Before we get to the review let’s get some things straight. Despite what some keyboard warriors have been asserting, Pinhead has never been a woman. Anyone who has actually read Clive Barker’s novels The Hellbound Heart and The Scarlet Gospels or watched the Hellraiser movies would know that.
Many of them cite this paragraph from The Hellbound Heart when Frank summons The Cenobites.
Of course, anyone with reading comprehension skills above that of a third grader understands that Barker isn’t saying Pinhead is a woman but his voice at the time sounds like “an excited girl”, which is very creepy in itself.
If there was any doubt about the gender of Pinhead, in case you missed the origin scene in Hellbound: Hellraiser II, here is what Barker himself wrote in his novel The Scarlet Gospels. In the book, Pinhead goes to war against not only the Devil but Harry D’Amour, a detective who can see and communicate with ghosts. In this scene, Pinhead appears and confronts a group of magicians. Pinhead is referenced as a “he” in this section and the entire book.
With that case closed, let’s address one more misconception. Pinhead is not the “King of Hell” or any such thing. He is a the leader of a sect, a faction, a group of demons known as The Cenobites. He is named The Hell Priest and is a very influential figure, wielding a lot of power like the Pope, but he does not rule Hell.
When Jamie Clayton was announced for the role of Pinhead I had two reactions. One, she will do a fantastic job. Anyone who has watched Netflix’s Sense8 would understand why. Two, I couldn’t help but wonder if the gender swap was another instance of Hollywood just being lazy and unimaginative.
I tend to agree with Barbara Broccoli, the producer and owner of the James Bond film franchise when she said about the next James Bond: “I think it will be a man because I don’t think a woman should play James Bond. I believe in making characters for women and not just having women play men’s roles. I don’t think there are enough great roles for women, and it’s very important to me that we make movies for women about women. “
The approach should be to create new roles, new characters for women to play. Roles that could become iconic characters like Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, Trinity, The Bride, etc. You do women a disservice as artists by gender swapping them into existing characters.
But enough about that…
Jamie Clayton makes the role her own in Hellraiser. The problem is that her performance will always be compared to Doug Bradley because he is the one who established the role and is the blueprint, the image fans will always have in their minds. In that way, casting Clayton as Pinhead instead of establishing a new character like the unforgettable Valentina Vargas as the ruthless Angelique in Hellraiser: Bloodline, the producers have already set-up Clayton for a fall as a nobody can match what Bradley did.
As a consultant on Hellraiser, creator Clive Barker himself clarified Clayton’s Pinhead.
“Jamie is the deadly seductress, or seducer, whichever gender you want. There’s something very sly about Jamie, or Jamie’s performance. Doug is not sly. Doug is utterly direct, and that’s what makes him intimidating. His statements are questions and there’s never any ambiguity in the original Pinhead,” he told Bloody Disgusting.
Therein lies my issue with Clayton’s portrayal. Although she is 5’10, she is not intimidating at all as Pinhead. Unlike Bradley she doesn’t seem to tower over the other Cenobites or in fact, the other characters whether due to her actual height or her presence on screen. She comes off as just as sinister and diabolical as Bradley but not as threatening or as commanding.
The other Cenobites are grotesque, disturbing and look great. I am glad to see Chatterer return and the new Gasp (played so fiendishly by Selina Lo) has already risen to become one of my favourite Cenobites. It is clever how in this version of the Cenobites their own bodies, their skin, bone and flesh, is used to form their own armor and vestments but I prefer the S&M look in the previous films. With the same skin tones, etc, it is hard to tell them apart at a distance even though their make-up is fantastic.
The story itself begins with a lot of promise but degenerates into a bit of a mess before the big finale. Odessa A’zion is Riley, a woman seemingly at a crossroads of her life as she struggles with addiction. Her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn) tries to keep her on the straight and narrow but he is slowly losing his patience with her chaotic and at times self-destructive nature. Since Riley is the cause of all her own problems, which includes helping her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) steal The Lament Configuration puzzle box from an eccentric rich douchebag in Voight (Goran Visnjic), we don’t have much empathy for her. She goes from being sympathetic to downright irritating rather quickly.
Unlike in previous incarnations of the puzzle box which acts as a gateway to hell it seems anyone and everyone can solve it. Much to our delight, Riley does and unleashes the Cenobites onto our world and her friends like roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds) and Matt’s boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison). The exploration and explanation of the Lament Configuration, building on its legacy and its specific configurations, is one of the best parts, one of the most inspired parts of the film and the script. Mimicking how The Cenobites arrive in our world in Barker’s books, director David Bruckner and veteran screenwriter David S. Goyer (Man of Steel, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Blade: Trinity) do their best take on Inception with walls fading or sliding away like pieces of a puzzle. The effect when it happens is not only awesome to watch but plays well into the Lament Configuration as well.
Bruckner obviously cares tremendously about the source material, as his strategic use of the epic original score proves. He actually enhances the Hellraiser mythos more than any filmmaker has since the criminally underrated Bloodline and has put together some really cool scenes that will last in our memories, like Nora’s plight in a moving van. His story loses its way midway though despite having an exceptional finale and epilogue. The halfway point, after Riley breaks into Voight’s mansion looking for clues, is just a jumble, a patchwork of scenes aimlessly threaded together.
With such a solid career so far with The Ritual, Southbound, one of the best horror movies in the last 15 years under his belt in The Night House and now a satisfying Hellraiser film with his name on it, Bruckner has moved beyond an emerging star on the rise and is one of the genres best and more capable creative forces at present.
Hellraiser 2022 puts all of the careless, half-baked, sloppy Miramax sequels to shame. After 26 years and six either mediocre or just plain terrible sequels, Hellraiser fans finally have a film they can be really proud of despite its flaws or missteps.
Everyone associated with the film had their Hellbound Hearts in the right place and that elevates this “remake”, “reimagining” whatever Hollywood wants to call it, above the corporately mandated, shallow, passionless retreads like Day of the Dead (2008) Black Christmas (2019), Firestarter (2022), Pet Semetary (2019), Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Friday The 13th (2009), Halloween (2007), The Fog (2005), etc. As a life-long horror fan I just feel really sorry for future fright film fans who have to put the year after so many classic film titles just to distinguish them from their putrid remakes.