The Hellraiser franchise desperately needs a reboot. Several years ago, two fans tried.
As much as we love that we’re still getting Hellraiser films to this day – new sequel Hellraiser: Judgment was finally released this week – there’s no denying that the series has been on its last legs for an impossibly long stretch of time. The 1996 film Hellraiser: Bloodline was the last to be released in theaters; since then, well… yeah.
It’s public knowledge by now that Dimension Films is only churning out new sequels every several years to retain the rights, the last two of which have seen the role of Pinhead recast with two different actors – the less said about Hellraiser: Revelations‘ Pinhead, the better, but Judgment‘s Pinhead is admittedly a worthy successor to Doug Bradley’s. But the Hellraiser problem over the course of the last several years, despite the insistence of Bradley purists, goes way beyond who’s playing Pinhead.
The problem is that Dimension clearly just doesn’t care about the franchise. Sure, they want to retain the rights for monetary purposes, but they aren’t invested in the franchise enough to, well, invest any of their money or resources into it. The budgets are getting lower, and even if you consider Judgement a marked improvement over Revelations – credit goes to writer/director Gary J. Tunnicliffe who, the film’s faults aside, genuinely does care about the world of Hellraiser – the reality is that it’s another sad reminder of how far the series has fallen since Clive Barker was in charge of his baby.
What’s most upsetting about all of this is that Hellraiser, perhaps more than any of the major franchises, has limitless potential; it’s not simply a movie series about a masked killer slicing up teenagers, but rather a rich mythology involving a score of hell monsters with access into our world. If the budget is no issue, the sky is truly the limit.
A handful of Hellraiser projects have come and gone over the years, including proposed reboots with names like Pascal Laugier (Martyrs), Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D) and even Clive Barker attached, but Dimension remains steadfast in their bizarre decision to make the least out of a property with such vast potential. While all of those aforementioned projects remained on the page, there was another one that actually did leap to the screen… even if it was merely a computer screen.
We began talking about Hellraiser: Origins back in 2012, the brainchild of concept artist Paul Gerrard (Wrath of the Titans, Battle: Los Angeles) and director Mike Le Han (“Mrs. Peppercorn’s Magical Reading Room”). Combining their talents, Gerrard and Le Han aimed to pitch Dimension on a visionary new take on the Hellraiser franchise, which was initially teased to us courtesy of some truly attention-grabbing concept art.
Then, on Halloween 2013, their Origins pitch trailer surfaced.
The Hellraiser: Origins trailer ran just two minutes long, yet has proven itself to be more memorable than anything that has come out of the Hellraiser franchise in the last couple decades. Dimension never ended up biting, but the concept grabbed the attention of Hellraiser fans who were fed up with the official trajectory of the franchise. The pitch for Origins opened up the Hellraiser world in a way that it has long been begging to be opened up, reminding that in the right hands, it still has such sights to show us.
The Origins trailer begins with a familiar image, that of a man playing with the iconic Puzzle Box, but then it takes us straight into literal Hell to showcase a newly-redesigned version of Pinhead standing high atop a sea of writhing human bodies. “Welcome to Hell,” Pinhead says as the trailer comes to a close, leaving us begging for more.
All of the project’s concept art further delved into the proposed world of Origins, full of striking imagery and brand new Cenobites that surely would’ve terrified a whole new generation of fans. Literally everything about the pitch was EPIC in scope, which was indeed Gerrard and Le Hand’s general approach to their vision.
“Our goal was to expand and explore the mythology, to create an epic vibe while retaining the mystery of the Cenobite order,” Gerrard explained to Horror Homework back in 2013. “It’s about keeping that balance between the mystery of the unknown, and need to see more, to experience more. The original movie was indeed a masterpiece of imagination and iconic horror. The world we live in so saturated with the tones and taboos explored in those early movies that in order to truly capture the imagination of today’s audience a new direction was needed. I wanted the design, particularly of Pinhead to firstly be stripped of the current restraints and second to be driven by esoteric lines, shapes, and concepts.”
In a later interview, Gerrard opined that perhaps he and Le Han aimed *too* high with their pitch to Dimension, and I’d say that’s a fair assessment. Hellraiser: Origins would’ve required Dimension to pump way more money into Hellraiser than they’ve ever really desired, as well as put way too much of their own faith into it, making it an obvious no-go for a studio that’s sadly much more comfortable playing it safe and ensuring that they lose no money with a series of films they just don’t have much love for.
Here’s hoping Dimenion’s troubles end up placing Hellraiser into more loving hands.
Years later, Gerrard and Le Han’s Origins trailer still excites us about that potential.