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A LEVIATHAN-SIZED GOOD TIME: ‘Hellraiser’ (2022) Review

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The Priest (our latest version of Pinhead for the uninitiated) says that you can never return from a threshold you’ve already crossed…which shows she hasn’t seen this film given this is a return back over the threshold of bloody fun we’ve been waiting for.

Hulu continues the hot streak it had from the recent success of Prey with another franchise continuation: Hellraiser. The 2022 hard reboot and reimagining of the 1987 original film follows Riley, an addict in recovery living with her brother Matt. Fallen on hard times and with rent due, Riley and her lover Trevor break into a shipping container owned by old billionaire Roland Voight’s and find the enigmatic Lament Configuration. As Riley solves the puzzle box, the beings summoned return to continue their harvest.

Much like Prey, I think this fresh start to the new dynasty of Pinhead (this time around just called The Priest) and company is the vital resuscitation for a property that’s been on the ropes as long as Hellraiser has been. It’s a welcome change, and a big budget shock to the system, which also helps make this a possible contender for the best legacy film of the year. I have to talk specifics to really get into what works and doesn’t work, so head to the Bottomline to avoid the

SPOILERS AHEAD

Starting with the script, the film really makes you feel the cosmic horror of the Cenobites in an impactful way that even the first movie in the franchise didn’t entirely capture. Beyond that, the story explores themes that are heavier and more vital to the social issues plaguing America today than you’d expect, specifically with Riley’s addiction taking center stage. Her journey for the truth behind what took her brother ends up being a surprisingly poignant allegory for dealing with the fallout of addictive behaviors and the consequences of indulging them; for that, I commend the film.

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Speaking of Riley, our lead Odessa A’zion is the real standout of this movie. Riley is vulnerable and human in her flaws, but never errs on the side of weakness or indignity, and A’zion’s performance is to be thanked for that. Regrettably, she is also so good she’s forced to sometimes carry the rest of her co-stars.

The dialogue is undeniably mediocre in the front half of the film following Matt’s disappearance, and it feels especially bad whenever Colin and Riley are on screen since the tension between them over Matts’s death should be evident but is never fully realized; a shame since both A’zion and Faison are great actors, but maybe didn’t get the best of direction on those terms. The same can be said of Trevor & Norah, who are really only here as sacrificial lambs for The Priest to dice up for Leviathan. It’s a shame because we get a hint at them being developed into actual characters in the first 15 minutes but lose that train of thought and end up with the same pigs for the meat hooks we get in a lot of the other movies.

But of course, what you’re really interested in is our villains, who make up for every shortcoming this movie has. Jamie Clayton’s The Priest, whose casting was met with a hotbed of discussion and eager anticipation from the jump, stacks up as a powerhouse alongside (and against?) Doug Bradley. I imagine there will be many arguments to come amongst horror nerds over which is the true greatest Pinhead. Her voice and demeanor are different, and she lends an ethereal facet to the role that you’d expect from an extradimensional torture demon with alien ideas of sensation. Supporting actor Goran Visnjic whose appearances bookend the movie makes a great secondary antagonist of billionaire Roland Voight, who manages to invoke his threatening nature even when he’s up against forces he doesn’t fully understand.

In honor of these belles of-the-special-effects ball, of which I have one thing to say: the new Cenobites are out of this world and will absolutely, no contest, have the best creature design you will see in a horror film this year. They just hit the pin on the head when it comes to remixing the classic look of the Cenobites without fully alienating what made them so dope in the first place; we don’t have slick black leather, but the formerly ornamental wounds they have now practically make up their entire costume as fleshy pseudo clothing. Gross, but above all else ingenious. I particularly enjoy the newest member of the Gash, The Weeper with his bisected limbs (though my love for Chatterer has not diminished in the slightest). And I have to give some love to The Gasp, who gets a money shot reveal of her flayed back that was just the biggest and best possible flex the makeup department could have done. Well played.

On a technical level, the film is all aces. And though the music is overly bombastic at points for my taste, it’s never tonally out of place, and when those musical stingers hit, they hit like wire cutting to the bone.

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BOTTOMLINE: Slow to a start character-wise and not without some flaws, Hellraiser (2022) drops us directly into some mind-bending visuals, nasty master-crafted special effects, and some seriously mean-spirited monsters that make for a body-breakingly wild and grotesque experience. Be warned, this isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s got gore beyond the boundaries of gore—and that’s quite all right by us. We’re not judging, go watch it ASAP.

