Is Hulu’s new Hellraiser movie a reboot, a remake, a sequel, or a requel? And is it any good? The latter is a hotly debated topic on social media right now, and most people feel pretty passionately one way or the other. I’m of the opinion that it is an excellent requel (an urban dictionary term for a movie that revisits the subject matter of a previous film but is not a remake or a direct continuation of the plot). Clive Barker’s original body horror, messy, gory Hellraiser (adapted from his book The Hellbound Heart) is iconic, but for some reason, despite Pinhead’s status as a top horror icon, it is one of the less mainstream franchises (the is the ELEVENTH installment) to come from that era. Perhaps it has to do with Barker’s reputation of pushing the boundaries of mainstream and celebrating that which, at the time, people were encouraged to repress – their sexuality and kinks. Over the years, with all of its subversive sexuality and “S&M demons” Hellraiser became a Queer Horror classic.
The original Hellraiser was released in 1987, and you’ll forgive me when I say that it hasn’t aged well visually or thematically. Yes, it is a classic horror movie that will always be canon to genre fans, but it has no likeable characters, and most people need at lease SOMEONE to root for. Julia Cotton’s character is written as a villain, the evil stepmother, for pursuing her sexual desires at a time when women who did such things were considered sluts and shrews. Frank is quite literally a monster, Kirsty is a spoiled brat who would throw anyone to the Cenobites to save herself, and Larry Cotton is too hung up on his late first wife to be present for either Julia or Kirsty. In fact, I root for the Cenobites to get their pound of flesh from these awful people.
Hulu’s new Hellraiser requel gives us more nuanced characters that make sense to contemporary viewers. I am a big fan of recovering victim of the opioid epidemic Riley (Odessa A’zion), whose selfishness is warranted from her life experience and isn’t just a spoiled rich brat. Post rehab, Riley is living with her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison), and their roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds). Matt doesn’t approve of Riley’s boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) who she met in rehab, and for good reason: Trevor is the one who talks Riley into the fine art heist that results in her possessing the puzzle box. When Riley comes home drunk, she and Matt get into a huge fight that results in Riley getting kicked out, and of course she turns to her go-to numbing agent, pills, and starts playing with her new toy. This is when we get the first look at our new Priest, Jaime Clayton.
The signature Puzzle Box and Cenobites have been redesigned for the new Hellraiser
When the Cenobites first appear, they are in a hallucinatory capacity, so Riley isn’t sure if what she’s experiencing is real. Her history of addiction and level of intoxication make it so that no one believes her when she recounts what she saw. The Cenobites themselves have been redesigned. Their flesh is still removed in individual configurations to reveal tendons, ligaments, and muscle, and their bodies are pierced in intricate ways. But now they are naked, no longer clad in black leather, although the carvings in their flesh look like decorative clothing at first glance. Each wear the signature pins of The Priest (which are now also removable to grotesque effect) as part of their litany of silver. Original fans of “the Chatterer” will be happy to know that there is a new Chatterer amongst the Weeper, the Gasp, and the Asphyx.
The new puzzle box has multiple configurations. The first one we see is the form of a rectangle in the opening scene before the plot and puzzle box reset to six years later. Each configuration has a different meaning, which is new and interesting lore that I felt was lacking in the original Hellraiser. New configurations release a blade that pierces the flesh of the holder, which makes sense story-wise in that it marks the Cenobites’ next victim. This particular change is one of the points of contention in the debate as to the merits of this new Hellraiser. Once the victim is stabbed, they feel woozy, which is a plot point I don’t particularly understand except that it makes it more difficult for them to escape slow moving Cenobites.
David Bruckner’s new Hellraiser is decidedly less gory, particularly through the first half which focuses on plot and character development. That isn’t to say there aren’t some wonderfully grotesque deaths, but none hold up to the death and resurrection of Frank in the original movie. What the movie lacks in gore, it delivers in lore, taking the “pleasure and pain are inextricable” theme of the first movie and focusing the pursuit of the Cenobites to what it was always meant to be – sensation in such extremes as to open you up to new worlds, they just might not be the ones you want. Hopefully this new mainstream reimagining will open new audiences up to this franchise and bring the Cenobites back earth side from outer space and virtual reality where they’ve been for the last however many sequels. The ending does leave itself open to the possibility of a sequel, so maybe we’re in for many new configurations of the Hellraiser series.
Hellraiser is now streaming on Hulu.
Do you think that Hellraiser needed an update? Sound off in the comments!