Hulu’s Hellraiser, a reimagining of Clive Barker’s 1987 horror classic from director David Bruckner, has opened the box and is exclusively available to stream on Hulu now.
The feature film was written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (SiREN, Super Dark Times, The Night House), with a story credit by producer David S. Goyer (Dark City, Blade II). Also producing is the Hellraiser originator himself, Clive Barker.
For the film’s release, Bloody Disgusting moderated an insightful, candid, and exclusive conversation between David Bruckner and Clive Barker about Hellraiser. The horror filmmakers reflect on everything from the filmmaking process, Jamie Clayton‘s performance, the enduring fascination with Cenobites, the need for more female monsters, and so much more.
Enjoy this exclusive conversation between Clive Barker and David Bruckner.
Bloody Disgusting: I wanted to start by asking if you both had conversations either before or during production about this project.
Clive Barker: We talked, and I thought they were great conversations. I liked David’s work already, so I can’t characterize those. They weren’t even meetings; they were fun. Right, David?
David Bruckner: Yeah, absolutely. It was a regular rhythm for us. So, throughout the prep process when I was putting the movie together, Clive and I would find moments to talk. Sometimes we’d reach out of the blue, sometimes, he would call, or I would call, or one of us would have an idea. And so, there was this just really awesome creative conversation during the prep process.
Clive Barker: Yeah, it was also this respect in both directions, so that makes it easier. But also, I think both of us knew, and David had all the solutions because I’ve seen his designs, and I knew roughly what direction he was taking the movie. I realized this is a whole new ballgame, and my contributions had to be post-David. That is to say, I could come at this respectfully understanding that David’s internal structure to himself was to redirect the series in a fresh direction. Is that good? Okay to say that?
David Bruckner: Yeah. No, that’s a really nice way to put it. You were always very encouraging of the fact that this was a new group of artists, that this was going to be our movie and all your creative input was all in the spirit of helping us find this film and being true to where it was heading and what it would become. As is always the case, we were discovering what we were making in real-time.
Clive Barker: Ah! I did it right! Absolutely. I thank you for saying that too, David. I appreciate it. I think it’s important, particularly when you’re up to number 11 in the series, it’s important that you don’t do a Bob Weinstein on it. Which is meaning to say, “how soon can I have this?” Right? I say Bob; I say this because I’m about to say something that is completely truthful but not very pleasant. Bob owed me a bunch of money, and I couldn’t get anybody to pick up the phone to me and this is around number seven of the movies or whatever it was. I went into his office to talk to him, and he said, “I owe you money; I’ll pay you the money but do a script for me first.” And it was so, what do they call it?
David Bruckner: Transactional?
Clive Barker: Transactional, there you go. It was a transactional meeting, and Bob has never been anything but transactional. So, it wasn’t a great surprise, but nonetheless, it was disparity because I realized- as I had already realized this- but it was really bad at that point that there was no interest whatsoever in any idea I might bring. Nothing. That was why it was refreshing to be talking to a whole new cast, both behind the camera and in front of the camera who had a vision. I’d had my vision 30 years ago. Since then, the material had become a product, and that is deeply dispiriting to a body that’s initiated something. Even if what you initiated is, at the beginning, on rather difficult circumstances, 900,000 bucks and half that in pounds and it wasn’t the expensive pitch. We were scrambling to get the picture on screen the first time around, and then it has its moment in the sun. Then by number seven Bob’s trying to get me do something he’s written. And what David and his team represent, and I say, represent rather than represented because this is a current endeavor; what he represents is life for this mythology after its darkest days.
Bloody Disgusting: I once heard you say, Clive, how you thought of yourself as a journalist reporting on the visions of your head, and you draw your characters first before you write them.
Clive Barker: Yeah, sure.
Bloody Disgusting: I was curious if that approach extends to filmmaking and if it’s similar for you, David, where you’re visualizing this story in a specific way before putting it on screen.