Hellraiser is streaming on Hulu.

Luis Pomales-Diaz is a freelance writer and lover of fantasy, sci-fi, and of course, horror. When he isn't working on a new article or short story, he can usually be found watching schlocky movies and forgotten television shows.

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Christmas Horror Parody ‘The Mean One’ Successfully Converts Christmas Classic ‘The Grinch’ into a Scary Story

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If Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch was too tame a Christmas-hating monster for your tastes, never fear; The Mean One is here.

How ‘The Mean One’ Wins as a Christmas Horror Movie

This comedy-horror slasher, directed by Steven LaMorte, tells the story of Cindy You-Know-Who (Krystle Martin) returning to her hometown of Newville – where her mother had been viciously murdered in front of her twenty years prior. The sheriff did not take the young girl’s claims that a monster had killed her mother seriously, so the murder remained unsolved. Cindy’s return to town shows a Newville that is wholly undecorated for Christmas, and as a string of murders begins to occur, Cindy knows her mother’s killer has returned.

With the appearance of the Mean One himself and a good balance of campiness and horror, all spread out amongst an intriguing storyline; The Mean One is a fun Christmas horror movie that subverts a beloved childhood classic and makes it its own.

The Horror-Parody Version of The Grinch

One thing the film did exceedingly well was its presentation of The Mean One. The makeup effects were stellar in creating a monster who is at the crossroads of a terrifying cryptid and a holiday icon. From his dirty Santa coat to his black snarl, he checked all the boxes for how a Christmas-hating monster should look.

Of course, to talk about the monster is also to talk about the man behind the mask, David Howard Thornton. After establishing himself as a horror icon in his role of Art the Clown in the Terrifier films, it was fun to see him transcend another role as a horror villain. With another horror flick under his belt, David Howard Thornton is one to keep an eye on. So far, every character he has been behind has been creepy and entertaining, perfectly matching the film’s tone.

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The Approach to Campy Horror

A horror film with rhyming couplets interspersed throughout could never be completely serious, and The Mean One succeeds because it doesn’t try to be. However, the film is not without its creepy moments that would be well-placed in any modern-day horror movie. Like any good scary movie, there are dramatic reveals, emotional turmoil, and suspense building.

It also injects a sense of fear into the holiday itself as it makes the idea of celebrating Christmas a dangerous thing. It’s a delicate balance to create something that is not very serious but simultaneously creepy, and the film does just that.

The Mean One Tells a Story That You Already Know in a Different Way

When making a horror film based on a traditional Christmas story, the added challenge is changing it enough to fit into the horror genre but not so much that it becomes unrecognizable. The Mean One was clearly up to the challenge as it was able to interweave a story that mimicked the traditional Dr. Seuss style of storytelling, with plotlines of a typical scary movie, while still paying homage to the source material. The integration into horror was so smooth that it felt like it should’ve been a scary story all along.

The idea of presenting the recognizable holiday monster as a cryptid is a genius move and calls to question why the Whos down in Whoville never inquired about the existence of the creature who descended from Mount Crumpit to steal their Christmas away in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

It was not only the Mean One that saw some subversion of Christmas lore. A white-haired bearded man with a red cap who seems to watch over the beginning events of the film (and is aptly named “Doc” Zeus) integrated a little bit of a real-life Santa into the storyline.

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Make no mistake; this film is not a high-budget, major Hollywood production. The blood spray effects are campy to the nth degree, and the movie is not without its flaws. But what it does well, it does very well. The Mean One’s appearance is gritty, fun, and familiar; the storyline is immediately immersive – altogether, it is an entertaining watch.

It delivers everything the premise promises: a presentation of a fun Christmas flick that we all know, but this time for horror fans.

See The Mean One for yourself in theaters on December 9th!

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RUN RUN RUDOLPH, KILLER ROBOT SANTA’S IN TOWN: ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ Review

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Seasons screamings, everyone!

I have another wonderful treat for you all, hot out the Shudder ovens. If you’re like me, that means your holiday evenings as a horror fan might be feeling a little bit empty in terms of festivity, and Christmas Bloody Christmas is here to make that right. I’m cheery about the film from the jump. Que raro!

