Hellraiser

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Written By Sristi Dumre

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Sex served as the driving force behind everything in Clive Barker’s body horror film Hellraiser from 1987.

Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman), a pleasure seeker, is motivated by this desire to experience sensory ecstasy that he buys a mystery puzzle box that claims to open a portal leading to a realm full of fantastical opportunities for sensory joy only to have his body torn apart by meathooks. That’s because pleasure and agony are interchangeable in the eyes of the strange Cenobites, who are called forth by the so-called Pinhead when the puzzle box is unlocked.

Additionally, sex is what motivates Julia Cotton (Clare Higgins, who is decked up in a ’80s coif and neon eye shadow) to assist in Frank’s physical reconstruction. She has a torrid romance with her brother-in-law with whom she seduces men at bars, takes them home, and then sacrifices their flesh to him. Her plan was to put Frank back together and then flee with him so they could continue to fight wildly as they once did.

The combination of the titillating and the grotesque is the entire point of that Hellraiser adaptation. By the time the movie’s short 90 minutes are over, you might feel like the window-peeper from the sicko meme, and that’s part of the point too—that as humans, our need for bigger and better orgasmic highs can be risky. Yes, even you, supposedly innocent viewer, that is true.

A new iteration of Hellraiser is currently streaming on Hulu, 35 years and nine sequels later. It makes hints at the same themes and borrows well-known plot points, but it commits the classic reboot error of packing on too much narrative to what should have been a more focused reimagining of the Pinhead universe. This Hellraiser piles too much exposition and too many twists onto what was once a fairly straightforward, if bizarre, creature feature under the direction of director David Bruckner and screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, who also worked together on 2020’s creepy, effectively focused The Night House. It’s as if the 2022 Hellraiser is the rebuilt version of Frank from the original but with Barker serving as producer and David S. Goyer receiving a story credit.

Like the original, this version begins with the purchase of that puzzle box, although this time it is done by Serena Manaker (Hiam Abbass of Succession), a lady who works for the affluent, outlandish, and lusty tycoon Roland Voight (Goran Vinji). Roland frequently hosts orgies at his opulent Berkshire home, so Serena brings the cursed toy there. The plot then jumps forward a few years to what appears to be New York, where Riley (Odessa A’zion, who was previously seen in Netflix’s Grand Army) and her boyfriend, Trevor (Drew Starkey of the Outer Banks), are having sex. Eventually, he solves the puzzle by sacrificing the body of an unidentified young man to the Cenobites.

The puzzle box is locked away in a storage facility, so Trevor convinces Riley, who is recovering and finding it difficult to stand on her own two feet again, to steal it, sell it, and split the proceeds with him. Of course, Riley has to play around with Satan’s Rubik’s Cube, sacrifice her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn, a.k.a. Justin from 13 Reasons Why) to the Cenobites by accident, and then embark on a quest to solve the problem and retrieve her brother. This duality between pleasure and agony serves as a metaphor for addiction and, maybe incidentally, as a critique of the arrogance of the exceedingly wealthy. Which, if the film hadn’t dragged so frequently, may have been interesting material to mine.

Even though we are treated to the sight of knives slicing into hands, hooks tearing into human tissue, and, in one case, a view of a needle penetrating a person’s neck, partially shown from inside that person’s neck, this version of Hellraiser can’t be accused of completely avoiding the in-your-face gore of its predecessor. However, it still feels like a safer version of the movie that inspired it. There is still something visceral and gritty in the first Hellraiser’s aesthetic that isn’t matched by the more glossed-up grit of the remake, as ridiculous as some of the practical 1987 effects may look today. That might be anticipated of a film like Hellraiser, which is technically produced by the Walt Disney Company.

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