Home > Reviews > HELLRAISER – Ben Lovett


October 18, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Hellraiser franchise, which was originally adapted from Clive Barker’s acclaimed novella ‘The Hellbound Heart’ and first hit cinema screens in 1987, has one of horror’s all-time-great conceptual cornerstones; the idea that an ancient puzzle box which, once solved by unwary and unwitting souls, releases a group of demonic figures known as Cenobites, who then abduct and subject their victims to endless torture. The original film also introduced one of horror’s all-time-great antagonists, the terrifying Pinhead, an S&M demon who comes from a realm of hell where pleasure, pain, and suffering are one and the same. Unfortunately, the franchise quickly became a shadow of its initial self; the first sequel, 1988’s Hellbound, was good, and the second sequel, 1992’s Hell on Earth, was tolerable, but then the subsequent SEVEN sequels got progressively worse and worse, the intelligence levels decreasing in unison with the budgets. This new film, also called Hellraiser, is an attempt to re-ignite the franchise with a better screenplay and re-imagined Cenobites; it’s directed by David Bruckner from a screenplay by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, stars Odessa Azion as the new protagonist Riley, and features Jamie Clayton as the new ‘Hell Priest,’ who is actually much closer to the pan-sexual and androgynous iteration of the Pinhead character from Barker’s original story.

The original two Hellraiser scores were famously written by composer Christopher Young. Today, more than thirty years later, they remain two of the greatest horror scores in the history of the genre, enormous Gothic powerhouses, and landmarks of the composer’s career. The score for this new version of Hellraiser is by Ben Lovett, and what shoes he has to fill. Lovett is a 45-year old composer, musician, and producer from Georgia, who has worked with Bruckner since 2007, and has written numerous scores for him in the horror genre, notably The Signal, The Ritual, and The Night House, as well as other scores for popular films such as Southbound and The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Lovett is a very different composer from Christopher Young; whereas Young is all about big scary emotions and vivid orchestral carnage, Lovett is a composer who tends to be more comfortable in the ambient world of drones and sound design, with nary a memorable main theme to his name. As such, and considering my love for the original Hellraiser scores, I came to this score with low expectations – but ultimately found that many of them were exceeded.

In an interview with Daniel Schweiger for Film Music Magazine, Lovett explains that he wanted to “capture the spirit and characteristics” of the original Young scores, but to “take it in a new direction” because he felt that it would be more in the spirit of the original film to not adhere or feel tethered to the way we’d seen this material approached in the past, but to use that as a point of inspiration to tell a new story. However, Lovett did acknowledge that Young’s music was “what brought the magic and the fantasy to the story” and that viewers “feel the overall aesthetic of the film because of the music”.

As such, Lovett’s score takes the essence of what was great about Young’s music, and blends it with his own more modernistic horror tendencies, reflecting the film’s contemporary setting and its young, urban protagonists. The score performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra with the Philharmonia Brass and the Pinewood Singers, and is conducted by Allan Wilson in a nice piece of throwback casting as Wilson also conducted Hellraiser II for Young back in 1988. There are special instrumental performances for harp, flute, cello, piano, and something called a stroh violin, which is a special type of violin that is mechanically amplified by a metal resonator and horn attached to its body. The score also features special vocal performances by Cypriot-American composer and soprano Theodosia Roussos, but more on that later.

Thematically, there are several recurring motifs throughout the score, including one for the Lament Configuration puzzle box, and one for the Cenobites and their new Pinhead ‘Hell Priest,’ as well as specific ideas related to the protagonist Riley and the shadowy antagonist Roland Voight, played by Goran Visnjic. For the puzzle box, Lovett’s theme is essentially a variation on the opening bars to the “Resurrection” cue from the first Hellraiser score. You hear it for the first time halfway through the first cue, “Blood Box,” three eerie notes emerging out of a bed of crushing industrial electronics and orchestral dissonance, but it doesn’t really establish itself properly until “Puzzles of the Past,” when the elegance of the theme and its waltz-like melody asserts itself fully for the first time.

