All Hellraiser Films Ranked
The Hellraiser franchise, blooming from Clive Barker’s novella Hellbound Heart and turning into a pop culture behemoth, has consistently had new film entries since the original in 1987. It’s wild to think that, before the recent remake, the prior film was only released in 2018. Over three and a half decades we’ve had films, a new novel and companion piece, a plethora of comic books, and enough appearances and references throughout pop culture that the Hell Priest (known as Pinhead), the face of the franchise, is well known even to nonhorror fans.
Whether you’re interested in what films to check out through the 11 entries in the franchise, or simply want to know where the remake stands in the grand scheme of things, we’ve put together a ranking of all the Hellraiser films just as we have in the past for Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So come with us as we explore the further regions of experience…
11. Hellraiser IX: Revelations
A cheap film thrown out there to keep the rights to the IP, always a death sentence for franchise films. Hellraiser IX: Revelations is a poorly acted, off looking, and terribly written affair that thankfully doesn’t run all that long. It’s certainly dirt worst Hellraiser, though as we dive back through all the entries there’s quite a lot of disappointing entries as the years went on.
Being fair to it, there are a few ideas Revelations touches the surface on that actually could have been fairly promising. The general setup of a duo of entitled rich boys set out to Mexico to party, encountering the enigmatic Lament Configuration passed on to them. Even the skin-wearing side of the film is, at base level, an interesting idea to explore. Despite the starting blocks being decent, nothing comes together, and it’s painfully obvious this was just vomited out by the production company clinging to its IP.
10. Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld
Stinking of early 2000’s culture, Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld combines online gaming with hell cults and a convoluted revenge plot. This is the last appearance of Doug Bradley’s Pinhead, and despite there being some very mediocre entries into the franchise, it has to be said Bradley always killed it in his role and brought this unsettling air of importance to the lead cenobite. Hellworld also features a young Henry Cavill, and Lance Henriksen, and despite being a rather fun ride, it’s poorly put together and absolutely loses itself multiple times through the runtime.
Based on a short story that seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth (Dark Can’t Breathe by Joel Soisson), and the first script to actually be related to Hellraiser from day one since Inferno, the attempt to bring the 80s horror into the futuristic world of 2005 is admirable enough. And for what it’s worth, the film doesn’t have that early-2000’s-horror grime that made for a whole host of forgettable grey films. Instead, we get a sex party gone wrong and a big spooky mansion with some surreal twists. Then the real plot twist comes and it doesn’t really make sense, it’s kind of dumb, and the inclusion of the Lament Configuration and the cenobites is completely pointless all the way to the end. I think the short story could be more interesting, but since that seems lost to time, we’re left with a very missable film.
9. Hellraiser VII: Deader
The first half of Hellraiser VII: Deader actually has a lot of charm to it, feels like if the original script hadn’t had the Hellraiser IP awkwardly shoehorned in then it might’ve ended up as a creepy little horror project. But the more things go on, and the more Hellraiser elements are bluntly inserted, the more things fall apart. The ending sequences are disappointing, and the writing just kind of starts to crumble.
Kari Wuhrer does great in the lead role of Amy, although it takes a solid suspension of disbelief in how she acts when running into everything from dead bodies in strange apartments to murder-and-resurrection cults even for an investigative reporter. It’s easy to get behind her, and her journey deeper into something dark comes out pretty well. But as we’ll see for a lot of these latter entries, the entire feeling of Hellraiser is absent here, and Deader doesn’t capitalize on any of the tension it sets up with some terrific early scenes.
8. Hellraiser: Judgment
Prior to the remake releasing, this film was the surprisingly recent last entry in the franchise. Coming out in 2018, Hellraiser: Judgment is once again the studio deciding to throw a few dollars away to hold onto the IP. In saying that, at least this time there are a lot more interesting things going on. Following a decent but honestly not very captivating serial killer investigation, the addition of new elements to the lore and finding new ways to present disturbing imagery does impress.