Christmas Bloody Christmas follows what happens when an attempt to turn surplus military technology (a.k.a. killer robots) into friendly department store Santa animatronics backfires; our jolly old Saint Nick ends up painting the town redder than a candy cane’s stripes, terrorizing coworkers Tori (Riley Dandy) and Robbie (Sam Delich) amid their budding romance. Is the premise kind of dumb? Yes, but if you’ve been reading my reviews, you know dumb fun horror is my wheelhouse just as much as the highbrow stuff is. And just because something is silly doesn’t mean it can’t be well made.

Writer and director Joe Begos is getting my second shoutout of the year for his work. I thought the foul-mouthed dialogue of this movie sounded familiar, and that’s because he headed another Channel 83 venture I recommended for October, the 2019 vampires-on-drugs film Bliss. There are many similarities between the two directorially, though this is much more oriented for fun than the psychological nightmare Bliss was. Where Bliss was a dark game of Vampire: The Masquerade, Christmas Bloody Christmas is your classic slasher during the holiday season.

We’ve also left the Panos Kosmatos-esque territory of Bliss’s cinematography, which might be due to the influence of cinematographer Brian Sowell who previously made the film Beyond the Gates, another fun little low-budget horror flick I remember enjoying. Neon wasteland cinematography that is replete with a color palette tuned for blacklight posters and Christmas lights in every single shot, and every scene outside being caked in fake snow and decorations help the aesthetic this movie is going for feel fully realized.

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Composer Steve Moore who worked on both Mayhem and The Guest, two of my favorite action horror films, provides an impeccable score for this film of heavy synth rock with homage to some of the band’s name dropped in the film by our leads. And Josh Russell, who did makeup work for The Night House and a little horror remake you may have heard of called Hellraiser (2022), rounds out that group. The crew on this one is practically a perfect assortment of horror movie production irregulars.

Delich and Dandy have pretty good on-screen chemistry as dirtbag crustpunks who need several mouthfuls of soap scrubbed onto those tongues. Dandy in particular is a veteran of fun, romantic holiday movies, and it’s nice to see she can extend her range beyond being a forgettable Hallmark protagonist whose outfit stepped out of a JCPenney catalog. She makes for an enjoyable final girl for this.

The duo talk like their dialogue is on loan from the Hellbillies of a Rob Zombie film, but they’re believable as coworkers in a long-term “will-they-wont-they” relationship. Their exchanges are genuinely funny at points, even if they stay a bit longer than welcome. These don’t veer into trying to impress you with the character’s pretentiousness about music; they’re just two friends drunk and high on Christmas eve, talking about their flailing romantic lives and which of their bands has the best Christmas song.

Beyond characters, the meat of the film is Silent Night Deadly Night by way of The Terminator in its premise. And in its execution, it feels like a lower-grade SNDN film for how cartoonishly violent and mean the kills can get, and I mean that in the best way. A single axe swing chops a guy in half like it’s a board of wood at a kid’s karate class, several people get thrown around like ragdolls through objects, and there are plenty of fake heads and bodies getting demolished for the gore hounds in the audience. Even the robot gets severely jacked up with sparks flying and explosions.  The special effects are hammy, and I love it more for that.

But as much as I like it, this one isn’t flawless. I feel like our dear Santa could have had a stronger design, maybe with a solid mask, and played with more robotic physicality beyond what we get in the third act. The camera work can sometimes be distracting in its attempts to convey high tension, ending up feeling fidgety instead.

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And to be quite honest, I’m very torn on the films ending. While it’s very entertaining and we get to see the full depth of the crazy animatronic Santa we’ve been waiting for all film which I love, it also drags in a way that is funny for some and might be a bit grating for others. Ultimately some editing flaws are exacerbated by the film being an exceptionally tight 86 minutes (we’re talking stocking stuffed to the brim tight), so it could serve well to have a director’s cut.

BOTTOMLINE: Christmas Bloody Christmas is an over-the-top, grindhouse-y spectacular that gives you exactly what’s in the title. It isn’t your standard holiday horror fare where there’s usually more about the film to laugh at than laugh with, but it definitely isn’t humorless. It’s a solid little film that looks like it could make a reliable staple in the rotation of dumb fun holiday horror for many Christmases to come. You know, assuming you don’t get killed by a robotic Santa Claus before then.

Watch Christmas Bloody Christmas starting 12/9 on Shudder!

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