For the first appearance of the Cenobites themselves in “March of the Cenobites” Lovett wrote a new theme that sounds like a variation on the main title from Hellraiser II, which is then blended with what Lovett describes as ‘aleatoric clusters’ for the orchestra. Cues like “Seduction & Destruction” and especially “Hail to the Priest” are very much rooted in this brooding, edgy, sound-designy approach, but it’s effective enough in context. It is in some of these cues that Lovett makes use of the aforementioned tonal experiments performed by Theodosia Roussos; interestingly, Lovett plays around with the idea of the new Pinhead’s sexual androgyny by modulating the pitch of Roussos’s voice up or down, and manipulating the speed of it, so that it gives several cues a twisted and other-worldly quality that is quite effective. In addition, like Young, Lovett uses deep bells and various sound design ideas, all coming together as a sort of cacophonous herald that announces the Cenobites presence in sound before you actually see them.

A lot of the rest of the time Lovett is basically playing around with Young’s harmonics, his chord progressions, and his instrumental combinations, so much so that cues like “Point of No Return” often feel very much like a real Young score. In addition to the Resurrection theme from Hellraiser there are more references to the main titles of both films, as well as Tiffany’s theme from Hellraiser II, and even some oblique references to the carnival calliope that the original protagonist Kirsty discovers in the dusty corridors of hell.

The theme for Riley is introduced in “Riley’s Temptation” and it has a sort of broken music-box element to it, light metallic percussion and plucked harps offset against lush strings and unsettling harmonies. Riley is damaged goods – an addictive personality who uses booze, drugs, and unhealthy sex as a coping mechanism for her problems – so there is definitely some darkness and tragedy in her theme, but there is also a curious innocence too, which makes for a compelling combination. There are numerous variations on her theme throughout the score, notably in cues like “Torment and Desire,” until the climax of the film where her theme, and the way it represents the weight of her choices, really comes into its own.

The theme for Roland Voight first appears in the second cue, “Mansion Party,” a cue which Lovett describes as the sort of music an ‘educated, cult-obsessed billionaire would play at his deviant mansion sex party’. The melody itself is a classical piano theme based on a piece entitled “Funerailles,” which is one of the ‘Poetic and Religious Harmonies’ written by Franz Liszt in 1849, but in that initial mansion party sequence Lovett surrounds it with a throbbing hip-hop beat. The subsequent “Audience With God” transposes the theme to thick, dark, Gothic strings, slow and mysterious, and as the piece develops it becomes bolder and more powerful, culminating in a rich choral climax that again references Young’s Hellraiser theme. However, after these initial statements, Roland’s theme is mostly absent from the rest of the score, until the character returns at the end of the film after his personal encounter with the Cenobites.

The finale of the score – which takes place in the dungeons of Roland’s opulent mansion and sees a three way battle between Riley and her friends, Roland, and the Cenobites – is a grand guignol celebration of horror that brings all the main ideas together and builds them up to a satisfyingly bombastic conclusion. “Cenobite Invasion” offers a supremely powerful reprise of Young’s main Hellraiser theme offset against Lovett’s aggressive new Cenobite textures, as the hell-dwellers make their way into the mortal realm to claim their next victim from among those gathered in Roland’s mansion.

Roland’s piano theme returns prominently in the fierce “Pleasures of Power” and “Nefarious Exchange,” but Lovett has significantly warped and tortured it, much like the Cenobites did to Roland himself; instead of the lush classicism of the earlier cues, the piano is instead brutalized by having chains, screws, and pieces of tin foil dropped into the housing, and having guitar strings wrapped around the piano strings – an idea that Lovett says ‘put the piano into bondage’ – so much so that you sometimes can barely tell it’s a piano at all.