The Auditor is actually an incredible and creative addition, and entering into his little slice of the otherworld is very offputting. This surreal and horrific process of laying out all of someone’s misdeeds, followed by judging them based on the taste of the words, is perfect symbolism dripping in the disgusting and disturbing. There’s a few places they go a bit overboard and the great imagery turns into a bit of a ham-fisted attempt at edginess (‘children’s tears’ was very corny). Combined with the central story being rather cliched and easy to see through, as well as an entertaining but very stupid finale, it comes up short on a lot of points. There’s a lot of good ideas here, not executed superbly but a significant step above the previous three installments.
7. Hellraiser IV: Bloodline
Pinhead, in spaaaace. Joining the ranks of all the other horror movie icons and finding their way out amongst the stars, just as with Jason X they manage to make use of the setting for some fun. But also just like Jason X, what a weird direction to take things in, everyone following Leprechaun‘s lead makes for a bit of a fun but pretty forgettable outing for the franchise. It’s still alright, but definitely feels like they ran out of ideas and tried to let a new setting carry things for them.
In saying that it’s Hellraiser: Space Edition, it also takes things into the past, and shows us bits and pieces of the history of the box as well. Diving back through history does make things more interesting, and setting up these horrors as something deeper and older than we first assume is a solid choice. The development of Bloodline seems to have been a bit rough, with director duties being passed around and a whole lot of issues between those working on the film, and the producer demands. All in all, it’s not as bad as the premise seems, and it’s just a solid B-movie addition to the franchise.
6. Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker
With an interesting twist, and the return of Kirsty Cotton (played by Ashley Laurence, returning from the first two films), Hellseeker does have a lot going for it. It’s an interesting take on things, I love playing around with the idea of limbo and surreal little hints. However, it’s basically following the lead of the previous film (Inferno), and not doing it as well. Plus, it’s once again an original script co-opted by the Hellraiser franchise, and whilst they’ve taken considerable efforts to weave the two together it still comes out awkward and unnecessary.
But it’s a fun little dark ride into life falling apart, with a side of debauchery that may be a little tame but certainly goes hand-in-hand with the series. Clive Barker also, for the first time in a while and the last time in the film franchise, popped in to give a bit of input and creative guidance in regards to the final third of Hellseeker. His influence is certainly felt, and whilst you can still feel the two sides of the film not gelling super well, Hellseeker actually holds up as a solid entry into the Hellraiser franchise. One thing that must be said though; whilst the idea of Pinhead as moral arbiter is interesting, it doesn’t really make any sense with anything that’s been set up in the series. It’s this weird thing that over time the newer films just couldn’t stop trying to worm in with.
5. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
Ah Hell on Earth, I’ve such a complicated time placing this one. I do love this film, it’s goofy, dumb, but over the top and super fun. But at the same time, it feels so far flung from the previous two films and takes a considerable step back in terms of quality and script. Perhaps you could point to Barker, the visionary behind the original, mostly only taking part in post-production rather than guiding the story. Perhaps it’s hard to grow from taking things to a broad dark fantasy place, like the second film does. Or maybe they just, despite all the quotes on the VHS cover of other films in the series, just really wanted to fit in with the other slasher boys.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth comes out as somewhere between the supernatural semi-body-horror roots and a colourful slasher film throwing whatever it can at the wall and seeing what sticks. We get a damn CD cenobite, just making silly noises as it hucks discs as weapons. Then we get these monstrosities just wandering down the street, blowing up things and taking down the police. We even get Pinhead stuck in a big pillar statue suckin’ down some victims. It leans into the ambitious side of things and comes out with a very fun but much less creepy final product. Along with that though are a cast of characters that do develop well enough, and I find I like how they fit with the story and change as the events take place. Not a masterpiece, but certainly a very enjoyable entry.
4. Hellraiser V: Inferno
I really like Inferno, as this rough and much more blunt take on sort of what Jacob’s Ladder perfectly landed. The story is well done to start, and once things go off the rails and reality bends and breaks, the film keeps up and gives us a solid twist. It feels like this darling forgotten horror film, far from perfect, awkward and rough at times, but telling a story perhaps a step above what the crew’s talent put together. I’m an absolute sucker for playing with reality and twisting things through following the main character’s perspective.
