I was never really a fan of the Hellraiser franchise. I think I’ve only seen the first one twice. Clive Barker’s seminal directorial debut introduced the character later known as Pinhead to the horror universe. The movie was released in 1987 when the slasher subgenre had made horror less liked among critics and fans. And the original didn’t earn many good reviews among critics itself.
By his own admission, Barker who adapted the movie based on his novella “The Hellbound Heart” had no experience on how to direct a movie. He has said he went down to the local library to find a book on filmmaking only to discover it had been checked out. Yet the movie produced on a small budget of $1 million, made a modest $14.6 million and launced a franchise that unfortunately became sloppy.
Hellraiser: Inferno was originally intended to be a police procedural about a corrupt detective before it had been rewritten to include elements from the previous movies. And Hellraiser: Revelations was filmed within a week as an attempt to keep the rights to the franchise as the now defunct Weinstein Company was working on a remake and produced it as an ashtray copy. The movie played in one theater and mostly as a courtesy for the crew who wanted to see it. Doug Bradley didn’t appear as Pinhead, a role he had been playing since the 1987 original. Barker objected to the tagline “From the mind of Clive Barker:” saying he had no connection or relation to the movie. “It’s not even from my butt-hole,” he wrote on a Twitter post.
Well, we know what all happened to the Weinsteins. And after other people were attached to a remake and then left, the movie has finally been released on Hulu and is directed by David Bruckner. The director also helmed the creepy The Night House as well as the “Amateur Night” segment of the first V/H/S movie in which a bunch of guys take home a woman from a bar who is a winged creature who kills men she doesn’t like. The script was co-written by David S. Goyer, but he only gets “Story by” credit. Considering how the movie was bounced around, it’s probably done for legal reasons.
Bruckner gives a nice ode to the original with images that are cringeworthy but well made. There’s also an ode to the styles of Dario Argento at times. But there’s also a huge problem and that’s the main protagonist is too obnoxious to care about. Riley McKendry (Odessa A’zion) is a recovering addict who has struck up a relationship with Trevor (Drew Starkey) who she met in her 12-step program. Her behavior is too much for her brother, Matt (Brandon Flynn), as she’s staying with him and his boyfriend, Colin (Adam Faison) and Nora (Aiofe Hinds).
Because most modern horror/thrillers have to have characters who spend most of their time screaming and swearing at each other, Hellraiser immediately introduces us to characters we don’t care for. Even worse, Riley’s addiction isn’t really used for anything but to give her a backstory it immediately forgets about after Riley leaves in the middle of the night after Matt has more or less kicked her out. Earlier Trevor convinced Riley to break into an abandoned warehouse to steal a mechanical puzzle box. Matt tracks Riley down to a nearby park where she is asleep and accidentally cuts himself on the box and then disappears.
This brings in The Cenobites, deformed humanoids who don’t know the difference between pleasure and pain. They are led by the Hell Priest (Jamie Clayton). The Cenobites look great and are terrifying. There’s a scene involving a pin that is very well directed if not a digsusting delight. Clayton does a nice role in her job. But you wish the other humans were given better roles. They find themselves at the abandoned mansion of millioanire Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic) who has become a recluse as he’s got a mechanical contraption in his chest.
Much of the movie takes place in darkly lit rooms and buildings that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Even worse, A’zion makes Riley more annoying as the movie goes on. You also don’t have to be a genius to know that Trevor isn’t on the up and up and who’s going to survive and who isn’t. The character of Nora only serves one purpose and not to give anything away, you’ll know what that purpose is.
The whole movie feels like a collection of ideas from different scripts and roundtable discussions thrown into two hours of a movie. Considering the Cenobites really don’t have much of screentime, you’re basically stuck with a lot of family drama that isn’t really needed. And this sucks because the set design is great. But what’s a great design and look if you kinda want to skip through when certain characters appear on screen. I think the production company behind the movie realized they had a huge problem and that’s why it’s on Hulu rather than being released in theaters.
What do you think? Please comment.