Updated: Oct 26, 2022
When Clive Barker decided to direct a cinematic adaptation of one of his own novellas (The Hellbound Heart) back in 1987, he was a prolific author, but an amateur filmmaker at best. His lack of experience resulted in Hellraiser, the most singularly unique horror movie to emerge from an era replete with Friday the 13th sequels and rip-offs. While he frequently criticizes the finished product as “uneven,” I consider it to be a beautiful paradox: poetic, sensual, grotesque, mesmerizing, and unapologetically weird.
Let’s not delude ourselves: no remake, reboot, or reimagining was ever going to measure up to the towering legacy of the original, which transcends its reputation as a “cult classic” and remains the genre’s quintessential accidental masterpiece (more than earning its recurring seasonal spot on the Criterion Channel). This, of course, invites the question of whether Hulu Presents a Hulu Production of Hulu’s Hellraiser (2022) succeeds on its own merits.
Well, if nothing else, it’s certainly preferable to the studio’s flaccid attempt to translate Books of Blood to its streaming service.
I know that’s a low bar (hell, it’s practically below sea level), but I don’t intend it as a backhanded compliment. True, it takes nearly a full hour for the story to rev its engine, but once it builds momentum, it absolutely delivers the goods. And I’m not just talking about the gore—though flesh is pierced, penetrated, and peeled off in myriad inventive ways; I’m referring to the franchise’s oft-overlooked (but no less integral) Lovercraftian elements. Befitting Lemarchand’s puzzle box’s newfound role as a metaphor for drug addiction, the gradual process of unlocking it warps reality and distorts perception, twisting and reconfiguring architecture into impossible shapes and alien geometries evocative of Hellbound: Hellraiser 2’s gorgeous matte paintings of the Leviathan’s nightmare dimension. In one particularly memorable scene, for example, a character watches in terror as the front half of the van in which she is riding slowly vanishes into the darkness ahead, the rusted metal surrounding her transforming into the smooth, gray stone of an infernal labyrinth.
The real stars of the show, however, are the Cenobites. The revised creature designs emphasize their status as religious zealots: they drape ceremonial robes woven from flayed skin over their exposed organs and glistening musculature. They torture their victims with jewel-encrusted blades, poking and prodding their nerves to alter the pitch of their tormented screams—a symphony of suffering. Jamie Clayton wisely avoids mimicking Doug Bradley’s coldly polite portrayal of Pinhead, instead playing the rechristened Priest as a playfully curious temptress, enticing prospective converts with promises of boons and gifts—though predictably, the Order of the Gash’s idea of a “reward” differs greatly from what a mere mortal might reasonably expect.
Ultimately, the quality of Hellraiser (2022) falls somewhere between “competent” and “decent.” The whole is less than the sum of its parts, but for those explorers brave enough to chart the further regions of the painfully clunky experience, there are genuine pleasures to be discovered.