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Movie Review: Hellraiser: Judgment

Hellraiser: Judgment
Hellraiser: Judgment

Pinhead and the Cenobites, exhausted by the effects of modern technology on the mortal world, decide to switch things up in their endless search for new souls to torment. When a tortured detective on the trail of a serial killer falls into their trap, however, they uncover truths even Hell might not be ready to face. Hellraiser: Judgment has been in the can for over a year, but it has finally been given its much anticipated release on DVD and digital this week. Touted by director Gary J. Tunnicliffe as a soft reboot of sorts, a lot is riding on its success. However, given the franchise's storied history of disappointment--especially in the hands of Dimension Entertainment--even the most forgiving fans have good reason to be skeptical.

The good news is this is easily one of the best Hellraiser sequels, though that's not exactly high praise. The opening ten minutes set the stage in one of the most twisted, disgusting, and harrowing sequences in the entire franchise by introducing us to the Cenobites' new system of judgment and torture. What really sells it--on top of some next-level gore and nudity--is the greatest addition to the canon: the Auditor (played by Tunnicliffe himself). This character, a Cenobite who interviews new initiates into Hell, upstages even Pinhead with his matter-of-fact politeness, proper British accent, and deliberate mannerisms. He's joined by another new freak in the Assessor, who cheerfully scarfs down the paperwork prepared by the Auditor (with a gravy of children's tears) and then vomits into a tube. It only gets more messed up from there.

With its dingy filters, uncomfortable close-ups, decrepit set design, and grotesquery, this sequence--and others like it throughout the film--are obviously inspired by nineties alt-rock music videos like Nine Inch Nails' way-too-extreme-for-MTV "Happiness in Slavery" (maybe don't click on that). This is absolutely appropriate given the subject matter, and fans of absurdly warped stuff like that will be more than satisfied by the depraved lengths Hellraiser: Judgment goes to disturb audiences. Also, the music, while not as pumped up as Twentieth Century Trent Reznor, fits the mood really well, often bookended by a deliciously creepy piano rendition of "Für Elise."

Hellraiser: Judgment
This guy is the best thing about the movie

Unfortunately, once the main thrust of the film arrives, it reveals that Tunnicliffe's answer to the overused trope of Hellraiser sequels using procedurals to find a way into the mythos is to... use a procedural to find a way into the mythos. Granted, the Hellraiser stuff isn't as shoe-horned in as it is in other direct-to-video entries like Deader and Hellseeker (no doubt because those entries weren't originally conceived of as Hellraiser movies, whereas Judgment was), but it still feels a bit out of sync. This procedural involves three police officers tracking down a religiously-themed serial killer, the Preceptor, who murders people who represent abuses of the ten commandments. (Yes, it's clearly a Se7en knock-off.)

Thankfully, the main character, Detective Sean Carter, is well-drawn and interesting, and he is played remarkably well by Damon Carney (Logan, The Hitcher). A psychologically wounded combat veteran, an avid reader of Dickens, a quietly faithful Christian, a recovering alcoholic, and a man in the most depressing stage of a failing marriage, Sean is flawed, but for most of the film, he never comes across as irredeemable or unsympathetic. The other two leads, David Carter (Randy Wayne) and Christine Egerton (Alexandra Harris), on the other hand, are pretty underdeveloped and boring, and their actors are average at best. (Also, if you go in expecting to see a lot of Elm Street alum Heather Langenkamp, you're going to be disappointed; she has high billing for what is a single-scene, blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo.)

Hellraiser: Judgment
In case you were wondering, it's not a kid's movie

[Minor spoilers in this paragraph.] Where things really go off the rails is in the third act. Starting with a cringe-worthy plot twist as predictable as it is disappointing, the climax of course involves Pinhead, but his confrontation is, in a word, stupid. I take no issue with Paul T. Taylor, the actor with the unfortunate task of replacing Doug Bradley in the iconic role, because he actually does a good job. The problem is in the writing, and I can't explain that without spoiling too much. Sufficed to say, this movie takes a more Biblical take on the entire canon than any previous entry. While the franchise is called "Hellraiser," it's been fairly clear throughout that the Cenobite realm is another dimension, not exactly the same thing as the literal Hell. This movie, on the other hand, makes no such distinction, using Judeo-Christian myth as the basis for its underlying plot--and doing it poorly, I might add--and that's going to annoy some fans.

Tunnicliffe deserves a lot of credit for offering a new vision for Hellraiser that is more disturbing and visceral than ever before, and his background in special effects clearly pays off. Even more, he deserves credit for breathing life into the Auditor, the greatest Cenobite creation since Pinhead. There's even reason to respect his efforts to bridge the gap between his vision and those that preceded it, but in the end, this feels like an entirely separate universe from Clive Barker's creation. Series staples like Pinhead and the Lament Configuration are relegated to the background, still feeling forced into a story where they don't really belong. Like the other direct-to-video Hellraiser films, it's hard to shake the feeling that this would have been an even better movie if it didn't have "Hellraiser" in the title.


An imaginative and visually disturbing high point for the franchise, Hellraiser: Judgment is nonetheless weighed down by a mediocre police procedural plot and a lame climax.

-e. magill 2/15/2018

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