There have been ten previous Hellraiser movies of wildly varying quality, but Hulu’s new movie – going back to basics with its title, which is simply Hellraiser – easily feels like the most noteworthy and important one in ages.
David Bruckner, who helmed 2021’s good The Night House, directs the new Hellraiser, which does not retell the story from the 1987 original (in which Clive Barker adapted his own novella, The Hellbound Heart), but is described by Bruckner as one that simply exists in the same universe. This time out, a recovering addict (Odessa A’zion) and her friends stumble upon a unusual puzzle box and learn its dark ability to summon creatures called Cenobites who exist to bring about pleasure and pain in equal measure.
Once more, this group is led by a striking figure with a face covered in long nails or pins, though in this story, Jamie Clayton (Sense8) plays a different Pinhead, or Priest, than the one we’ve met before, in place of Doug Bradley in the original movie and numerous of its sequels (other actors would play Pinhead in a couple of the later installments).
Bruckner and Clayton spoke to Fandom about their take on Hellraiser, Pinhead, and even the box itself, and how they both pulled from the past and evolved into new directions.
CALL HER PRIEST
Asked how she approached playing Pinhead, Jamie Clayton replied, with a laugh, “Very delicately! David and I had numerous conversations about what this Priest would be feeling and experiencing and living in at any given moment with the different scenes and with the different actors that I was working opposite. I really wanted to bring my own unique take on it.”
Clayton praised her director, saying, “[Bruckner] was so beneficiant with his time and telling me what his idea would be of what the Priest was. And so that combined with then getting into the costume and the prosthetics and the whole thing, I was able to sort of really sink into this idea of what I thought she would be. And then we got the chance, once we were actually filming, to play around a bit and see what was working and what wasn’t and what looked good on the screen.”
As Clayton referenced, Pinhead is referred to as The Priest in the credits of Hellraiser, a term that has been used before (including “Hell Priest”) and which David Bruckner said, “Spoke to the regality of the character. We always kept Priest in the script. And if you follow the lore, it’s even I think Clive in [Barker’s 2015 book] The Scarlet Gospels who suggested that Priest hates the name Pinhead. ‘Lead Cenobite’ was the name of the character in the original film, Pinhead was the title that the audience gave the character. Many of the Cenobites, they’re kind of layman’s terms for what we see, like the Chatterer.”
Bruckner said he felt, “There is a majestic quality to the Cenobites. They’re both beautiful and terrifying. And there seems to be a vanity there that I think is really fascinating. I don’t think we’re ever permitted to know what they call themselves. So it’s a matter of honour that we call her the Priest.”
Without getting into details, fans of the Hellraiser franchise will note that the new movie pulls in some notable lore that was first introduced in 1988’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II, a movie which was very connected to the original in a way no other was and built upon the mythology in several ways.
Regarding the use of elements from that film, Bruckner explained, “We just found our way into it in the story. When you’re in the development space, and you’re taking it where it can go, sometimes you run into things. At a sure point to us it felt like the scale that was promised in Hellbound and the pulling back of the veil, like perhaps a deeper glance into the labyrinth [of Hell], was something that we wanted to pay homage to, something that we wanted to feature in the film. But also we really wanted to also keep the kind of intimacy, the family dynamic element of the original film. Those ideas all feel Hellraiser to us.”
Hellbound built upon what it meant to be one of the Cenobites, and showed us what it was like to be turned into one for the first time, and Clayton said she quite enjoyed working alongside her fellow Cenobites in the new film, remarking, “Those group scenes where all seven of us would be there, they were quite thrilling. ‘The power that that holds!’, to quote that famous meme. Those were some really special moments because there were only a couple of days where we got to do all of that.” She added, “Even when I was just there with one or two others, you know, there’s strength in numbers!”
Pinhead and the Cenobites have seemingly done ghastly matters but often that begins because nefarious or grasping individuals have attempted to unleash them for their own purposes. Pinhead has never seemed like a merciless killer like Freddy Krueger, and when it came to just how much of a “villain” the Cenobites truly are, Bruckner observed, “I’ve always appreciated in the original Hellraiser movie, and in several of the movies actually, that the Cenobites had a sure neutral alignment. They were there to carry out their own designs and their own interests and there’s usually a darker moral villainy seen in a human character. And that feels like something that’s very Hellraiser that we tried to keep with.”
THE (CHANGING) BOX
Besides Pinhead, the most recognizable tangible element from Hellraiser has to be the puzzle box from the films, used to summon the Cenobites.
As the trailer for Hellraiser 2022 shows, in the new film, the box goes through a bit of an evolution, now changing into several different shapes we haven’t seen before. This is not completely unprecedented, as the aforementioned Hellbound: Hellraiser II did introduce one other shape for the device known as a LeMarchand Box.
Regarding having multiple configurations for this version of the box, Bruckner said, “Hellraiser is one of the most inventive franchises in horror. And so what I love about it is that the movies took big risks. They went in different directions, they explored the mythology in different ways. The idea that there are ‘such sights’ to see is that to simply reproduce everything that we’ve seen the way we’ve seen, it would, for me, be missing the point. We should carry it in new directions.”
Bruckner elaborated on how he and his collaborators took a big look at the box and even finally allowed for some viewer participation with what they came up with, explaining, “I’ve always been fascinated with the potential of the puzzle box. We had the means here to do matters with it that I think we haven’t seen before in the movies. It’s tactile. There are actual visible puzzles that can be solved on it and the iterative quality of it was something that was unique to David Goyer, Ben Collins, and Luke Piotrowski’s story. And I thought that was a wonderful framework for the movie and a really exciting, creative challenge, because we designed all these puzzles and figured out how they work. So that was its own brain bending exercise.”
Hellraiser debuts October 4 on Hulu.