2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations – available on digital from February 22nd and Blu-Ray/DVD from March 1st – is one of those rare films whose production is more interesting than the end product. Dimension Films only made it so as to ensure they didn’t lose the rights to the series. It was shot in just three weeks, and had just one theatrical showing – only attended by the crew – before being tossed onto DVD. And even more than that, Clive Barker himself, the creator and director of the original Hellraiser, disowned the film upon release, claiming it was no child of his. Yet despite all that, deep down, there’s an enjoyable horror flick here. Fans of the series won’t appreciate the dramatically reduced budget, butchering of the Pinhead character, and lazy writing, but more casual horror fans will certainly find something here.

The film focuses on two American teens, Nico (Jay Gillespe) and Steven (Nick Eversman), who cross the border to Mexico in search of parties, girls and good times. One night in a bar, they’re approached by a stranger who offers them a mystery box, promising pleasure beyond their wildest dreams is contained inside. Instead, it opens a direct link to the depths of hell, allowing Pinhead (played for the first time by Stephan Smith Collins) and his cenobite army to get their claws into the boys, causing horror for them and their families.

What’s most stark about Hellraiser: Revelations – and perhaps most disappointing – is just how little the franchise’s iconic Pinhead actually appears. The messy production cycle led star Doug Bradley, who had played Pinhead in the other eight Hellraiser movies, to step aside, with Stephan Smith Collins coming in. Perhaps this is why director Victor Garcia uses the villain so sparingly: he appears, surprisingly, within the first five minutes, then only cameos briefly throughout the rest of the film. It’s a shame, because Revelations is at its best when exploring the more fantastical side of the world: the scenes of Pinhead, despite the dodgy redesign and less-than-convincing performance, are by far the film’s most entertaining. Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s script doesn’t do enough to capitalise on this mythos, instead basing a lot of the film around the classic early 2010’s slasher formula: mostly one location, and a group of uninteresting victims trying to figure out who is hunting them.

Despite this, it certainly embraces the B-movie aesthetics necessitated by its diminished budget (this cost $325,000 compared to Hellraiser: Hellworld‘s $5,000,000), and its 18 certificate, with plenty of squib-based blood and guts. The practical effects here are astounding: you’ll see faces ripped off and skin being peeled, and it all feels so visceral. That said, this violence almost never involves the franchise’s staple character, Pinhead, as he sits mostly on the sidelines while others do his bidding. It aligns with the franchise’s rules – that he lives in hell while people on Earth do his bidding – but it means viewers with no prior knowledge of the Hellraiser franchise not only won’t understand his role, but simply won’t care about him. Combined with a large proportion of the violence occurring against innocent, uninvolved women, it leaves a slightly sour taste.

Since so much of the film’s brisk runtime takes place on Earth, a gripping human story is important. And while this isn’t quite gripping, the transformation of Nico and Steven is unique and will keep you on your toes, with a few twists that come out of the blue, which is satisfying. It’s also a clever deconstruction of the ‘nuclear family’ concept: there’s plenty here to challenge that, from sexual tension between siblings to the unloading of long-hidden personal secrets, adding a layer to the plot that prevents it from being completely unbearable. By no means will you leave this film caring about – or even remembering – these characters, but they do enough to keep you entertained throughout; which for a film of this budget, is more than usual.

Perhaps that’s why Hellraiser: Revelations would be more enjoyable to viewers unfamiliar to the franchise. You go in and find Pinhead’s whimsical, dreamlike lair to be fascinating, without the disappointment of fans who see their favourite villain wildly under-utilised, and unfavourably recast and redesigned. Revelations is by no means a bad horror film – there’s plenty of blood, dark themes and brutality – but it might be a bad Hellraiser film. For every moment that is taut and focused, there’s an equal effect insofar as the character that made the franchise a hit simply isn’t there.

★★½