For 35 years, the Hellraiser film franchise has scared its audience with images of a group of extra-dimensional, sadomasochistic beings who cannot differentiate between pain and pleasure. Said to be one of the darkest and most disturbing films of the horror genre, Hellraiser spawned ten sequels between 1987 and 2022. And now, Hulu is preparing to release the latest chapter in the franchise by simply titling it Hellraiser, which promises to have a few painful delights but some meaningful representation.
And ThatsItLA had the chance to talk to the cast and crew about the new telling of “Hellraiser,” how it represents the LGBTQ, honoring the original, and what it takes to have the right about of violence and sexuality.
“Yeah, this is a new Hellraiser story. It’s not a remake of the original films, necessarily. It does harken back to them quite a bit,” director David Bruckner said. “But it is the tale of Riley played by Odessa [A’zion] here who discovers the box and opens it, and all hell breaks loose.”
As with every new vision, we get a different interpretation of the story and the iconic characters that populate its world. However, in this case, Pinhead is not played by Doug Bradley. Instead, she is played by Jamie Clayton, who puts a modern-day spin on the character who seems to enjoy pain. “I mean, the priest is everything that I am and everything that I’m not, and she’s amazing, and she’s gonna tear your fucking soul,” Clayton said.
As for the cast and crew’s connections to the original films, all had special memories of watching the horror at a very young age. For Goran Visnjic, he didn’t get a chance to see the first in a theater, but as soon as they were released on video, he watched them with his friend. “My friend and I saw all of them, and number four was always my favorite because I’m a sci-fi fan. And this one is happening in a space station,” he said.
Hiam Abbass had a very different take. Although she wasn’t a fan of the horror genre, her ambivalence stems from an authentic place, and yet, once she got on board, she instantly changed her thoughts. “I grew up in a place where everything was frightening anyway, so like if I were to escape in movies, I would choose something like much easier on my psychology somehow,” she said. “So I’m really sorry for that. But I discovered through this movie that I was wrong.”
“But as an actor, I really wanted badly to do one. And just the month before, this came my way,” Abbass added. “I just was telling my agent, ‘I really want to just like do a horror movie.’ Then, a month later, I just got the offer. And I said like, ‘This is crazy.’ It means I it meant to be. Right?”
Clayton admits to not being into horror until a later age. No, I was a big scaredy cat when I was a kid. And I was very like Cyndi Lauper, Janet Jackson. I got into horror in my 20s and 30s,” she said. “There was a moment I had where I was really into horror, like Takashi Miike. ‘The Audition,’ and all like the Friday the 13th films, but I actually hadn’t seen Hellraiser.”
Clayton adds that she finally watched “Hellraiser” before she auditioned for the role, and she was surprised by how it’s unlike some other horror films. “This is so beyond like a horror film. There are so many layers and like nuances to the story,” she said. “And, like, so much is implied. And there’s, you know, there’s a lot of glamour, and like, it’s very sexy. So I was like, I’m very into this.”
And the film’s exploration of sexuality through the lens of BDSM plays a pivotal role in shaping the modern-day telling of “Hellraiser.” “The studio from kind of the beginning, I think we came on with the script, we understood that this was, you know, that was very much present and part of the identity the original franchise, and then we wanted to make sure that that was something that we got right, both in theme and in representation. And it was exciting to us,” Bruckner said of the LGBTQ representation and subverting the idea of BDSM. “We have a lot of good counsel from people that really helped us kind of navigate that a bit. And it was something that everybody was behind, I think from the beginning.”
“When you’re doing sex and violence on screen, you’re always digging into some stuff that is going to affect people,” Bruckner said. “And so I just think they’re powerful expressions, you know, in movies, it’s like not to be taken lightly if you’re going to show people in states of vulnerability, or if you’re going to stimulate the audience or evoke something like that. It’s an image that’s going to stick with you.”
Bruckner said it was all about honoring the spirit of the franchise. “It was finding the kind of the flavor of it, that felt right for us, but also letting the story take us there as it would,” he said. “The narrative, the original film is, you know, the plot is a little bit more directed, toward the sexual aspect of Hellraiser. But I think we found some interesting connective tissue in this where that lives, particularly as it affects, or as it relates to addiction, and all forms of addiction in some way. So I think it’s in the DNA of the movie in many different ways.”
For Keith Levine, a producer, it was never the film’s intent to be gratuitous with the sex or the violence. Everything they did was measured. “We wanted to treat the violence to feel like art. Even if you’re staying in a moment, maybe longer than you would hope, it’s not because we’re trying to be gratuitous. We’re just trying to make it beautiful, to be honest,” he said. So I think that was sort of the way we also just went about handling it. In the society that we’re living in today, I don’t think anyone wants to see either pushed to the brink for no reason. So we’re very conscious of it.”
And to see the Cenobites, those extra-dimensional demonic beings who follow Pinhead, scared the cast. Some even had a more frightening presence than other horror icons. “It was cool that they brought back some of the old ones and had the new ones, and the new ones were crazy. And then like Jason is like what he’s like seven foot six,” A’zion said about the costume and makeup. “It’s the craziest, and watching them like put everything on, they had to screw him in like, in there.”
The costuming and makeup were so convincing that Visnjic did not know what to do. “She looked out of this world,” he said. “it was kind of mystical and scary and unusual and unreal, surreal, because, you know. As Odessa said, it’s an actor inside the costume, but the details, the pins, and the lenses.”
As to what fans hope to see if it’s an original, sequel, or reboot, Bruckner says defining it isn’t that simple. “It’s a reimagining, to one degree. I also think that it fits within the world of Hellraiser and what you’ve seen before in many ways. But I wouldn’t say it’s strict canon,” he said. “We let our imaginations run with this. And I’m a big believer that movies or dreams present strange iterations of one another and that we should just embrace that and kind of run with it.”
“My suggestion to fans is to go into it, not thinking exactly where it’s fitting in the history of the series, and to just experience the film,” Bruckner added.
“Hellraiser” scares up the streaming screen on October 4, 2022.