As someone who’s never seen a Hellraiser film, the entirety of my knowledge surrounding the films came from various parodies I saw over the years. Outside of the premise of “BDSM demons coming out of a box and torture people for their sick pleasure,” I knew nothing about the franchise. This means I watched Hulu’s Hellraiser film with fresh eyes and had a great time doing it. It’s by no means a perfect film, but it’s a wonderfully sadistic flick to watch in the lead-up to Halloween.
Horror films of this sort often take one of two routes when it comes to characters: have a cast so unlikable that you’re fine with watching them get turned into ground beef or a group that is endearing, which makes you worry about their survival. Hellraiser falls into the latter category, as the group of main characters is well-rounded and fairly realistic. They’re clearly close with one another and have been through a lot, as they’re clearly aware of one another’s issues and life choices.
The main character, Riley, struggles with addiction. Her brother Matt, whom she lives with, is supportive but begins to run out of sympathy when Riley starts dating a somewhat sketchy guy. You hope everything turns out for them, as well as for Matt’s boyfriend and their friend Nora, but this is a Hellraiser film, so it probably won’t. The puzzle cube shows up, Cenobites start making trouble, and the story is in motion.
The most effective part of Hellraiser is its unrelenting sadism. Every time I saw a character get tortured, I’d wince and think, “Being in the world of Hellraiser would absolutely suck.” The vivid scenes of torment are well-acted and gory, with an impressive amount of creativity being funneled into the torture methods. This isn’t a horror movie for the squeamish, as skin is shown tearing, bodies contorting, and blood spurting at plenty of moments throughout its runtime. If you can take it, though, you’ll be delighted at how overtly intense it is.
The entire cast does a great job of selling the sheer terror that is so prominent in Hellraiser. Whether they’re portraying it as the unlucky young adults that are trying to survive the night or the impeccably-designed Cenobites that all evoke different kinds of body horror, everybody brings their A-game. Jamie Clayton is especially intimidating as Pinhead, who gives off an omniscient sense of knowledge and power that makes you realize Pinhead isn’t the kind of enemy the characters can truly defeat.
There’s what’s supposed to be a “shocking moment” later in the film involving one of the main characters, but it was incredibly predictable. There are a few poor choices made by characters (alongside a couple of weirdly silly moments), but that sort of thing is to be expected in horror films to make it all run smoothly. The surprisingly somber ending is refreshing, however, as the surviving characters deal with the film’s chilling events in a clever way.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: The critic received a press screener for ComingSoon’s Hellraiser review.