Hellraiser has always been a unique franchise in the horror genre. More art-house than the slashers that were popular at the time of its original release in the 1980s, the series attempted to explore deeper themes rather than just racking up a body count. Based on the novella The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, who also created Candyman, the series spans 11 movies, with the latest just released on Hulu.
While the original is considered a classic, the series quickly went downhill, to the degree that the bad Hellraiser films now outnumber the good ones. Pinhead is one of the most iconic 80s horror villains and far too interesting to be left in the purgatory of mediocrity, however, and the latest movie is a welcome return to form that will hopefully get the series back on track.
‘Hellraiser: Revelations‘ (2011)
There are bad Hellraiser movies and then there is Hellraiser: Revelations. Revelations is the first Hellraiser movie to not feature Doug Bradley as Pinhead, who declined due to the proposed rushed production.
When two families gather for a dinner on the one-year anniversary of their teenage sons going missing after a trip to Mexico, they discover their children meddled with the infamous Lament Configuration puzzle box. What follows is an awful and unsatisfying viewing experience. Hellraiser: Revelations is available to stream on Tubi.
‘Hellraiser: Hellworld’ (2005)
Though it is regarded as the worst entry aside from Revelations, Hellraiser: Hellworld is at least watchable. This time Pinhead goes after those pesky gamers after his puzzle box is transported to the hellish environment known as the internet.
Operating more like a slasher film than the other movies, the Cenobites slice their way through a cast of surprisingly familiar faces that includes Henry Cavill, Lance Henriksen, Katheryn Winnick (Vikings), and Khary Payton (The Walking Dead).
‘Hellraiser: Judgment‘ (2018)
An attempt to course-correct the series after the awful Revelations, Hellraiser: Judgment is an admirable effort but is still pretty mediocre. Following three detectives who are pursuing a God-obsessed serial killer, the story also checks in with Pinhead and his new cronies from time to time.
Operating like a police procedural, Judgment aspires to be like Se7en but cannot escape its low-budget trappings. While an improvement on Revelations, it is still one of the worst entries in the series and further condemned the franchise to wallow in the background until the recent reboot. Hellraiser: Judgment is available to stream on Tubi.
‘Hellraiser: Deader’ (2005)
Filmed simultaneously with Hellworld, Hellraiser: Deader bears no connections to that film. Instead, it follows American reporter Amy, who is sent to Romania to investigate a videotape that contains footage of a cult that claims they can bring people back from the dead.
Of course, the Lament Configuration is involved, and it is not long before Pinhead is wreaking havoc in this largely forgettable sequel. Like other entries, it began life as an unrelated script that was shoehorned into the Hellraiser series.
‘Hellraiser: Hellseeker‘ (2002)
Attempting to connect the series back to the original film by featuring the final girl Kirsty Cotton, this sixth entry follows her husband after she apparently dies in a car accident. With Trevor suffering memory loss due to the crash, he tries to rediscover who he is while deadly forces make themselves known.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker is more closely aligned to psychological thrillers like Jacob’s Ladder than the prior Hellraiser films, and this need to stick to series conventions holds it back from establishing its own unique identity.
‘Hellraiser: Bloodline‘ (1996)
The fourth entry in the series and the last to be released theatrically, Hellraiser: Bloodline is a time-hopping adventure that follows the Lament Configuration through three different time periods. Beginning in 1796, Bloodline reveals the origin of the box and follows it through to 2127, where a descendant of the box’s creator is attempting to destroy it.
Bloodline’s generational story makes it unique in the series, as it attempts to flesh out the origins of its characters and expand the world of Hellraiser. It is by far the franchise’s most ambitious entry and deserves some respect for attempting such a far-reaching story, even if it does fall short of its ambitions. Look out for Adam Scott in his first film role.
‘Hellraiser: Inferno‘ (2000)
The first entry to head straight to DVD, Hellraiser: Inferno is a decent later film in the series. Following Detective Joseph Thorne as he investigates a strange new murder case, the corrupt police officer’s reality soon becomes twisted as he pursues the suspected killer down an evil rabbit hole.
Inferno is the directorial debut of Scott Derrickson, who would go on to make Doctor Strange and The Black Phone. While Inferno is not one of Derrickson’s best films, it is still a worthy Hellraiser sequel that offers an early look into Derrickson’s directing style and his eye for the twisted and surreal.
‘Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth‘ (1992)
Reducing the protagonist of the first two films, Kirsty, to a cameo, Hellraiser III instead follows reporter Joey as she attempts to reunite Pinhead with the soul of Captain Spencer, his original human form. It is the only way to send the terrifying Cenobite back to his own dimension before he can unleash hell on earth.
The first film in the series to not be written or directed by Barker, Hellraiser III does an admirable job of staying true to his established direction for the franchise. It makes an effort to flesh out the backstory of its titular villain, while also offering its own twisted sights as Pinhead brings his pain-seeking ways to our realm.
‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II‘ (1988)
After the success of the first film, a sequel was rushed into production. Retaining a large part of the original’s cast and crew, Barker relinquished the director’s chair but still provided the film’s story. Taking the Halloween II route, Hellbound: Hellraiser II begins with the last film’s survivor, Kirsty, arriving at the hospital after her previous ordeal.
It does not take long for horrific events to start back up again, and Kirsty must work with a new cast of characters to prevent the first movie’s evil from being resurrected. Hellbound expands on the elements and lore established in the first film while featuring some truly wondrous and horrific sights, resulting in the best sequel in the original series. Hellbound: Hellraiser II is available to stream on Shudder, Amazon Prime Video, and Tubi.
The recent reboot of the series, this version of Hellraiser is the best entry in the series since the original. Telling a new story that still ties into the series’ mythology, the reboot focuses on Riley, a recovering addict. After encountering the Lament Configuration, she must face unfathomable nightmares in order to save her brother, her friends, and maybe even herself.
Jamie Clayton stars as Pinhead, and she is a worthy successor to Doug Bradley’s legacy. Other actors have failed by trying to replicate Bradley’s performance, but Clayton succeeds by making the role her own. Visually the film is beautiful, with the Cenobite designs and overall production design a real highlight. Director David Bruckner has created a great addition to the Hellraiser canon that will hopefully lead to more films in the not-too-distant future. Hellraiser is available to stream on Hulu.