Reviewed by Alicia Glass
Spoilers live in the puzzle box!
A freshly flayed new take on Clive Barker’s original 1987 Horror classic, Hellraiser 2022 features recovering junkie Riley and her boyfriend Trevor attempting to unravel the mysteries of the Box and a new gang of Cenobites!
So disclaimers – Moxie is a huge giant Clive Barker fan, reads his books, fan-girls over his live panels at cons and of course watches his movies, including dutifully sitting through nine film sequels since the first Hellraiser movie so long ago. Moxie’s take on the last HR film, Judgement, is long and opinionated and can be viewed here. But now we dive deep into a brand new take on pains and chains, complete with a new leader of the Cenobites, the creature affectionately known as Pinhead!
Roland Voight (Goran Visnjic) is one of those rich deluded men with far more money and desires, than sense. And in the grand tradition of Captain Elliot Spencer, the Host of Hellworld, Philip LeMarchand and many others, the Puzzle Box of yore and lore offers a way to other delights, if only you can solve the puzzle and open it. Voight seems to have understood the concept of paying an expendable to do his dirty work and open the damned Box, but despite all his research into the Cenobites, the Puzzle Box and even Hell itself, he still hasn’t learned that one does not demand an audience with Leviathan without being prepared for some seriously bloody consequences.
And it’s after those horrific consequences that our story truly begins, with the introduction of the downtrodden recovering addict Riley (Odessa A’zion) and her flake of a boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey), mindlessly romping in her room while her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison) and their pal Nora (Aiofe Hinds) unwillingly listen in. A common recurring theme in Hellraiser is the desperation of the dregs of society, the junkies and the homeless and such like, and Riley and Trevor are no different, despite Riley’s insistence that she’s sober when clearly, she’s at the very least suffering withdrawal. And it’s in those moments of weakness and despair, when her brother and the roommates have seemingly persecuted her to the last straw, that Riley agrees to a plan Trevor proposes that seems sketchy at best, to break into an supposedly abandoned vault and steal the contents for fencing.
Inevitably, the not-so-abandoned vault doesn’t house jewels or cash, but rather, a single safe bearing a single fairly easy to open box, and in that box lies the real treasure, for those with the heart and mind to know it – the infamous Puzzle Box of Hellraiser, aka the Lament Configuration and Lemarchand’s masterpiece puzzle cube, the portal that opens the way for the Cenobites and other denizens of Hell.
The updated design for the Puzzle Box has much more of a moving-puzzle feel to it, and indeed, the fact that the Box needs multiple blood sacrifices and to go through several configurations, each with its own powers and complications, before the damned thing will finally open its portals, is a very Hellraiser thing to do. People are complicated, everyone deserves to go to Hell in their own particular way, and this new Puzzle Box seems to have an actual life or some kind of consciousness of its own that responds to the individual caressing its parts, tracing its roots all the way back to Clive Barker’s original writings in The Hellbound Heart and other HR-related materials. Check out a writeup of all the new Configurations here.
After a particularly nasty confrontation with Voight’s lawyer Serena Menaker (Hiam Abbass), where she learns that Cenobites always collect their due, a revelatory visit to Voight’s mansion where Riley learns much more on the box, the Cenobites and even Hell itself, and discovers that her poor brother Matt has been flayed, the grisly dreadful chase and reveal of the other Cenobites and the Priest herself begins in earnest.
The new designs of the various Cenobites – the Mother (Gorica Regodic), the Weeper (Yinka Olorunnife), the Asphyx (Zachary Hing), the Gasp (Selina Lo), the Masque (Vukasin Jovanovic), and the Chatterer (Jason Liles), plus the head Priest – each have updated designs that you just know come with Hellish backstories that I personally want to know right now. Rather than clad head to toe in leather-spiked fetish gear as in Barker’s original vision, the color palette for each Cenobite screams originality and careful, even obsessive, attention to detail. Lead costume concept designer Keith Thompson in particular did a uniquely, beautifully grotesque, job that sets these Cenobites apart from their counterparts in all the previous Hellraiser movies.
And the hook-headed elephant in the room must be addressed – the new head Hell Priest, aka Pinhead, complete with an updated look and a brand new actor playing the role, Jamie Clayton. There was already a series of new Pinhead actors – Paul T. Taylor, who did an arguably serviceable job as Pinhead in Judgment, and the beleaguered Stephan Smith Collins from Revelations, poor thing – but this is the first time a woman (other than the comics) has been the pin-headed leader of the Order of the Gash. Her updated and feminine look, from the skin-like draped dress in place of vestments to the delicately sinister pearl-headed actual pins (as opposed to the nails Pinhead usually wears) in her face, that incredible voice that ominously arrives from the keyhole lodged in her throat and just a sheer sense of absolute presence that Jamie Clayton gives the Hell Priest, this new leader of the Cenobites was fully endorsed by Doug Bradley himself, and she absolutely kills that role. It also bears noting that the Gasp, Pinhead’s second in command, sports the same pearl-headed pins her leader does in her own face, reminiscent of Bradley’s Pinhead and Barbie Wilde’s female Cenobite in Hellbound: Hellraiser II.
Part eternal murder mystery, part haunted-house chase film, part S&M fetish factory and a part roundabout redemption story for a whole new generation of Hellraiser fans, the updated movie that lovingly serves up fleshy ideals straight from Barker’s epic works, can be found on Hulu now!