In Hellraiser, a reinvention of Clive Barker’s 1987 horror classic from director David Bruckner, a young woman struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware its purpose is to summon the Cenobites, a group of sadistic supernatural beings from another dimension.
Riley McKendry (A’zion) is an intelligent woman in her early 20s who blunts the frustrations of her life with alcohol and drugs. Although she’s trying to break the cycle with a 12-Step Program, her addictions and self-serving impulses still get the best of her. Living with her protective older brother, Matt (Flynn), their relationship has become severely strained. Matt’s partner, Colin (Faison), and their housemate, Nora (Hinds), are the buffer zone between the siblings, but saving Riley from herself has become a project for them all.
The bright spot in Riley’s life is her new boyfriend, Trevor (Starkey). When he proposes they commit a robbery, her lack of money motivates her to go along with the idea. But what they end up with is just an ancient puzzle box. Soon after, Matt vanishes under the strangest of circumstances, with Riley the only witness to the events of that night. What she remembers—a strange and haunting visitation from otherworldly beings clad in tortured flesh—she attributes to the substances she took.
Noticing the puzzle box has completely changed shape, she wonders if the artifact is somehow responsible for her brother’s disappearance. In fact, through the stolen box, Riley has unwittingly become the object of the cruel and selfish machinations of a long-dead millionaire, Roland Voight (Visnjic). Through Voight, who is in a perpetual state of torture by the “loom,” a device he cannot escape pushes him to the extremities of sensation, Riley has unleashed the Cenobites, sadistic and supernatural beings from another dimension. To succumb to them would be unthinkable, but to refuse them almost certainly would guarantee her an eternity of torment and pain.
In celebration of the film’s release Disney held a press conference with David Bruckner (Director), Jamie Clayton (The Priest / Pinhead), Odessa A’zion (Riley), Drew Starkey (Trevor), Adam Faison (Colin), Brandon Flynn (Matt), Goran Visnjic (Voight), Hiam Abbass (Menaker) and Keith Levine (Producer).
Spyglass Media Group, the IP rights holders of Clive Barker’s 1987 Hellraiser, wanted to resurrect the film and reimagine it for a new generation of audiences. Spyglass’ chairman and CEO, Gary Barber, brought on Phantom Four’s David S. Goyer to write the story and produce alongside Keith Levine. Goyer created a 10-page story treatment for the film and enlisted the services of screenwriters Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski, with whom he had previously collaborated on the horror thriller “The Night House”. Soon after, David Bruckner, who directed “The Night House” was signed to direct this new version of Hellraiser.
“I was fortunate to come on after Ben and Luke had brought David’s treatment to draft. So, there was already a very smart foundation for the new Hellraiser movie. I’ve always felt that Barker created a vast universe of possibilities with ‘Hellraiser.’ There’s a way to honor the original material, foremost its themes and spirit, while still exploring new tales and expanding on the existing mythology,” said David.
“This is my first time ever working with a sacred IP and feeling a responsibility to what has come before us. They’re interdimensional BDSM demons that throw chains at you from a labyrinth. It’s complicated stuff to get right. My admiration goes to all the filmmakers that have come before us on it. Holding that in as high a regard as we can, this was something we all talked about as a team, and everybody was on board for. We also have responsibility to just lose ourselves in this and allow it to take us in different directions if we’re so compelled and to be true to the story that we’re telling. Once you’re on the ground on the other side of the world and you’re inventing these things, it kind of takes you somewhere on its own. Your kind of hanging on to the ride, and it takes on a life of its own. It was a balance of trusting that and appreciating what had come before us,” said David.
“When you’re doing sex and violence on screen, you’re always digging into some stuff that is going to affect people I just think they’re powerful expressions in movies. It’s 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 that is an image that’s going to stick with you. A lot of it was just about the spirit of the franchise and finding the flavor of it that felt right for us but also letting the story kind of take us there as it would. The narrative, the original film, the plot is a little bit more directed towards the sexual aspect of Hellraiser. But we found some interesting connective tissue in this where that lives, particularly as it relates to addiction and all forms of addiction in some ways. It’s in the DNA of the movie in many different ways,” David finished.
Keith added, “We never wanted it to be gratuitous, the sex or the violence. Whenever we were doing it, we wanted to treat, you know, both like art. We wanted 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. That was sort of the way we also just went about handling it. Also, the society we’re living in today, I don’t think anyone wants to see either pushed to the brink for no reason. We were very conscious of it. I think everything we did was very measured. We discussed, even in the edit, just trying to find the right balance of everything.”
Using the original film and novella The Hellbound Heart as their guide, it was less about lifting story beats and more about understanding Barker’s themes and intent. Violence and eroticism were essential elements, as were transgression and punishment. They decided to explore the concept of addiction as the movie’s driving force. The operating principle behind Hellraiser is what we fear and what we desire are one and the same. Pain, punishment, our relationship to it and our frightening, repressed hunger for it. The Cenobites are not villains unleashed upon humanity. Rather, they are facilitators, curators of destruction humanity choose time and again, to unleash upon themselves.
The Cenobites come from an extradimensional world dedicated to the pursuit of extreme sensual pleasure and experience. Once human, they have been transformed into their current state through their search for that gratification, but in doing so they have lost all sense of humanity. Their dedication to exploring physical experience sees them feeding off people’s desires, but they no longer distinguish nor understand the difference between pain and pleasure. There’s a facet of ritual and worship to their behavior—they are disciples of the Leviathan, and they believe the pain they offer is a great gift to the recipient. Thus, if you crave what they offer you, then they are your angels. And if you don’t, they are the cruelest of demons.