“Such Sights to Show You” – a nice throwback to the franchise’s classic line – features a huge statement of Young’s main theme as the sadistic high priestess claims her final victim and hoists him up to endure a literally life-changing audience with the hell-god Leviathan. “Riley’s Choice” offers an unexpectedly peaceful, thoughtful version of Riley’s theme to accompany her final encounter with Pinhead, while “Apotheosis” initially uses the choir to perform a soothing, near-angelic version of Young’s main theme before switching to a surprisingly powerful statement of the 7-note theme for Pinhead from Hellraiser II (the second half of “Second Sight Séance” on the soundtrack) underscoring the final terrible shock transformation scene from human to hell’s newest cenobite servant.

All this prose casts the score in a mostly positive light, and I certainly feel that the score works well both as an album and as an in-context experience, but you may have noticed that almost all my praise has been for the moments where Lovett is quoting Christopher Young. All the score’s best and most memorable moments, the scenes where the stakes are highest and the emotions are the most heightened, are accompanied by new takes on Young’s music, which begs the question… why didn’t they just get Christopher Young to score it? I understand that Bruckner and Lovett are friends and have a long-standing working relationship, but when you are asking your composer to essentially suppress his own musical personality and instead asking him to sound like someone else in the film’s key moments, doesn’t that undermine the entire point of having a different composer?

Lovett’s original music – the themes for Riley and Roland, and the new Cenobite textures – are all fine, but they are not especially unique or memorable, and are certainly not anything Young couldn’t have knocked out in an afternoon without much effort, and Young is so much better a composer he probably could have done something more interesting too. The irony of all this is that, when you place this new Lovett stuff in comparison to all his other scores, Hellraiser is by far the best score of his career to date, but it absolutely pales when compared to everything Young did, and even the score that Randy Miller wrote for Hellraiser III. With hindsight, it might have been wiser if Bruckner and Lovett had ignored entirely everything that Young did, and stated afresh with a new sound, new themes, and a new approach, to avoid exactly these comparisons.

In the end, Hellraiser is a good score – as I said, easily the best score of Ben Lovett’s career so far – but the parts that remain in the memory are the parts of it that reference Christopher Young’s classic original scores. They accompany the film’s most important scenes, provide almost all its emotional content, and completely overshadow everything new, which is wonderful for Christopher Young fans like me, but won’t do Ben Lovett any good whatsoever.

Buy the Hellraiser soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Blood Box (3:23)
  • Mansion Party (2:05)
  • Audience With God (3:42)
  • Riley’s Temptation (2:40)
  • Point of No Return (1:56)
  • Forbidden Invocation (1:26)
  • New Blood (2:26)
  • March of the Cenobites (2:09)
  • Myths & Revelations (4:13)
  • Puzzles of the Past (2:50)
  • What Is This Thing? (2:28)
  • Seduction & Destruction (3:07)
  • Torment of Desire (3:27)
  • Perpetual Tempest (2:08)
  • Hail to the Priest (3:45)
  • Salacious Deceit (2:30)
  • Cenobite Invasion (3:27)
  • Pleasures of Power (2:53)
  • Nefarious Exchange (2:26)
  • Such Sights to Show You (2:24)
  • Riley’s Choice (2:45)
  • Apotheosis (2:23)
  • Hellraiser 2022 End Titles Suite (2:40)

Running Time: 63 minutes 11 seconds

Lakeshore Records (2022)

Music composed by Ben Lovett. Conducted by Allan Wilson. Performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia Brass with the Pinewood Singers UK. Orchestrations by Kyle Newmaster, Noam Levy, Neal Desby and Michael Kallin. Original Hellraiser themes by Christopher Young. Special vocal performances by Theodosia Roussos. Recorded and mixed by Mat Bartram, Martin Roller, Kenneth Harrington, Dowell Gandy, Benjamin Balcom and Brian R. Taylor. Edited by Zak Millman. Album produced by Ben Lovett.

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