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This week, Hulu will release Hellraiser, director David Bruckner's much-anticipated reboot of the horror franchise launched by author-turned-director Clive Barker back in 1987. Based on Barker's own novella The Hellbound Heart, the original film emerged on the 1980s horror scene and looked and felt like nothing else out there at the time, thanks to the sadomasochistic themes running through the narrative and, of course, Doug Bradley's iconic performance as the Cenobite villain known popularly as "Pinhead."
In the years since, Hellraiser's iconography and memorable premise has spawned a franchise that spans nearly a dozen films, from early theatrical hits to direct-to-video curiosities and...well, a couple of other things. But which films stand out in that nearly 30-year history, and where does the new film fit in the widely varying range of quality within the franchise? Let's find out. This is every Hellraiser film ranked from worst to best, including the brand-new installment.
11. Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)
Produced on a shoestring budget in a matter of weeks just so the studio could hold onto the rights to the property, Hellraiser: Revelations is amateurish in pretty much every sense of the world, without any of the indie charm that other such efforts might produce. Part choppy found-footage story, part exploration of a family who slowly realizes they're in the grip of evil, it has none of the menace, or the sex appeal, or the raw terror of other installments in the franchise. It would be nice to say the film at least stands as something interesting, but ultimately it's a forgettable placeholder.
10. Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)
There's an interesting idea at the core of Hellworld: that Hellraiser has proven popular enough to become a cult favorite online computer game unleashing secrets among its players which may or may not have genuine supernatural consequences. Unfortunately, despite the presence of the always-fun Lance Henriksen, the film ends up being another "kids party at a weird house and bad stuff happens to them one-by-one" movie, squandering a lot of the potential that might have emerged from the setup.
9. Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
Hellseeker marks the return of Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) to the Hellraiser franchise, but unfortunately the film spends most of its time focusing on her husband (Dean Winters), who wakes up after a car crash with gaps in his memory, including what happened to Kirsty. As he digs back through the pieces of his life in search of his wife, he discovers his own dark past, and descends into a dark maelstrom of sin and pain. It sounds interesting, and the third act twist definitely had potential, but it just never holds together, and much of the time it feels more like a psychological thriller with Cenobites added later than a Hellraiser film.
8. Hellraiser: Deader (2005)
Here again, we have a cast of a really interesting idea that can't quite outshine its low budget. Deader follows a tough journalist (Kari Wuhrer) as she begins to investigate a death cult with ties to the original maker of the Lament Configuration, and the deeper she gets into her investigation, the more she realizes the cult may have found a loophole in Pinhead's dark machinations. Everyone's doing their best with the material they've been given, and there are some genuinely effective horror moments in here, but the film never quite rises to meet the ambitions of its concept.
7. Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)
The last in the long line of sequels before the Hulu reboot, Hellraiser: Judgment is the second film in the series not to star Doug Bradley as Pinhead, and had the distinction of following the frustrating Revelations, so your expectations might not be very high. It certainly never rises to the standard of the first three films, for example, but there's actually quite a bit to like here. Writer/director/co-star Gary J. Tunnicliffe manages to produce, on a very low budget, some of the most unsettling horror imagery in the whole series, and Paul T. Taylor does a solid job as the new Pinhead. It still plays like a very stripped down affair, but there's an ambition and a sense of genuine energy here that makes much of it work quite well.
6. Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)
As the Hellraiser sequels transitioned to direct-to-video affairs with the fifth installment, the budgets got smaller and the focus got a little narrower, which isn't necessarily a bad thing when you've got the right creative minds behind it. In this case, Inferno had up-and-coming horror filmmaker Scott Derrickson, who directed and co-wrote the film on his way to hits like Sinister and The Black Phone, and even with this early effort, you can see his brilliance taking shape. The story of a corrupt cop who runs across Pinhead's puzzle box, it's not as solid as the earlier installments, but Derrickson's undeniable knack for crafting memorably terrifying visuals shines through.
5. Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)
The original theatrical era of Hellraiser was marked by a grander scale in its sequels and a real sense that Pinhead was so popular producers could try just about anything in an effort to keep the franchise going, and the absolute bonkers Bloodline is the apex of that way of thinking. The last Hellraiser film to hit theaters during the original run, it takes place in three different eras of history, including the future, where Pinhead appears on a spaceship that's been designed to be a puzzle box unto itself. It's as wild, and as fun, as it sounds, even if it lacks some of the sophistication of earlier films.
4. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1993)
Somewhere along the way, Pinhead began to transform into a star unto himself in the pop culture imagination, and that led to things like him doing sketches with David Spade on MTV. It also led to films like Hell on Earth, a film that culminates in Pinhead breaking out into the real world to wreak havoc, free from many of the apparent constraints of the first two films. It's not as elegant as its predecessors, but there's an undeniable sense of fun running through the film, and it's a fascinating time capsule of just how popular the Pinhead character was in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
3. Hellraiser (2022)
Led by Jamie Clayton as an all-new Pinhead, David Bruckner's Hellraiser is a turn to the dark, almost fairy tale-like elegance of the original film, full of gorgeously terrifying imagery and ambitious new concepts that help drive the story in some very interesting directions. Clayton is fantastic as the new Hell Priest, as is Odess A'zion as the human who falls into the Cenobites' dark game. What stands out most, though, might be the film's willingness to reach for big ideas that feel true to the original film while still expanding the mythology in exciting, often frightening ways.
2. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Though budget issues meant some of its original grand-scale plans were curtailed a bit, there's a lot to love about the first Hellraiser sequel, which greatly expands on the more intimate story of the first film and delves into the mythology of hell itself with Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) once again at the center. It doesn't all hold together, and there are some ideas that never get to fully develop, but it truly feels like a bigger, weirder continuation of the original, and that makes it a must-watch for even casual viewers of the franchise.
1. Hellraiser (1987)
Some horror franchises are able to improve upon their original formula as they age, but in the case of Hellraiser, no one's ever been able to top the shocking, beautiful, sexy original. With Barker himself in the creative driver's seat, the film retained the spirit of his original novella while creating something truly cinematic along the way, and the practical effects are still burned into the brain of every horror fan who saw this film as a teenager. It's a classic for a reason, and no other film in the franchise has been able to touch it yet.