Released: February 2018
Director: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Run Time: 81 Minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Studios/Dimension Films
Damon Carney: Sean Carter
Randy Wayne: David Carter
Gary J. Tunnicliffe: The Auditor
Rheagan Wallace: Alison Carter
Helena Grace McDonald: Jophiel
John Gulager: The Assessor
Paul T. Taylor: Pinhead
When Clive Barker’s Hellraiser was released by New World Pictures back in 1987, it took the horror genre by storm. A journey into the dark side of human nature and desire, Hellraiser was a shocking and visually disturbing film that surprised and disgusted movie-goers. The film had a huge influence on the genre that birthed it and Clive Barker became a household name, essentially. Probably the most popular aspect of the film was the character of Pinhead, played by Doug Bradley. While the character was only on screen for maybe about 10 minutes out of the entire movie, his presence was felt throughout and has since become an iconic character alongside Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. The follow-up film, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, expanded on the mythology of the first film by exploring the origins of Pinhead and giving us a more detailed look into the world of the Cenobites. Visually, it was just as shocking and grotesque as the original film, but it took the story to another level. Hellraiser III is where things started going downhill from there with one final theatrical release in Hellraiser: Bloodline. The following sequels went straight to home video and focuses less on what made Hellraiser so memorable in the first place. They weren’t necessarily awful, but they just weren’t the same. Now, in 2018, we have a new Hellraiser film. How does it stack up with the others?
Hellraiser: Judgment follows three detectives as they try to track down a serial killer using the Ten Commandments as his inspiration. As they continue to track the killer, they get drawn into a very dark and otherworldly situation from which there may be no escape. I have to admit, the simplicity of the story is quite surprising and quite engaging. While there are definitely moments where the film gets very twisted, it’s not convoluted. I should mention that this is definitely not Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. While it does carry the name and themes of Mr. Barker’s film, Hellraiser Judgment is a different kind of Hellraiser. Whether or not you actually like the film may depend on whether or not you’re willing to set aside certain expectations. It’s different and it’s new. It introduces new ideas into the franchise that I find to be very interesting. Bringing angels into the mix(yes, the Heavenly ones)not only spices things up a bit, but it also gives us a bit of a glimpse into where a future installment could go. I find that absolutely fascinating. I’m glad that Gary J. Tunnicliffe decided to change things up a bit. THIS is the movie that Hellraiser: Revelations should have been.
Now, the first thing you are going to notice about Hellraiser: Judgment is the fact that Pinhead is played by someone other than Doug Bradley. Revelations was the first film to cast someone else, but the film was an unmitigated dumpster fire. For the tenth installment, Paul T. Taylor was cast as the Hell Priest. You wanna know something funny? Mr. Taylor does a pretty good job as the man with the pins in his head. Don’t get me wrong, nobody can truly replace Doug Bradley as Pinhead, but Mr. Taylor brings his own unique performance to the role and it works. The make-up effects and costume design for the character are outstanding. Gary J. Tunnicliffe, who wrote and directed this film, also stars as the Auditor, a new Cenobite that “interviews” people before sending them to be cleansed and judged. He’s particularly creepy. The new Cenobites in this film are something to behold. We have the classic “Chatterer,” while we get new characters like the Assessor and the Butcher. The other actors do a decent job. Damon Carney and Randy Wayne play officers who happen to be brothers working on the same case. Alexandra Harris plays Christine Egerton, who is assigned to the same case as the Carter brothers, but she has another reason for being there. Overall, the acting is really not bad here.
The effects for this film are really quite good for a film that’s very low-budget. The make-up and costume designs are on par with some of the previous films if not more so. Pinhead looks amazing the way he’s designed. He looks more like a priest than a sado-masochistic demon. The other Cenobites are extremely detailed to the point of revulsion, as it should be. Most of the effects in Hellraiser: Judgment are practical, especially in terms of the gore and violence, and that is generally not something you see in a low-budget horror film these days. The first few Hellraiser films have always been fairly liberal with the gruesome visuals, and they don’t skimp out on the nasty stuff here. It’s not gory every second of the film, but when the blood flows, it flows.
So far, so good, right? It’s nothing like Hellraiser: Revelations, right? No, but that’s not a particularly high bar to beat. Thankfully, Judgment comes out swinging and connects more than it misses, in my opinion. However, there are a number of issues which will most likely keep the film from legendary status. First of all, people expecting a film like say Hellbound: Hellraiser II need to check their expectations at the door. This is a very different film than what’s come before, so for some, that could be a huge negative. Another problem is that some of the pacing is kind of…off despite the 81 minute run-time. When you’re not actually dealing with the Cenobites, the movie does slow down a bit. It also borrows elements from movies like Saw and Seven. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but the whole police procedural aspect of the film felt a little underwhelming to me. There is also a twist in the film that I saw coming a mile away. The film’s budget is estimated to be at 350,000 bucks, and it kinda shows at times. There are some sets that don’t look like they were completed in time. However, it is something that I can forgive because of the low-budget nature of the film.
Overall, I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised by how good Hellraiser: Judgment ended up being. Does this film erase the stench of Revelations? Not really, but it is a huge step in the right direction, and with some new ideas being introduced into the franchise, I’m actually curious about where Pinhead goes from here. If Lionsgate/Dimension Studios can put the same amount of effort into the next film as they did with Judgment, we may see a turnaround for Hellraiser. Hopefully, we can get the franchise back on track. This movie makes me hopeful for that. Yeah, I would say, if you are a fan of Hellraiser, check this one out. It may surprise you.
My Final Judgment: Tears are a waste of good suffering. 8.5/10