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.