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Movie review: 'Hellraiser' remake is a puzzling violation of the franchise

1/5
Pinhead (Jamie Clayton) has such sights to show you in "Hellraiser." Photo courtesy of Spyglass Media Group
Pinhead (Jamie Clayton) has such sights to show you in "Hellraiser." Photo courtesy of Spyglass Media Group

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- While inarguably more competent than the straight-to-video sequels, Hellraiser, on Hulu Friday, is not even as engaging as the wild, yet compromised, Hellraiser: Bloodline. At least some of the straight-to-video sequels had the decency to be no more than 75 minutes long.

Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic) is a wealthy collector who possesses a puzzle box. The box looks different than its '80s incarnation, but it's unmistakable and still causes chains and hooks to tear victims apart.

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Recovering addict Riley (Odessa A'zion) comes upon the puzzle box when she follows her boyfriend, Trevor (Drew Starkey), to steal an abandoned warehouse shipment. By opening the puzzle box, Riley accidentally sends her brother, Matt (Brandon Flynn), to hell.

When hell's cenobites come to collect more, Pinhead (Jaime Clayton) offers her a deal to release Matt if Riley brings Pinhead more blood. Riley and her roommates encounter more cenobites and torture as they try to avoid hell themselves.

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Clive Barker's 1987 Hellraiser and its sequel were about sexual deviance. A womanizer and his lover craved more and more pleasure and pain until they literally unleashed hell.

The sequels probably numbed the sexual undertones of Barker's original film and the short story upon which it was based, favoring the monsters and gore. Hulu's Hellraiser dabbles in some new themes, but they don't entirely make sense with this mythology.

Riley's addiction is used as a plot device, but never fully explored. Because she's an addict, her hellish visions after opening the box are dismissed by nonbelievers.

The nature of addiction could be inspiring to Hellraiser, but the film isn't interested in any parallel between the disease of addiction and the pull of hell. It's only there to drive a wedge between Riley and her brother.

Matt has a boyfriend, Colin (Adam Faizon), and a gay couple would be new territory for Hellraiser. But they are monogamous, so their relationship is hardly cenobite material, but at least they serve as positive representation.

Voight is the closest character to a deviant. He's more of a 1%-er who doesn't care how many people he sacrifices to experience riches.

Riley's discovery of the mythology of hell may be necessary for new audiences, but it could be more efficient for fans who already know the rules. The puzzle box has a few more steps in the new adaptation, but not enough to warrant running two hours with exposition.

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The film takes some confusing liberties with the rules, too. One sequence follows Nightmare on Elm Street rules in which a victim is in hell, but her body is in the real world.

That's not how Hellraiser works. When the cenobites come for you, they enter the real world and take you back to hell with them.

Another rule violation would get into spoilers, but some of the victims break the rules Pinhead establishes in her deal with Riley. The result is not the mind-blowing surprise the film seems to think it is. Rather, it seems like poorly thought out fan fiction.

The new cenobites are faithful to the ones created by Barker, with modern new looks. Other Hellraiser images aren't as faithful.

Hellraiser also involved escapees from hell without their skin. They would need more blood and eventually skin to complete their escape.

Some skinless people show up in this Hellraiser, but only as random jump scares. They are not the haunting escapees from hell or any other interpretation to justify the callback.

Despite the impressive makeup work on the cenobites and Clayton's hauntingly calm, malevolent performance, the film's overall aesthetic is ugly. 2022's Hellraiser trades the '80s' blue-tinted hell for something you can barely see.

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A lot of the movie takes place in the Voight estate, a mansion full of dark corridors into which you can't see, especially on a streaming service at home. Then they escape into the dark woods in which you also can't see the horrific images.

Christopher Young's original score finds its way into Ben Lovett's new one, although Young used a full orchestra. The new recording sounds like an electronic karaoke version.

Hellraiser manages to disappoint in a series that's infamous for disappointing its fans and creator. Perhaps the expectations of a classy studio remake were too high, but with more resources behind it, Hellraiser can't even play the sympathy card.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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