Directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Distributed by Lionsgate
The Hellraiser series created by Clive Barker has had a long and storied on-screen history. Both 1987’s Hellraiser and 1988’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II are widely considered classics… and rightly so. 1992’s Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth saw Pinhead, as always portrayed by Doug Bradley, take center stage in a film that feels more like a slasher flick than its predecessors; and that continued into Hellraiser: Bloodline, which in and of itself was an incredibly troubled production.
After the 1996 Pinhead in space opus, the Hellraiser train slowed quite a bit, eventually returning in 2000 with Scott Derrickson’s (Doctor Strange, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister) Hellraiser: Inferno. Things changed drastically for everyone’s favorite Cenobite as he went from the spotlight to glorified background player. This new trend continued over several more entries into the franchise, ending with 2005’s Hellraiser: Hellworld, which took the “evil online.”
Another few years passed, and since Dimension, as Foy put it, “had such rights to hold on to,” 2011 saw the return of the franchise with the laughably bad Hellraiser: Revelations. Honestly speaking, I don’t blame director Víctor García for this friggin’ mess. He had next to no budget and only a few days in which to shoot something. For all of its shortcomings, and lord knows there were A LOT of them, Hellraiser: Revelations remains most infamous for replacing the legendary Doug Bradley in the role of Pinhead. Gone was the Gothic demon of darkness whose every word we hung upon, and in his place was Stephan Smith Collins, who chewed scenery like a rabid dog frothing at the mouth because of being fed McDonald’s instead of a thick juicy steak. Even the look of the character was all wrong as Collins looked more like a fan in a costume than he did the the pinned prince of hell.
So why the history lesson? I mean, you guys know all this, right? Well, because it’s kind of impossible to illustrate what an enormous task Hellraiser: Judgment director Gary J. Tunnicliffe had before him to try to make a worthy new entry into the franchise. After four disappointing sequels in a row and the debacle that was Hellraiser: Revelations, many fans – myself included – thought the series was done; and truth be told, it should have been finished. Yet, Tunnicliffe had a tale he wanted to tell. There was just one other giant-sized problem he’d have to hurdle: a very public falling out with Doug Bradley, who still looks fantastic as the titular character. A new actor had to be found to pick up the bloody mantle, and one thing was certain… it was not and never will be Stephan Smith Collins. It’s not that Collins is a bad actor… it’s just that he was completely wrong for the role. But more on that in a bit… let’s get to what you’re really here for… a review of Hellraiser: Judgment.
Things start off semi-rocky to as we’re treated to a scene in which Pinhead (now played by Paul T. Taylor) and a hellish new character named The Auditor (Tunnicliffe, pulling double duty) discuss how best to lure souls to the slaughter in the information age. The script here is a bit iffy, but still nowhere near the degree of assery of Revelations. From there things are set in motion as we’re introduced to detective Sean Carter (Damon Carney) and his brother and fellow detective, David Carter (Randy Wayne). Our dynamic duo have been busy trailing a serial killer who goes by the name of The Preceptor, who kills his victims in all manner of disturbing biblical ways. As their investigation hits some roadblocks, another detective (Alexandra Harris) is brought in to help and oversee. As you may have guessed… things take a turn for the demonic, and the red gets spread in a truly free-flowing way.
Hellraiser: Judgment‘s biggest accomplishment is that it’s actually good. Way better than expected and surprisingly engaging. All of the acting is solid, as is the story. With every odd against him, Tunnicliffe has managed to successfully reboot a flailing franchise by delivering an experience that plays as sort of a hybrid between the tones of Hellraiser 1 through 4 and then Hellraiser 5 through 9. Pinhead is omnipresent, and Taylor delivers a worthy performance and is every bit as majestic as you’d hope he’d be. He has the look and the acting chops to pull it off. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying he’s better than Doug Bradley by any stretch of the imagination. Doug can NEVER be fully replaced and is indeed a one-of-a-kind actor. I am saying that if Taylor is the one to continue on with the character, I’m completely okay with that.
Aside from Pinhead, the new Cenobites make quite an impression, especially The Auditor, who pretty much steals every scene he’s in. Chatterer is back alongside all manner of other ghastly figures, including The Assessor, played by a happy to be sickening you John Gulager, and the hulking mass that is The Butcher (Joel Decker).
Tunnicliffe does NOT shy away from the violence or the perverse nature of the Cenobites in the slightest bit, creating a world that is as repugnant as it is demonic. He also manages to introduce some sensible new possibilities and plot devices while delivering the fan service we’ve so desperately been missing.
In terms of special features on the Blu-ray, you’ll find several extra and extended scenes along with a gag reel. Nothing really special to be found here, but I’m thinking maybe the people behind this one never really had the confidence in the end product to go all out. Shame. It deserved a bit better than what we got. Oh, and if you’re excited to see A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Heather Langenkamp in a Hellraiser flick, well, get ready to be disappointed as she has nothing more than a brief cameo that’s completely inconsequential.
At the end of the day Hellraiser: Judgment, while not perfect nor as good as the classic Hellraiser films, delivers a rather striking vision that feels as new as it does familiar. If the series is to continue, I’m eager to see what else Tunnicliffe has in store for us. Thank you, sir, for the sights you had to show us.
Hellraiser: Judgment manages to take us down some familiar roles leading to new destinations. It’s a perverse, bloody fun trip that’s totally worth taking.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
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