Clive Barker: I boarded the first Hellraiser completely for myself, but I didn’t give the boards- except in the big special effects sequences- I didn’t give the boards to anybody. I was going out to the set of the first Hellraiser movie without having ever been on a movie set before. On the first day of principal photography, I’m a total neophyte; I have no idea how to do this except in the sense that I had theater in my blood, and I’d done a lot of direction of the theater. I knew that part of it, which David please comment on this. I find the most demanding of the areas dealing with the particulars of each actor because actors are the heart and soul of cinema.
They have to be there before the cameras turn on. Unless I suppose you’re doing a nature documentary. But otherwise, your actors are the essential part; if you get that wrong, you’re fucked. David got his casting spectacularly right on this vision. I was very lucky in the sense that most of my friends who were the people in the first Hellraiser movie were also the right people.
David Bruckner: Not to compare our process because obviously what Clive has done is absolutely historic; that first film really is a masterpiece to me. We’ve talked about it many times, and I think, for me, it is a visual journey, first and foremost. It’s a lot of ideas that often get sketched down in various ways, and some of them you hang onto. Then some of them mutate when you get out into the world of filmmaking because you really have to improvise with resources and circumstances and the realities of production. And where talent is concerned, once they dig into the role, they bring something to it that is, the essence of what you’re working on is going to change, once someone adds words.
Clive Barker: You know, General Patton said the plans you lay are all solid until the first bullet is flying. I think the parallel is the screenplays are all solid until the first word is spoken, right?
David Bruckner: Yeah.
Clive Barker: Everything changes once an actor says, “No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering.” I’m proud to be able to write the line, but I’m even prouder that Doug [Bradley] played it that way. It is a fun line, but it takes a certain kind of talent to turn it that way. All I can do as a writer is give people tasty things to do and say. The only solid thing I know is the plotting part, which may be a little bit of a surprise even to myself as it unravels. Were you at the end of the shoot, or even now, do you look at the picture thinking, “That says what I wanted it to say?”
David Bruckner: It’s different for me every time I see it. I’m always struggling to see the picture. This one is more complicated in some ways because the history of Hellraiser has come with me in some ways. My mind is often living somewhere between your work and some of the iterations in between. And then my own and where we ended up and then the script written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, with David Goyer contributing on the story front, that there’s something that story is about at the same time.
But no, I don’t know if it solidifies for you in a way. For me, it’s a moving target all the time, and it’s really not until I see audiences process it that I understand fully what’s landing and what’s coming across. I mean, quite literally, I often am only reminded of what we set out to do when you see it with a crowd, and you hear them reacting to the material, and that’s when you go, “Wow, this is scary.” Or there is magic there, or suspense, or the meaning in this beat can resonate because you can feel it in the room. But I have a hard time experiencing it on my own. I need to be in the presence of other people. I need to feel the projection of their experience to see it.
Clive Barker: I saw [1987’s Hellraiser] with an audience for the first time at midnight in town, the festival. Midnight screening, nobody knew who I was or what it was but it was a relatively small cinema, but it was packed. I had exactly that experience of not really knowing what we had until the biggest moment- it seems silly- but the moment when Larry scratches his hand on the nail. Yeah.
David Bruckner: Such a memorable moment, right? No one really talks about it. Yeah.
Clive Barker: Well, it shouldn’t be memorable. You’ve got all these special effects stuff. That nail on the hand, which we tried three times that we got into work, three different gags, and the audience went fucking wild. Still to this day, I don’t really understand. I guess it was such a simple thing. I don’t know. I mean, what you said about it, it shouldn’t be memorable. It shouldn’t be, especially in this movie which is going to shed so much blood, to have a little hand scratch be such a big deal.
But it was wonderful. I sat there with a big grin on my face; I’m sure happy that at least this moment had kicked. I was hoping, well maybe we’ll build from that. I was never satisfied with the picture. But I was pleased that this first outing worked, and now I only had my mother to see it. The last test would be my mom watching it. She was delighted until the titles were over, and it went down from there onwards; she was appalled that her son had produced this thing. Truly like, I can feel her eyes on me. She turned in the darkness, looking at me like, “What did I produce?”
