Production Designer Kathrin Eder breaks down Hulu’s Hellraiser

Much like Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger, Pinhead is one of the most iconic characters in the horror world, so when Hulu announced they would be rebooting the franchise, fans rejoiced. 35 years after the original Hellraiser was released, David Bruckner’s reboot breathes new life into the franchise. To help construct the look of the film, Bruckner brought on production designer Kathrin Eder, whom he worked with on the 2020 thriller The Night House. We spoke with Kathrin below about her work on Hellraiser.

What initially got you interested in production design?

I believe that production design “chose” me. I was an artist assistant to Jim Shaw and Marnie Weber, who I am so grateful for and have so much love for. They introduced me to production designer Dani Tull in their circle who let me intern with him. When I stepped on set in the art department the first time, I knew this was it. I wanted to learn everything about the craft and fell in love with all aspects of our profession. I realized production design is a perfect tool of non- verbal storytelling; every space becomes an empty canvas for the story to unfold in.

What would you consider to be your first big break in the industry?

I am not sure I can define a big break into the industry, but there have been several milestones that matter to me: The first short film I designed, the first feature film I booked, the first episodic television series, …to me personally those were all big breaks: Someone decided to entrust me with their project. What an honor! When it comes to the big break, I think our industry is brutal in the sense, that there is always a “bigger”, “better” project to chase. Over the past decade I have shifted my focus away from the big break toward finding people I really enjoy collaborating. Filmmaking is such an intimate process, you want to experience it with good people. As for milestones, I loved the movies that went to Sundance and the collaboration I had with these directors & creatives. I consider those important milestones: Stockholm, Pennsylvania, Big Time Adolescence and The Night House. I am also proud of the work I was able to do on the series Black Mafia Family. And I am very proud of what I learned on and was able to do with my team on Hellraiser.

In a span of three decades there has been ten Hellraiser sequels. Why do you think this one stands out from the others?

David Bruckner’s precision and vision. I love that he brought the genre to a larger context of themes, away from the “simple” family story of the original film to themes of addiction and seduction that resonate on a larger scale in our present-day society. I find the adjusted designs for the cenobites are wonderful and broke away from the classic BDSM look that has become very familiar since the 80’s. To make Pinhead an androgynous being is a choice I am very supportive of and I also think we aimed at stylizing the environments more. We aimed to create a heightened sense of world building. That was possible because we had a larger budget than the previous films and overall, the studio was supportive of the vision without altering too much.

What was your research process like for Hellraiser?

We went very deep and explored a lot of directions. For the world of the human protagonists, some of our core themes centered around visuals about addiction, co-dependence and dysfunctional family dynamics. The core themes that inspired the visual research for Roland Voight centered around what also matters in the Cenobite world: We sought inspiration in how sensations such as pain, greed, power and perversion were visualized throughout history. The visual history of occultism played a huge role in our design and we looked a lot of imagery from art deco and brutalism. There was also a desire early on dive into and further understand how torture and sexuality were visualized throughout history and how to integrate this information in the design of much of the second and thirds act sets. I loved exploring how these experiences were depicted in art, architecture and objects. The Hellraiser world was a complex and compelling playground.

You worked with director David Bruckner on his previous film, The Night House and now Hellraiser. Before working with him, did you go back and watch his earlier films to get a sense of his style?

I watched The Ritual and although I struggled to watch the 2nd act due to being so scared, I cried at the end of the movie when the monster goes back to its world and the human to his. There was a lot of humanity and sensibility in this resolution. That moved me. I like David’s approach to storytelling and learned a lot from and about him by collaborating on The Night House. That definitely gave us great rapport for our collaboration on Hellraiser.

What turned out to be unexpectedly challenging on Hellraiser, and what turned out to be a real unexpected joy?

Hellraiser was a complex project to make. For the art department there were challenges from the start of preproduction to the last day of filming. The art department is a complex beast and depends heavily on schedule and location availability. One challenge that arose early on was that we needed to film a mansion movie in a country without American looking mansions. Serbia has a very different history from the US and hence its architectural history is also quite different. Location scouting turned out to be lengthy. We ended up stitching together several locations, with different styles, to become the Voight Mansion. We needed to lock in those locations to understand the mansion’s geography first so we could start the set design for our hero set: the Showroom, and to complete this set was a time crunch. That being said, there are challenges on every project and we squeeze the dollar on every project. The logistics behind making a film are so complex that challenges are part of the process. What I really enjoyed on this project was that we got to create such a complex and thrilling world with so many nuances. That exploration was a tremendous learning experience and adventure.

Also, I met and collaborated with some amazing people. Just to name a few, in the art department our art director Balazs Szedlacsek brought much wisdom to the design with his background in architecture. Set decorator Zorana Petrov put together a wonderful team of talented women in key positions and really ran with my direction and the art department concept designers Venetian Dinkov and Boyan Manov brought many ideas into perspective in the previous phase. I also loved collaborating with our DP Eli Born, VFX supervisor Jacob Eaton and Josh & Sierra Russel FX. David put a great team together! Lastly, my partner Sean Horan came on to work on the show as an associate art director and really was a pillar to rely and lean on, and a treasured liaison between the creative departments.

Can you talk about your process on Hellraiser, which set did you design first?

As I mentioned above, Voight’s mansion took some time to get started. We started with the smaller sets: the bathroom, for example, which had the mechanical aspect of shifting shape when the dimensional doorway to the Cenobites opens the first time. Patrick Horwath was the mastermind behind visualizing that mechanical effect which was of create help in the design process. As far as the design of the bathroom on a road trip through Florida, I found a highway stop bathroom deeply inspiring. After doing a mood board and knowing this is a standalone build that won’t need to be tied to any location, it was the first one we focused on. We also had a lot of small pieces to design: we build a lot of the furniture and practical lights for Voight’s Mansion, since resources for high end items were limited in Serbia or took too long to import. Those designs we started early on too.

The overall process was that I asked for a couple of months concept design phase. While David also collaborated with Keith Thompson on the cenobite design and Martin Embargo on the box design, David and I worked with a duo from Bucharest to do the concept designs for our hero sets. We were able to visualize overall ideas for the Showroom before starting hard prep. We knew the design of the showroom and the exterior of the mansion would define all other rooms in the house, hence we focused on that heavily early on.

Then my partner, Sean and I broke down the set list and created extensive design lists. We had 7 – 8 set designers at times and tasked them with projects from furniture design, to lamp design, the skylight design, the gate, and further the large set builds. There was a lot and I loved it!

If someone watched all of your projects together, would they find similarities? If so, what would those be?

I think as a production designer we are of service to each individual project and he visual language of that project really determines our contribution. What I do heavily rely on in my design process is what skills I brought from my background in Social and Cultural Anthropology. I very much enjoy digging into backstory and giving every object on set a story and a meaning. I aim at keeping all sets visually connected in the story and pay attention to all sets in detail. Maybe that’s a similarity in all projects?

If I worked only in one genre, you may be able to see similarities. I feel lucky that I’ve gotten the chance to work on many different projects ranging from period biography, coming-of-age drama, to ridiculous comedies, commercials and music videos. That’s a lot of play ground to try out many different design approaches.

Is there a specific genre you would like to work in next?

I have done a lot of projects about young adults in their teens and 20’s throughout. I would love to do more projects about people my age and older! I also find the idea of doing a western, a solid period piece or a solid drama very compelling. But honestly, the sky is the limit, and when you fall in love with a script and the people involved with it, then every genre becomes a possibility.

Many thanks to Kathrin Eder for taking the time for this interview.

Hellraiser is streaming now on Hulu. Read our review here.