For the unwitting audience first witnessing Clive Barker’s original Hellraiser in cinemas back in 1987 it would probably be very hard to believe that this sado-masochistic splatter fest would go on to spawn 9 sequels over the next 30 years plus.
Live on Hellraiser did and the insane characters all created by Baker and based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, returned again and again in a variety of incarnations. Although the films where directed and scripted by many different people certain aspect always remained the same especially the iconic puzzle box which opens a door to the Hellish dimension of the Cenobite’s ruled by the nail faced nihilist and purveyor of pain Pinhead.
Played by Doug Bradley in 8 of the 10 films, Hellraiser: Revelations marks the first time the legendary character is played by another actor, or actors as the case may be seeing as multitalented voice actor Fred Tatasciore provides the vocal chords to Stephan Smith Collins physically imposing performance.
The reason for Bradley’s departure is interesting and links in to the strange circumstances that gave rise to Hellraiser: Revelations in the first place. Produced in a matter of weeks the film was fast tracked by Dimension Films who risked loosing the rights to the Hellraiser film series if they did not meet a contractual obligation and release a movie into the growing series.
The tight turnaround time and rushed production lead to Bradley declining to participate saying “The minuscule shooting schedule is more than matched by the budget … One way or another, this does not seem to me to represent a serious attempt to revive the Hellraiser franchise.”
From Bradley’s own statement and other notes it seems a remake of the original Hellraiser had been in discussion for at least 3 years since the last instalment 2005’s Hellraiser: Hellworld however the expiring rights and rush to keep hold of Clive Barker’s characters led the production company to make a sequel instead and thus Revelations was born.
Seeing that the majority of reboots and remakes of major horror movie franchises have fantastically failed to capture the innovation or imagination of the originals, my personal preference is always to carry on the series however diluted or dilapidated it may appear. The reason for this is a reboot always treads old ground usually with heavy clumsy feet whereas from time to time a sequel can take us to some insane and wildly entertaining places.
From the Sci-Horror hilarity of Jason X to the meta magnificence of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare to the mind bending brilliance of Final Destination 5, certain sequels stand out and sometimes even revitalise the entire series. Although not quite reaching the heights of those movies mentioned ironically the constrictions put on the production of Hellraiser: Revelations have led to some unconventional and engaging decisions that elevate the film above what you might expect.
Opening in a found footage format we follow two jaded teens Nico and Steven (played by 2001 Maniacs Jay Gillespie and The DUFF’s Nick Eversman) on a trip to Mexico hoping to find cheep beer and even cheeper broads to indulge their baser instincts with.
Jumping around in time we suddenly see Steven in a rundown hotel room and the fatal and familiar puzzle box in Nico’s hands. As he opens it distant bells toll ushering the unnerving arrival of Pinhead. Next thing we know we are in the luxurious family home of Steven’s parents a year later witnessing his mother watching a videotape of the boys strange and sinister encounter. It seems no one knows what happened to the pair after this point and their parents were left with just their belongings and the terrible tape that has led to many more questions than it answered.
Devastated by their disappearance both families ritualistically meet for dinner never daring to discuss what may have happened to their children however when Steven’s sister Emma (Tracey Fairaway) finds the footage and the perilous puzzle box she unlocks much more than just clues to what happened south of the boarder. Unexpectedly suddenly Steven arrives home dazed, disorientated and babbling about being hunted. It seems he isn’t the only thing that came back and now both families must face the terror of the Cenobite’s.
Directed by Víctor García, whose credits include two other horror sequels Mirrors 2 and Return to House on Haunted Hill, the script comes from special make up effects wizard Gary J. Tunnicliffe who went on to write and direct Hellraiser: Judgment in 2018 the most recent Hellraiser movie made. Credit must go to both for delivering even a half way decent Hellraiser film especially knowing they were up against the wire financially and forced to speed the production up and in fact the story and scares are not half bad.
The found footage element which would have been jarring if kept up throughout is well used separating out the flashbacks which are full of nasty sex and vicious violence from the current day conventionally filmed drama of the distraught families. This counter positioning is fundamentally what Revelations is about as we learn the two teenagers left because of an over privileged ennui, despising their parents wealthy lifestyles and seeking out uninhibited filthy thrills in petty rebellion. This leads them to the puzzle box and the promise of pleasure beyond limits which as we all know always ends up with Pinhead tearing someones soul apart.
Delivery a level of disturbing scenes we have come to expect from Hellraiser and here involves flesh rendering, hook hanging and plenty of skinning, Revelations holds off on prolonged horror preferring to throw in a sickening or unsettling moment here and there as the story unfolds. This does mean we get a lot less Pinhead than many might prefer and only one other Cenobite which fans of the franchise will be disappointed in however overdoing the gore in sake of any story is a crime so many sequels commit making this at least a little refreshing.
Revelations is by no means a perfect film and its running time is a tad on the short side but hopefully knowing the conditions it was made under gives the audience a deeper understanding of its flaws and hopefully allows them to celebrate its strengths. Most of all I am glad that it exists especially as the alternative would have been a banal rancid Hellraiser reboot and I think we can all agree no one wants that.
Hellraiser: Revelations is on Digital Download 22 February and Blu-ray™ 1 March from Lionsgate UK