Bloody Disgusting: Going back to actors being so important, I want to know about Jamie Clayton’s inspired performance and your take on that, David. And Clive, your reaction to this incredible new take on the Hell Priest.
Clive Barker: Well, I actually think, David, you have answers to both of those. I’m not sure, for once, I think. How was it when you first told me about Jamie? I think I know, but you first.
David Bruckner: You were fully embracing. You saw the designs; I introduced you to the cast, which was, I think, happening while we were talking. I don’t believe Jamie was on board when we started speaking and-
Clive Barker: She wasn’t. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t.
David Bruckner: Right. You were fully embracing, but you were always asking me questions about the story. You were playing the role of what I think a creative ally should be, which is pushing me to understand my own story. Is it clear? What do you see in her? Where will it take the character, necessarily? Then you were very keen to observe that to replicate Doug’s performance would never work. It was something that I also shared from the beginning, and, really, the approach the whole time was we can’t try and mimic Hellraiser beat for beat.
We never thought a remake was possible. I also thought that even tonally, to chase all the particular figures of your work, it’s just not something I would know how to do over the course of a year and a half experience making a film. At a certain point, you have to let your own instincts carry you away. You were there to help me recognize what I was experiencing and to make the story work. I think what Jamie, what blew me away so much working with her at first- we had several Zooms before we finally agreed to go forth- was that she understood from the beginning that this was going to have to be her own thing. She was having her own experience with the lines. I think from the beginning, she found and understood a certain sensuality in the character that felt new to me.
Clive Barker: Yeah. Before you move on from that, let’s just look at that.
David Bruckner: Yeah.
Clive Barker: Doug was anti-sensual. Doug was, in other words, cenobite is obviously a real word. The female equivalent is anchorite, yes? Which is a nun who spends her life, in some cases walled up, actually behind bricks. So, cenobite is the male equivalent, and Doug went for the anti-sensual monk-like. Yes, he makes a lot of references to sensuality in oblique ways, “No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering,” a perfect example, right? References two kinds of emotion; tears and the wetness of watery tears and then pain suffering all in one line. A lot of what he talks about is about himself, I think.
I think what Jamie has done is push the character out into a third place. I’m thinking of the Hell Priest in the book, he’s a very different thing from how Doug creates it. Any good self will take you to a whole new place. I love that. I fucking adore it because you can only do it so many times before the jokes aren’t funny. It’s like comedy. Horror is very like comedy in the sense that there’s a statement and an answer.
David Bruckner: Also, I mean, every actor has their tool kit; they have their experience that is inevitably going to come across on screen. The way that they internalize the lines, the other characters working with them are going to respond to that in some ways. One of the things Jamie got a hold of was a quiet intimidation. You could feel that she had a very, very curious intrigue relative to her subjects. I really grabbed onto that because one of the scariest lines for me in the original film is when Kirsty’s negotiating with the Cenobites and she says, “I can give you Frank,” and the female cenobite says, “Perhaps we prefer you.”
I always loved the idea that speaking to a Cenobite would be like bargaining with God and that you had to do something to their sense of taste in one way or another. So, the idea that Jamie had favorites and that Jamie’s Pinhead has a matter of preference who she’s working with and why and what she wants them to accomplish was something that was really present in the script. I think she got a hold of that and pulled it to the surface in ways.
Clive Barker: I think that Doug’s is person specific. Doug’s Pinhead is person specific. Jamie is the deadly seductress, or seducer, whichever gender you want. There’s something very sly about Jamie, or Jamie’s performance. Doug is not sly. Doug is utterly direct, and that’s what makes him intimidating. His statements are questions and there’s never any ambiguity in the original Pinhead. What you two had brought to our new Hell Priest is ambiguity. I love that, and I hope Jamie will recreate this role again. Because it seems to me that there’s so much more to be done with her performance than the script allows her to do this time around after all.
David Bruckner: That’s right. I think we all want to.
