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Hellraiser director flays open the movie’s wicked ending

Director David Bruckner shares how his team used practical effects to create that memorable final sequence

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Brandon Flynn gives a puzzled expression with blood on his shirt and his fist to his chest in Hellraiser. Image: Spyglass Media Group
Pete Volk (he/they) is Polygon’s Senior Curation Editor, with a particular love for action and martial arts movies.

Hulu’s new Hellraiser movie ripped and tore its way onto the streaming platform this week, bringing Pinhead back to life with new delights of pain and pleasure alike.

The reboot-ish horror film arrives just in time for Halloween movie season and continues a storied tradition of Pinhead making people’s lives more filled with pain and pleasure. Jamie Clayton walked us through what it takes to become a Hellraiser and the intense makeup and prosthetic process to get into Pinhead mode.

But what about that shocking ending? We talked with director David Bruckner and Clayton about how it got made and what it means.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the end of Hellraiser 2022.]

Goran Visnjic as Voight wears a suit and reaches out his left hand to touch a mysterious vertical object in Hellraiser. Image: Spyglass Media Group

In the final stretch of Hellraiser, protagonist Riley and her friends have made their way to the reclusive billionaire Voight’s compound, with the Cenobites close behind. They’ve set up shop and blocked out Pinhead and her pals, until it’s revealed that (1) Voight is still alive (although he has a giant nerve-rending machine sticking out of his torso, my favorite part of the movie) and (2) Riley’s boyfriend has been working for Voight the entire time.

There’s a whole sequence that plays out between Voight, the Cenobites, and Riley’s friends, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. We’re here to talk about what happens next — Voight gets his “reward,” which is a gnarly display of skin-flaying in a stark-white room, transforming him into a Cenobite himself. It’s one of the most memorable and jarring sequences in the movie.

According to Bruckner, a number of practical elements were used to construct the sequence. The Hellraiser team created a skin suit and built a “real torture table,” using monofilament fishing line to pull apart the skin on the suit.

“No CGI gore,” Bruckner claims. “We were adamant about that.”

New Pinhead Jamie Clayton recalled Bruckner bringing that up early on.

“He told me he wanted do a lot of the effects practically,” Clayton says. “And I was like, [uncontrollable laughter] They did it!

A close of up Jamie Clayton’s Pinhead aka the Priest in the new Hellraiser, with her skin peeling away being held up by pins Image: Spyglass Media Group/Hulu

Bruckner says advances in technology have made such techniques more doable, using light touches of VFX to augment the prosthetics work and other practical effects.

“It felt like there were new opportunities down that path,” Bruckner says. “Part of the spirit of the franchise is to show them something that they haven’t necessarily seen before. And so it felt in keeping with that spirit more to allow ourselves to kind of invent and imagine.

“Cenobites are generally nude, they don’t need to wear clothes, they’re kind of beyond all these earthly concerns in some way, and are just lost in their pursuit for experience. The flesh is sort of tailored and folded to almost look like clothing. We would say they are their own leather in some ways. And so you just require a little bit of augmentation to help bring it to life, but it’s all practical as well. It’s all actual light falling on prosthetics. And we’re just touching it up in small ways.”

But why end Hellraiser in that way? It’s simple, Bruckner says — it’s in the spirit of transformation and change inherent to the series (and the Cenobites).

“To have that be [Voight’s] destination plays to the irony of the gifts, the joys of Hellraiser,” Bruckner says. “The Cenobites are inviting you to a party you might not want to be a part of. [It’s] the irony of ‘you’re gonna love this’ and you’re thinking, I don’t know if I’m going to love this! It just felt [like] exactly the right place to leave it.”

It was quite the experience to witness on set, as Clayton can attest.

“The days that all seven of the Cenobites were working, everyone’s covered in blood or losing an arm, or getting their skin [flayed],” she says. “Those days were massive. And they did all of that. All of that was happening in front of us.”

Hellraiser is available to stream on Hulu.