neath luna

My Neighbor, Debbie the Cenobite

No, the title has no basis in what is commonly termed ‘reality.’ You also did not ask me for a review, more or less, of the new Hellraiser movie … but that is what I’ve been thinking about, and that’s where that title came from. I won’t even claim that implicit in the title is any of what I am about to write by way of a review.

Hellraiser (2022) is a ‘re-imagining’, I guess (how I hate marketing-type words like that) of the original film, which was released in 1987, holy shit, thirty-five years ago.

The 1980s version was directed by Clive Barker, who also wrote the story (I keep seeing it referred to as a novella, but unless my memory is way off, the story “The Hellbound Heart” appeared in Barker’s collection The Books of Blood, and was not novella-length. Perhaps there was a followup or amplification I missed). Hellraiser was his feature-length debut as a film director. It made a decent enough splash at the time to spawn a “franchise” (another loathed word: to me it speaks of cheeseburgers, not films) which was 88% dire — the 2nd film, Hellbound, has fans but I think it’s godawful, and most of the other followups are pretty poor.

I find it necessary to say a few things about the original before considering the new film. The 1987 version of Hellraiser had some facets that, for me, made it stand out: Barker smartly brought enough of the … well, informed perversity he’d displayed in his written work to the screen to give the proceedings an air of trespass and danger, and the S&M-gone-way-too-far of the Cenobites certainly felt trenchant in that grim age of AIDS (was there intention here? Barker is openly gay, but I cannot/will not make any assumptions because that would be presumptuous and vile). But finally, what made the film remarkable to me at the time was that it had that rarest of things for a “horror” film: an idea. And a kind of new idea, at that: trans-dimensional “explorers in the further reaches of experience” who practiced body mods beyond any pale I’d ever heard of. It may not have been scary, exactly, but it was interesting.

Barker was helped, in the 80s version, by some very good performances (though see below) by Andrew Robinson, Claire Higgins, and Doug Bradley, who almost instantly made “Pinhead” an icon.

However, the film had problems which the passage of time has, I think, only worsened. It’s probably unfair to poke fun at some of the video effects on display, given that there were apparently races with the budget to get the film finished. These can easily be overlooked. What isn’t so easy to overlook is what I think of as the film’s dramatic shortcomings: shortcomings of story, character and so on.

For instance, I have always enjoyed Andrew Robinson’s work. Would Deep Space Nine have been as good without “simple tailor” Garak? Hell, no. The problem here is that Robinson is tasked with playing a “normal” character for most of the length of Hellraiser and, dammit, he’s not really helped by Barker’s words at all. When you watch this film, can you figure out one single reason why Julia married Larry in the first place? Oh, sure, she tells Frank when they meet that she’s “very happy” but crikey, we see NO evidence to support this — and I think it’s the writing that’s at fault (check that, for me, excruciatingly-written ‘dinner party’ scene). Once Larry has been replaced by Frank-in-Larry’s-Skin (ewww, that mucky hairline … would this really have survived sex?), Robinson does much better, of course, but — confess, you expected as much, right? I mean, who but Andrew Robinson would have come up with the “Jesus wept” line — improvised on the spot, I’ve read?

Then there are questions like “So if Frank is now in Larry’s skin, how come he still sounds like Larry?” or “where is this movie set and why do so many of the people sound like they’re dubbed?”

So, then, the new film.

Hellraiser (2022) is directed by David Bruckner, who I want to say has a pretty good horror pedigree: I really liked The Ritual (2017) and The Night House (2020) was, I thought, even better. Still, how does this portfolio measure up when it shyly sidles up to something like the Hellraiser story, with its grottily-modified antagonists, its chains and hooks and tearing flesh? Is David Bruckner … perverse enough to make such material work and sing?


I confess, I think he has done an extremely good job. This is not the film that Pascal Laugier (who was, if I’m not mistaken, originally slated to direct) would have made — but it’s also possible that a Pascal Laugier-directed Hellraiser would be nearly impossible to watch.

For me, the new Hellraiser is … perhaps a tinge on the “safe” side, thought I have to admit it’s strange saying that about a film where you get to see a character’s (Cenobite’s) hands split open down to mid-forearm. But the pain, the anguish is more grounded somehow in solid-er drama, and that for me makes it (the pain) even more human unbearable. And I don’t know … I’ve watched the initial scenes several times, not out of masochism but in an effort to decide what I really thought about the new film … and the scene where “Joey” is offered up by Roland Voight is … jeez, it’s agonizing! Maybe I’m complimenting the actor who plays Joey, but his suffering feels very real. And the practical/etc. effects are, well, affecting. It’s hard to watch, and unforgettable.

If the new film has a fault it may be that it runs a tad long. I also thought that the Voight subplot somehow left something to be desired, though I haven’t for the life of me figured out what … and given the ending of the film, I can only assume we’ll be seeing more of Voight if there are sequels.

I really loved how the score quoted and lovingly snuck up to Christopher Young’s music from the original film (which was one of the best things about the original film). And I think Jamie Clayton does a bloody fantastic job as the new “Pinhead” (remember, Barker hates that nickname!)/Hell Priest. She is utterly commanding, and terrifying.

This isn’t a very good review. I’m frustrated that I have no friends with whom I can discuss the new movie, so … well, here it is.

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