Clive Barker: Okay, that’s what I said. We haven’t talked about this because obviously there’s a lot going on. But yeah, I hope that we all get to do this again because watching her perform gave me so much, gave me so many ideas. Doug did that in the original, but it was a different set of ideas. Does that make sense?
David Bruckner: Yeah. The dimensions of the priest or something that can emerge depending on the story that you’re working with, because one thing we talked about is that there’s a mythology at play that you’re thinking of, that exists in and outside of the film because we’re getting a glimpse into this world. But then you can also approach it as though the forces of antagonism, whatever they may be, are a reflection of the protagonist’s inner turmoil in some way. And so part of, as you say, Clive, Jamie’s Pinhead, is sly, is that she’s a seductress. That has a lot to do with Riley’s relationship with temptation and her vices. Whatever conversation the movie is having about addiction, Riley and the priest on the bridge is very much about Riley’s growth as a person. And the internal struggle she has with trying to self-medicate her anxieties with the things, her obsessions, and the things that allow her to feel good.
Clive Barker: Yeah, when that subtext becomes text in the movie, it’s a marvelous moment. When Riley confesses to this being about addiction, it’s almost like she’s confessing for the movie because they’re all about addiction. I haven’t seen all of them recently, to be honest, but the early movies were all about being addicted to sex and pain, not necessarily in that order. Where we were used to the fetishistic world which was accessed in these movies. But back in the day, 30 years ago, the leather scene or the S&M scene worked; the stuff of the music videos. There was no Marilyn Manson, so you had to go, I think, into much, much more difficult territory. Because the gag had already played several times and become public and good God, Pinhead was on chat shows. I think he’d lost a lot of his power. He’d become familiar. You did a very smart thing, you said, “Okay, this thing is familiar too, so how do we make it scary again?”
David Bruckner: Yeah, that was exactly it. Our first call, Clive, the first thing you asked me was, “How are you going to do the outfits? How are you going to do BDSM now?” And I said, “We have an idea, and it’s different.” Because, I think we were up the same mind here, we can’t simply replicate it. These ideas and these images mean something different 35 years later.
Clive Barker: Absolutely, yes. And you did. When I saw the designs, particularly when I saw the photos of the designs, I was blown away because you have reinvented them without violating the force, as it were. I don’t know how all three of us think of this now, but I think that the danger part of the BDSM vision if you will, the dangerous part of it is being stripped away. Almost entirely, I think. I mean, BDSM, that imagery now has been used in fashion, in erotic movies, all kinds of stuff. What is gone from it is the danger.
David Bruckner: Right, right.
Clive Barker: And 35 years ago, I was accessing a danger, which was actually in the imagery back then. But it can never stay in the imagery if you’re going to make ten movies of it; eventually, it’s just going to lose that. It’s a tough thing, I think, to take a set of images that are potent because they’re forbidden, which is what I was playing with, and reinvent them without totally violating the tone of it.
You did brilliantly, I think, in that. And why it becomes exciting to me to pull these characters, these actors, into another set of circumstances in which we can really see the play out at a larger level. I’ve always felt there was a reason why you don’t show the monster too often.
David Bruckner: Right.
Clive Barker: But there’s also a reason why you want, at some point, to be able to give the audience the full Monty. You want to be able to give the audience a vision. What this monster is, deep down. I was talking to my husband last night about the Bride of Frankenstein, which he hadn’t seen, and I was describing the climax and the ways that Elsa Lanchester’s head moves around. There’s a series of shots towards the end when she first sees, where she first comes to life, and you get these quick succession of shots because that’s her head moving to left and right. She looks like some unctuous bird. It seemed to me, well, I’d never forgotten it. It was burned into my psyche, and I thought, “Wow, that’s a monster.” What’s interesting is it’s a female monster, and we still don’t get enough of those. What I loved about the first Hellraiser is it gave you a chance to have two women. I thought what Clare Higgins did with Julia was sublime. I think it’s stood the test of time as a performance. There’s a moment when she cleans blood off her face in the bathroom mirror, and her eyes are clear and fixed. It’s just a fantastic performance. I don’t know whether it gets celebrated, does it?
