A new “Hellraiser” has risen from the depths (or beamed in from another dimension). And the movie, now streaming on Hulu, adds considerably to the already established “Hellraiser” lore (originated by Clive Barker’s novella, which Barker himself adapted into the first movie) while also making it easily, um, digestible for those who are new to the franchise. Listen, you’re going to have to learn about BDSM space weirdos at some point; why not now?
This new “Hellraiser” concerns a young woman named Riley (Odessa A’zion), a recovering addict who is desperate to get clean. Her boyfriend Ella Trevor (Drew Starkey), who she met in the program, offers her a way to get some easy cash: break into a rich guy’s storage unit and steal his stuff from him. Only instead of stuff they find a single item: a mysterious puzzle box fans of the franchise will quickly identify as The Lament Configuration. As her journey continues, she becomes targeted by the Cenobites, a gang of interdimensional demons with a thirst for pain, led by The Priest aka Pinhead (Jamie Clayton). That’s never a good thing.
As with any “Hellraiser” entry, there are some very big questions that demand exploration. And we will attempt to answer those questions here, with a little help from “Hellraiser” director David Bruckner.
Major spoilers for “Hellraiser” follow, if you haven’t watched it yet, turn back now.
Who did they steal from?
In this “Hellraiser,” the box belongs to a businessman named Roland Voight. In the movie’s opening sequence, we see him with a young man into going into his gallery and picking up the box. A small blade pops out and cuts him, cuing the Cenobites to come collect their soul. It’s wonderfully effective. It’s Voight’s storage facility that they break into. He’s presumed dead or missing. And once they take the box, the whole thing starts again. But is Voight really gone? Or he is just waiting to make his grand entrance from him?
How does Riley elude the Cenobites?
One of the more inventive aspects of this “Hellraiser” is watching Riley continually come under fire of the Cenobites (and then weasel her way out of it). She somehow survives until the end, making sure others end up paying the ultimate price. Not only does this lead to many great, thick set pieces but it also works well for the underlying addiction metaphor – these are the people you hurt because of your addiction. (Granted, no smackhead has ever been responsible for sending several of their friends to a nightmarish hell dimension. But maybe it could happen!)
Finally, she and her friends make their way to Voight’s mansion, where they attempt to complete the puzzle and get out alive. His mansion is ornate and very much looks like the box. (At one point, the Cenobites spaceship, for lack of a better term, comes down just beyond the mansion. It’s striking.) When Riley completes the configuration, the Priest asks her what she wants in return. Any earthly – or otherworldly – treasure is at her command of her. Instead, she wants nothing, content to live in the pain and chaos she caused others. That’s growth. That’s making amends. That’s part of what makes the movie so special.
What about Voight?
Oh yeah, Voight. Because if you’re a monied industrialist, you know that you’re up to no good.
Voight returns to the movie towards the third act, emerging from within his weird ass mansion. He’s still alive (surprise!) but hideously disfigured from his encounter with the Cenobites. He’s got this contraption that basically twists his nerves from him, causing him excruciating pain (big Cronenberg vibes). He hired Trevor (another surprise!) to get the box and complete the steps in order to gain him an audience with the Priest and absolve him from the horrible device. (When the device is near he causes his entire mansion to turn into a trap, in an attempt to keep the demons there.) He actually makes headway with the Priest. She removes the device, allowing him to feel power. But he wants more. “True power” is what he’s after. But given these freaks, that will come at a cost.
There’s a new cenobite on the block
At the very end of the movie, giant chains come crash through the ceiling and suck him up into the spaceship (or maybe transport him to the Cenobite dimension). They rip his flesh off him, flaying him alive and piercing his skin. He is transforming, not into a god like he probably assumed, but into another Cenobite. It’s a great ending and a real monkey’s paw scenario for somebody who thought they could make a bargain with such a deranged set of creatures.
We asked Bruckner if Voight was going to be the leader of the Cenobites, if that was where they would grant him power. But as it turns out, nope, he’s just another working class BDSM demon. “I think it is yet another Cenobite gift,” Bruckner explained. “So, if you will, it has its pros and its cons depending on your perspective. But it felt appropriate to end the film on a transformation.” It’s hard imagining it ends any other way.
And then it just ends?
Well, yes, but also very much in keeping with the “Hellraiser” universe. Pain and pleasure are intertwined and every sword has two edges. It makes sense and is a great, lower ending. We approve!
“Hellraiser” is streaming on Hulu now.