who dig the original and want to do it justice?
This isn’t perfect, pacing gets dodgy, and the film goes from 0-60 fast, and heck, I’ll grant you that how they end up where they do is a bit of a leap but it still works. It’s a fun ride, and was a perfect way to ring in October.
Happy to have Pinhead back. I look forward to a sequel.
3.75 out of 5