Bloody Disgusting: It does.
Clive Barker: It does? Good.
David Bruckner: Quite a bit.
Bloody Disgusting: No matter how much horror has changed, the fascination with Cenobites feels timeless. What is it about the Cenobites that audiences still grab ahold of, or why do they still fascinate you?
Clive Barker: You first, David. You first.
David Bruckner: For me, it’s always been that I don’t know what they want. Or if I have to contend with what they want, but I go back to that matter of preference; that they have a design on me that is going to take me somewhere that I can’t possibly imagine that is a fate worse than death or better, I don’t know. But I find that they are more advanced than I am and have a taste, a flavor for something that is beyond me. There’s just intrigue built into that naturally. It’s scary at first, but then the more time you spend with them, the more you get lost in the possibilities there. You begin to identify with them in strange ways. You become obsessed with the mythology behind them. That’s always been a key point of intrigue.
Clive Barker: Oh, I mean, follow this story with me, David; let’s talk about other monsters. Do other monsters also evoke in you the sense that they want things you don’t want? Freddy Krueger is killing children; you don’t want that, obviously, but I’m following this through. Try figure out what it is, what the difference of tone or approach is about Cenobites, which makes them not Freddy Krueger, not Michael Myers; all those monsters also want things you could not possibly want, right?
David Bruckner: Right, right, right. It’s the idea of forbidden knowledge or temptation or forbidden fruits.
Clive Barker: Yeah.
David Bruckner: It’s something that is promised on the other side; it carries with it temptation. That irony keeps you in play with what you’re contending with. It’s easy to dismiss a villain that does something abhorrently evil necessarily.
Clive Barker: Yes.
David Bruckner: But one part of the magic of the Cenobites lives in their neutrality and their ambiguity in that way.
Clive Barker: They’re like judges in a way. They’re like priests in a way. The high theatricality of them reminds me of the Catholic church. I don’t wish to offend anybody or either of you if you are Catholic. I’m not. But I love the theater of it. I love the beauty of it, the sensual ritual, the sense of things having the order, their place. Now most monsters are chaotic, yes? They sow chaos in their wake, yeah? In fact, that’s what they almost, that’s what makes the most monstrous, these things are going to spoil people’s lives by bringing death and dismemberment. But the Cenobites seemed to me, this is my answer to the question, that they interested me because they were not chaotic. Because they were horribly ordered. I’m not an ordered man. I’m a horribly disordered man, but I’m more comfortable with disorder than I am with order.
And so, I feel the order makes them scary to me. Their sense of calm, their sense that things aren’t going well. I mean, we’ve used the word the sentence already, “No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering,” is almost a schoolmaster’s “Don’t do that.” Right? What the conventional monster does is sow chaos and pain, whether you like it or not. What Pinhead says is, “No tears. Please, please. It’s a waste of good suffering.” In other words, he does. He tries to make you understand the argument. Freddy Krueger will not do that. Freddy Krueger would just beat you around bloody until you obeyed. Do you see what I’m saying?
These monsters come into our world are daring us to believe in them. Most monsters beat you down until you do. The Cenobites seem to invite you into a private ritual, which you will like, whether you like or not. And that’s a very different thing. It’s an invitation. They speak quietly now, they never shout. There’s not a sense of, though they are actually very theatrical, they don’t know they’re a piece of theater; this is their only reality. That reality is very elegant, I would argue. Eloquent, I would argue. And far worse than anything Freddy Krueger could do to you. What interests me is that writing books, you can imply all kinds of things that I can’t imagine being something you’ll be able to watch on the screen.
Violence is represented truthfully on the silver screen. But I think you can tell it more truthfully in words. I’d like to make, before I pass on, a horror movie that genuinely shows me what I’ve seen in mausoleums and in doing autopsies. I’d like to show up for people to see how people feel about it. The word autopsy is me seeing yourself, essentially, auto spy. You’re looking at yourself. The art of seeing yourself. Maybe that’s what all horror should do at the root: show us ourselves even when we don’t want to look.