This film is often cited as being the first in a long string of films in the franchise that were original scripts, later just hijacked by the Hellraiser brand in order to get them funded and hang onto that sweet sweet copyright. It does seem however that the script was always written with Hellraiser in mind, despite feeling so different from everything that came before it, and once again despite feeling like they just threw in the Lament Configuration and Pinhead last minute just to make a connection. Inferno is definitely a little rough gem, as with these other weird entries in big horror series (Friday the 13th Part VII and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation) this one ended up impressing me a whole lot more by finding unique ground and letting things get weird without losing their charm.
With all that though, my point from Hellseeker stands: Pinhead as moral arbiter is weird, no idea why he would ever care if you sinned or did wrong by people in your life. Doesn’t seem to have anything to do with his whole shtick.
3. Hellbound: Hellraiser II
This masterclass in dark fantasy opens the franchise up to levels that it never quite reached again, for better or worse. Expanding and exploring the universe behind Hellraiser is a bold direction to go, yet Hellraiser II: Hellbound manages to navigate through the hellish otherworld home to the cenobites, and the god Leviathan. Picking up with the classic horror movie sequel setup: the final girl of the original recovering in hospital, no one believing her. But once again Hellraiser II brings things to new heights, quickly perverting the expected.
There are some issues, sure, especially with how a brand new villain just sort of… Does away with all the cenobites we recognize without much of a struggle, but there are reasons behind it, and the jank of bits here and there only adds to the terrifying charm of a world beyond understanding. Maybe it’s a controversial opinion, but the direction considered before they realized just how popular Pinhead was (shifting focus away from Pinhead and on to Julia as the core antagonist) possibly could’ve made for a more interesting storyline forging forth in the franchise. That said, Pinhead is such an imposing character that it was probably the right choice, even if things started to decline after this entry.
2. Hellraiser (2022)
It’s not often a classic horror film gets even just a good remake, let alone a fantastic one. Hellraiser (2022) however hits the mark, firing on all creepy cylinders to give us disturbing and unique imagery, great writing, and killer performances all round. The reimagining of things really brightens up the franchise that had gone a long while since the last great film. Odessa A’zion brings so much energy and emotion in the lead role of Riley, recovering drug addict teetering on the edge when the box ends up coming into her possession.
And with this new entry comes a new take on the cenobites, especially in the leader. Finding some inspiration from the original novel, as well as injecting their own style and flair into the Hell Priest (the title used for the Pinhead entity, as Barker hated the name and coined ‘Hell Priest’ in the 2015 novel The Scarlet Gospel). Jamie Clayton is phenomenal in the role, and the new design looks everything between alluring, disturbing, intimidating, and elegant. She captures the intelligence that makes the lead cenobite so scary, and brings this manipulation in that gives it another level. I adored this film, these final three entries all do come close for different reasons, but if we’re moving forward with a new era in the franchise then this is a powerful way to kickstart our journey back into the far reaches of pleasure and pain.
1. Hellraiser (1987)
In going through the whole series back to back, I found nothing quite came up to the localized and unknown horrors present in the original Hellraiser. The remake comes very close, I did adore it, but what made the difference is the oppressive mood that the original gives off combined with a story that feels so tight and together that it became an instant classic. The introduction of these otherworldly creatures isn’t the only terror present here, with the search for victims to steal their insides and skin for a thoroughly tortured but somehow not dead Frank. That’s what begins the story, and what drives the characters surrounding the Lament Configuration and the ruthless beings of endless masochistic torture that lay beyond.
With brilliant use of both lighting and the absence of it, combined with Barker realizing his own vision by sitting in the director’s chair for this, provide an enrapturing experience through very graphic and direct gory imagery. The franchise got a reputation from this, for the body horror provided through both painful torture and deep influence from various BDSM and body modification cultures. Intrinsically linked with sex, pain, and the cloying horror that comes from these worlds bleeding in that we cannot understand, the original Hellraiser is a classic for a reason.