After keeping their hooks sunk deep into the flesh of the Hellraiser franchise after banging out a quickie sequel in 2011 in order to keep the rights, Dimension found themselves in exactly the same situation seven years later as they tried, unsuccessfully, to get a remake to take flight. Once again, Hellraiser: Revelations scribe Gary J. Tunnicliffe started scribbling away and what emerged was Hellraiser: Judgement, the latest unwanted sequel to a series that had long since sunk to the lowest depths of hell since the glory days of Clive Barker’s original masterpiece.
Barker, the franchise creator, was long gone, as was original Pinhead actor Doug Bradley who had finally gotten tired of increasingly low quality of follow ups he found himself mugging through – and yet in Tunnicliffe, the franchise still had a champion who obviously cherished this universe of Cenobites, hooks and really shitty people screwing around with dubious puzzle boxes. Upgraded from a special effects artist on part III, to a writer on Revelations, to being a writer/director/actor on Judgement, could he be the man to finally turn hell’s fortunes around?
A Se7en-esque serial killer known as the Perceptor has been choosing random victims and punishing their vapid, sinful, modern lives while using the Ten Commandments as a handy, dandy template and his latest prey is found in her apartment with her beloved handbag dog sewn into her womb.
On the case are chalk and cheese police detective brothers Sean and David Carter, the former of which is still troubled by his time in the military as is having the kind of marital problems that it’s imperative for a movie detective to have. Joined by the impossibly fresh faced detective Egerton (seriously, she barely looks 19), the trio of dicks slowly start piecing things together and after connecting the most recent victim with a local pervert, Sean heads to his house alone to try and straighten all this out once and for all.
However, currently using the house as a gateway into his own particular realm of torment is prissy denizen, the Auditor, a member of the Stygian Inquisition sect of hell who is trying new methods of harvesting sinners as the old ways are proving to be ineffective in today’s modern world. Working alongside Pinhead from the Centobite sect who deals more in the pleasure/pain aspect and is acting as a consultant, the Auditor starts to run Sean through the traumatic gauntlet of the collating of his sins that involves him having some uncomfortable face time with some other flowery named members of the Inquisition such as the Assessor, the Jury and the Surgeon.
What does any of this have to do with the Perceptor? What exactly are Sean’s sins? And if Hell has different sects that involves so much paperwork, why don’t they have an I.T. section?
So, much like the previous effort that was Revelation, Judgement has some incredibly Hellraiser-worthy concepts lurking beneath its soon-to-be-torn skin, but once again it struggles to vocalise them in a way that’s even remotely interesting. As a fellow fan of Barker’s mutilation-happy universe, I have nothing but respect for Gary J. Tunnicliffe, who, by sheer force of fandom alone, seems to have scaled his way to the top of the Hellraiser mountain by writing, directing and starring as one of the more memorable characters too (he dons multiple scars and Dr Strangelove style glasses to play the anal retentive – and weirdly German – Auditor). To give him credit, he injects some genuinely intriguing new concepts into a franchise that had been growing ever more stagnant for the better part of twenty five years and finally bringing in concepts of other hell-sects besides the Cenobites is one that feels painfully overdue. While admittedly not as impressive as the skirt wearing majesty of Pinhead and the gang, it’s still a nice expansion of the universe (various comics and Barker’s own 2015 Pinhead novel The Scarlet Gospels have already provided such a service) and while some of their members could have used some work (the paper scoffing Assessor is just a fat guy in a jacket) others are more impressive – take the Surgeon, a blade twirling, gas mask wearing bondge freak who lurks inside the back of its hulking host who wears a cherub mask carved from wood. However, not all of it work and the appearance of the angel Jophiel as a white power suit wearing Karen feels more in the vein of Supernatural or Buffy than a franchise that reworked the concept of demons into a body modification obsessed religious order. Oh yeah, quick question before I forget: how the hell is Nightmare On Elm Street’s Heather Langenkamp in this as a landlady?
Still, as endearingly random as the office politics of hell are, the rest of the film is just yet another, grim, bland, serial killer flick that drags more than a wormy dog’s butt and goes nowhere fast. It’s embarrassingly obvious who the Perceptor is from the start as there’s only a handful of characters to pick from in the first place and only one of them is as fond of literature as the maniac is.
While Revelations has it’s metric ton of faults, at least it took the franchise back to the notion of fracturing families and faustian pacts, why Judgment desides to go back to the tormented cop route of Inferno is beyond me.
However, while we still have no beloved Doug Bradley under the nails of Hellraiser’s main poster boy, Paul T. Taylor’s attempt at Pinhead is a vast improvement on Stephen Smith Collins version who just looked fucking weird. Tapping into some of that stillness and authority that Bradley radiated, Taylor isn’t bad at all, but that just might be because he isn’t so bewilderingly bad as the last attempt.
There’s a sneaking suspicion that because Dimension was flinging these sequels out now only for business purposes, Tunnicliffe has snuck in the back door to create the ultimate Hellraiser fan fiction while simultaneously casting himself as the character with all the best lines (“Jesus Christ!” utters a character upon laying eyes on the Auditor to wit he replies “Heavens no! Same city, entirely different zip code.”), but considering the current state of the series, I say fuck it, get away with what you can…
With numerous fertile ideas fighting for coherence beneath a run of the mill serial killer flick, some of Hellraiser: Judgement’s concepts show promise while other should have been cast out in after the first draft (Angel’s finally turning up in a Hellraiser movie just seems too on the nose), but while credit must be given to Tunnicliffe for essentially hijacking the entire series from under everyone’s noses, the proposed remake and TV series can’t come soon enough.
“Only God can judge me” mutters a character at multiple points. Oh yeah? Just watch me.