We recently learned that the long-awaited Hellraiser reboot, first intimated by Clive Barker back in 2006, may finally be clawing its way out of a developmental quagmire. This time, the franchise is under new ownership, with Spyglass Media producing and David Bruckner slated to direct.
As is the norm with announcements of upcoming remakes, opinion was firmly divided between excited fans and the reboot-sceptical.
“What do you expect from horror?” said snotty non-genre fans, with the tone of an English teacher asking why you’re reading Stephen King instead of a proper book –usually one about people in the 1820s who want to get married or people in the 1960s who want to get divorced.
“Why can’t we have something original?” said horror fans, beaten down by big studios and their parade of cynical by-the-numbers re-imaginings.
As for us, we’re firmly in the ‘tentatively excited’ camp. With a good team in place and a fun world to explore, we see no reason why this couldn’t be the shot in the arm the franchise needs.
A Difficult Few Years
At Dimension, the Hellraiser reboot languished in development hell for years, burning through directors at an astonishing rate. First announced by Clive Barker in 2006, the project has seen involvement from such figures as Pascal Laugier of Martyrs fame and Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer after their 2009 My Bloody Valentine remake. All abandoned the project citing creative differences.
This was due in part to producer Bob Weinstein’s insistence that it be a family-friendly PG-13 affair, an absurd demand that betrays an absolute ignorance of the source material. In truth, Dimension have never treated the franchise in a way that would play to its strengths.
Hellraiser brims with weird energy, and filmmakers need to be given space and licence to explore its darker reaches. Instead, Dimension have insisted that the franchise mimic whichever slasher franchise was doing best at the time, never letting Hellraiser develop its own identity. Pretty soon, our enigmatic hell priest was spouting Freddie Kreuger-esque one-liners. The whole thing was a little undignified.
Attempts at modernising the franchise similarly fell flat. 2006’s Hellraiser: Hellworld aimed to go meta to fit in with the post-Scream slasher landscape, but it was more self-parody than self-aware. By the time the execrable Hellraiser: Revelations rolled around, it was clear that Dimension were just cynically churning out garbage to keep hold of the franchise rights. Pinhead was effectively dead.
A New Hope
With such a poisoned legacy from the Dimension years, Hellraiser needs a fresh start. That’s why we’re pleased that the franchise is now in new hands. Spyglass Media are now in charge of the project, and their appointment of David Bruckner as director is an extremely promising sign.
Bruckner’s early work in anthology horror movies showed a consistency and creativity that resulted in the strongest segments of V/H/S, Southbound and The Signal.
Bruckner’s direction on Netlfix‘s The Ritual demonstrated a keen eye for characterisation and group dynamics as well as action and frights. The film used CG sparingly, relying on unwieldy practical effects for the flashback sequences, which must have been challenging and expensive, but were extremely effective.
More than anything, the extraordinary monster design that that movie offered showed that Bruckner has a keen understanding of how to employ surreal and disturbing imagery.
Despite his obvious horror pedigree, Bruckner is a relatively young director, still finding his creative voice. As far as we’re concerned, this is a plus. In a franchise plagued with cynical hackery, an ambitious, creative director hungry to experiment is precisely what is needed to recapture the energy of the original instalment.
We’ve always maintained that, of the big horror franchises, Hellraiser is the series that has by far the most scope for development. While we think it would be wise for the new team to play it relatively safe in order to prove that the series has legs, we can’t help but be excited at the possibility of future, more ambitious Hellraiser instalments.
In the film canon, the history of the Lemarchand puzzle box has its origins in the French revolution and stretches into a future among the stars (thanks to the ambitious but deeply flawed Hellraiser 4: Bloodlines). Pinhead himself harks back to the brutality of World War 1. There’s no reason for the filmmakers to feel constrained by this lore, though.
In Hellbound Hearts, the short story anthology set in the world of Hellraiser, we see a story set in the ancient world. Neil Gaiman proves that it’s not just the puzzle box that can open up the cenobite dimension with a story of forbidden lusts and crossword puzzles illustrated by Dave McKean. Then there’s the comics from Epic Comics and Boom! Studios, which have been continuing to play with Pinhead since 1989 and have legions of devoted fans.
Barker returned to Pinhead in his novel The Scarlet Gospels in 2015. The book is somewhere between Barker’s original novella and the epic fantasy style that characterised his later writings. In it, characters journey through hell as Pinhead attempts to usurp Satan. It’s not Barker’s greatest novel, but it still contains some of the soaring ideas and fantastic set pieces that he’s known for.
Hellraiser: Hellfire, the abandoned film project that sees Kirsty return to fight cultists, still sounds like a fascinating idea. The script would see the reluctant hero uncover the fact that the occult architecture of London is in fact a giant Lemarchand configuration and, if activated, will dissolved the barriers between our world and hell.
It seems more likely that the creative team will return to the source material for inspiration. Even in Barker’s novella, there is neglected material that is rife for exploration.
In the original story, Kirsty is a family friend rather than Rory’s daughter. It is implied that she is a closeted lesbian who has developed an infatuation with Rory in order to shore up her denial of her own sexuality. This works as Rory is both unattainable (being married) and about as sexually threatening as a damp loaf of bread.
As the lead cenobite is female in the original novella, this adds an interesting Freudian dimension to the plot. Closeted Kirsty is being menaced by this female incarnation of forbidden desire, and is trying to force her back into a box – whatever could it mean? At one point, the female cenobite is in hell, lounging on a throne made of human tongues – Barker may be a creative genius, but he is not a subtle genius.
This flavour of psychosexual complexity was probably a bit much for horror audiences in the 1980s, but a modern creative team could really get stuck into the more unusual aspects of Barker’s vision.
Where To Now?
In some ways, the team at Spyglass Media are in a similar position to Russell T. Davies when he helmed the Doctor Who reboot in 2006. They are heir to an enormous playground of possibilities and a massive treasure trove of lore, and are completely free to pick what to keep and what to discard. It’s an enviable position to be in.
In our opinion, despite the temptation to blow your load on an occult S&M epic, the best course would be to keep the reboot as simple as possible. The strength of the original movie lay in the fact that it was a dark family drama at heart. The shocking late appearance of the cenobites was effective only because the characters were grounded and their relationships felt real. As much as we love Pinhead as a character, we can’t deny that the movies suffered the more he was foregrounded.
We look forward to seeing what the team makes of their reboot. A solid opening act could really set the scene for the sequels that the franchise always deserved. The saga of Hellraiser is overflowing with potential, and with the right team, budget and support in place, it could be legendary – even in hell.
So no pressure, then.