Hellraiser Judgment 2018
Detectives Sean and David Carter are on the case to hunt down a gruesome serial killer who is terrorizing the city. Joining forces with Detective Christine Egerton, they dig deeper into a maze of horror, which may lead them into the depths of hell.
February 13, 2018
Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Damon Carney, Gary J. Tunnicliffe, and Jeff Fenter
It’s clunky, widely uneven, and thematically preachy, but Hellraiser: Judgment is hands down the best straight-to-DVD entry in the franchise, far surpassing Inferno, Hellseeker, Deader, Hellworld, and Revelations. It’s hard-boiled, procedural motifs make this installment a reboot of the franchise and a virtual remake of Inferno specifically (as that film also centered on a detective drawn into a dark underworld of sex and sin).
Official Synopsis: Detectives Sean and David Carter are on the case to hunt down a gruesome serial killer who is terrorizing the city. Joining forces with Detective Christine Egerton, they dig deeper into a maze of horror, which may lead them into the depths of hell.
Hellraiser: Judgment starts off on a high note, delivering a mythology-expanding 12-minute vignette before the opening credits even roll. We’re introduced to a new faction of Leviathan’s army, a contingency led by The Auditor, charged with identifying egregious sinners to “reward”. He’s joined by subordinates including The Assessor, an old man who processes The Auditors notes; The Jury, a trio of mutilated women who interpret The Assessor’s sentence; The Cleaners, a trio of hags who prepare a sinner for sentencing; and a symbiotic entity comprised of The Butcher and The Surgeon who dispense appropriate suffering.
The Auditor and his clan operate in the vicinity of Pinhead and his Cenobites as a cooperative but independent organization. They work in tandem in order to keep Leviathan’s ranks densely populated, though Pinhead and his brood are clearly more powerful beings. Fans of the Hellraiser franchise will be thrilled by the return of The Chatterer (though they may be annoyed, as I was, that the Cenobite’s teeth didn’t actually chatter).
We also meet The Stitch Twins, a mutilated duo who bears more than just a passing resemblance to Inferno’s Wire Twins. The Wire Twins actually look most like the Cenobites as they were described in Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart. This strengthens my postulation that Judgment is, essentially, an Inferno remake while illustrating writer/director Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s commitment to representing Barker’s universe with respect and reverence.
While Paul T. Taylor aptly handles the role of iconic villain Pinhead, it’s The Auditor who emerges as the most compelling of Hell’s minions. Played by Tunnicliffe himself, the character possesses Pinhead’s poise and commitment to purpose while also displaying curiosity and quirks not normally associated with demons. As opposed to gliding effortlessly, The Auditor shuffles; as opposed to maintaining a controlled exterior, he gasps, smirks, and worries. His posse all seem more closely connected to their human selves than The Order of the Gash (Pinhead’s clan), more fragile and chaotic. Even their ritual wounds communicate this differentiation; whereas Pinhead’s grid of cuts and nails is exact, The Auditors scars are bloody and random, displaying no discernable pattern. All this suggest that The Auditor’s group are less powerful than Cenobites—blue collar demons as opposed to a Cenobite aristocracy.
The introduction of The Auditor and his homies is the highlight of Hellraiser: Judgment. Creating a group that exists in the same universe as the Cenobites maintains the core franchise mythology while (finally) shifting the emphasis away from Pinhead exclusively. Don’t get me wrong, I’d have been bummed if Pinhead had been omitted altogether, but I was much more enamored by The Auditor’s posse, as they were unique and well executed.
Judgment didn’t have a huge budget but, for the most part, it looks great. While it sometimes appearing cheaper than past Hellraiser installments, there’s a grittiness that gives the film immediacy and legitimacy. The new characters are all cool (save perhaps for The Assessor, who’s basically just a shirtless old man) and the domain where sinners are assessed and dispatched in uniquely unnerving. As opposed to the misty dank quarters of the Cenobites, this area exists under a dirty yellow hue with steampunk elements.
The film falters near the half-way mark when human characters get bogged down in ultimately unnecessary expositions. A lot happens in the 3rd Act, but what should have been a 20-minute conclusion comes to a head at a breakneck pace that, unfortunately, feels anticlimactic. At barely 80 minutes from start to post-credits “stinger” there was certainly room for a more thoughtful, impactful conclusion. We are told that one character will be transformed into a Cenobite, but we don’t see it; we’re shown what could be the first shots in a war of biblical proportions, only to be given a somewhat contrived twist instead.
Tunnicliffe strikes both gold and mud in Hellraiser: Judgment, delivering compelling innovations and tired, momentum-killing scripting. I think Judgment could have been brilliant if it had been a series of vignettes, each featuring a new character pleading his/her case before the Auditor (before being sentenced and subjected to the whims of the Cenobites). The detective/serial-killer subplot was 2-dimensional and uninspired, and a Heavenly emissary was unnecessary and kind of cheesy. Still, the high points are amazing, making Judgment a compelling watch and an example of how much fuel there really is left in the Hellraiser franchise.
Bottom Line: Hellraiser: Judgment isn’t just better than Revelations, it’s the best straight-to-DVD installment of the entire franchise. It lacks the scope of the first 4 films but includes many chilling elements absent from later installments. Hellraiser purist won’t be please without Doug Bradley playing Pinhead but open-minded franchise fans may be pleasantly surprised.