The casting of actress Jamie Clayton in the role of the iconic Cenobite Pinhead, originally played by actor Doug Bradley, was a vital part of reinventing Hellraiser. Mostly, the filmmakers felt the depiction of Pinhead in the original film was simply too iconic to replicate, so by reimagining the character, they took the burden off the audience to endlessly compare the performance.
Clayton says of taking on the role, “When I got the script, I was really taken with how the writers have honored Clive Barker and the subtext of it all. It’s very sexy, but true horror scenes are devastating. The audition was so much fun. We discussed the tone, the stillness and this regal presence David really wanted the character to have, and then when I got to the set, on my first day, during my second or third take of the scene, David Bruckner ran up to me and said, ‘You’ve found her!’”
“I really tried to do something uniquely my own. David and I had so many Zooms and discussions about how the body would look and how the head would be, and the sort of stillness incorporated. It was all of those conversations with David about his idea of what it would be when he took on this project, and then me bringing my bits and bobs to it and then the meshing of those things. I’m hoping it’s something really unique. Doug is incredible, but I didn’t want to be compared or people to say, ‘she nicked that from him’ or ‘she’s doing that thing that he did,’ which is another reason why they wanted a woman to play the role because it takes the burden off the audience of that comparison.”
Goran remembers seeing Jamie in costume for the first time. “I saw her in the process of getting the stuff on because I was also having tons of prosthetics and stuff. So, she walks on set, and I started laughing, not because it was funny, because I didn’t know what to do. She looked so out of this world. It was kind of mystical and scary and unusual and unreal, surreal, because, like Odessa said, you know it’s an actor inside a costume. But the details, the pins, the lenses, and she was just steady. I still kind of feel unusual about that experience. I need to process it. When I see the movie.”
Adam Faison, who starred on the series “Liberty Crossing” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” is Colin, Matt’s boyfriend, affable and smart, who often tries to diffuse the tension between the siblings. Describing his character, Faison says, “Colin is a sort of conduit for the audience. He’s a skeptic, fact-based and a realist who feels there’s a logical and scientific reason for why everything is happening. But he has empathy for Riley.”
Adam loved how vividly drawn and energetic the script was, but he was also attracted to the diversity of the characters. “I was a big horror nerd fan when I was growing up, and there’s almost no queer representation at all when you’re going through a lot of these older cult classic movies. I was really excited because I’d never really seen someone like Colin before.”
“[LGBTQ representation] was something we talked about; Keith and me, Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski, the writers, and Spyglass, the studio. From the beginning we came on with the script, we understood that this was very much present and part of the identity of the original franchise. We wanted to make sure it was something we got right both in theme and in representation. It was exciting to us. We had a lot of good counsel from people that really helped us navigate that a bit. It was something everybody was behind from the beginning,” finished Adam.
“Clive is gay and has a really honest, unique, sexy approach. He wrote The Hellbound Heart off of his experiences going to BDSM clubs in New York in the ’70s. It’s not just slash them up to slash them up. There’s all these layers and all of these ideas and things that you can dig into. Either you catch them, or you don’t. You relate to them, or you don’t. But they’re there. That’s what I think makes Clive’s ideas really special and really unique. There’s a sexiness to what he writes and to Hellraiser that doesn’t exist, in my opinion, in other horror franchises,” said Jamie.
Riley’s addiction to alcohol and habitual drug use gives her short-term respite from the frustrations of her life, but they also make her selfish, impulsive and vulnerable—the perfect target for the Cenobites. “Riley is a young woman who, like a lot of young women, is dealing with a lot of things. I’m similar to her in many ways, and I think a great number of people can relate to her and everything that she goes through—the addiction, the pain and pleasure—and the giving in to temptation. When reading the script, there were moments when I was really genuinely afraid,” said Odessa.
For Keith, “Odessa brings to the film this fireball energy. We knew it from the moment we saw her audition tape—she was the hellraiser. She just had this intense energy that still had a layer of emotion underneath it and that felt like it was exactly what we needed to bring this character to life. We needed somebody who was going to be able to make a big impression in a short amount of time. He was challenged with showing up and really being an emotional force, so the audience understood what was propelling Riley. He came in and just had what it took to establish himself as that sort of emotional chess piece that we needed to put on the board.”
Trevor, Riley’s new boyfriend, is played by Drew Starkey (“Love, Simon,” “The Hate U Give,” “Outer Banks”). A good-looking charmer who Riley meets at a 12-Step meeting, they seem to share many of the same impulses and drives. His character has a duplicitous nature, that’s a cross between dangerous but doesn’t act suspicious. In Hellraiser, Drew pulls off the edgy bad boy that Trevor is. “When we first see Trevor, he’s supposedly working as an art handler, but it’s kind of ambiguous. You don’t really know who he works for or what exactly he does. You don’t really know much about him. And that’s what David Bruckner wanted—for him to be a blank canvas,” said Drew.
Drew was attracted to Trevor’s rebellion, comparing it to his act of rebellion as a kid watching the Hellraiser movie against his parents’ wishes. “So as an act of rebellion, my brother watched it when we were too young. But the imagery, the imagery always stayed with me my entire life. I always thought about it around Halloween. It’s so ingrained into pop culture, and our own experiences like the images and the characters have always kind of popped up a lot of different times in my life. Because of Bruckner here, I think we all had a chance to revisit and really dive into it. It was a lot of fun.”
This is the 11th Hellraiser movie reimagining to one degree that it fits within the world of Hellraiser and what you’ve seen before in many ways. “I wouldn’t say it’s strict canon. We let our imaginations run with this. I’m a big believer that movies are dreams and sometimes they 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 of where it’s fitting in the history of the series and to just experience the film. We’ll see what conversations grow from there.”
Hellraiser releases on Hulu on October 7th.