The Hellraiser franchise is one that has long been languishing in the underworld of direct to DVD follow-ups. It is a franchise that has its fans thanks to the undoubtedly rich and deep mythology at its centre, depicting a sadomasochistic realm of hell that is maintained by the iconic priest of hell Pinhead and his Cenobites. Clive Barker’s creations have certainly left their mark on horror iconography, but it has undoubtedly been somewhat watered down by a barrage of low budget sequels that have largely only been made so that the rights holders can maintain their hold on said rights by making a film every so many years.
There are rumblings of Barker returning for a reboot in the near future, but until then, there are still some low budget sequels to get to, with Hellraiser: Judgment being the latest to reach UK audiences, despite having been made nearly three years ago. It is the tenth instalment, and while it has long franchise-serving special effects artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe in the director’s chair, it is strictly only for the die-hard fans who are willing to go to hell and back for Pinhead and his fellow denizens of the hell dimension.
The film riffs on the concept of Se7en by largely following a trio of detectives, brothers Sean (Damon Carney) and David (Randy Wayne) and new to the case Christine (Alexandra Harris), who are investigating a series of murders based on The Ten Commandments. As they probe deeper into the unspeakable evils of this killer, who has been dubbed The Preceptor, they unwittingly step into a world not of this Earth, populated with the harvesters of souls that are Pinhead and his Cenobites.
Hellraiser: Judgment is very much a pale imitation of Se7en in the drama that takes place outside in the real world away from the realm overseen by Pinhead (here played by Paul T. Taylor). It is incredibly half baked when it comes to constructing its central gimmick, often skirting around most of the details, with only a couple of moments of largely unconvincing imagery focused on the means in which The Preceptor has been tying their kills to The Ten Commandments. This section of the film is largely made up of tired procedural cliches, that are gamely performed by the three leads but lack much in the way of imagination.
Where the film is clearly more creatively engaged is in the realm of hell that Pinhead presides over, along with the scarred Germanic figure, the Auditor of the Stygian Inquisition (played by director Tunnicliffe). Here, in a dilapidated house that bears the same address as the house in the original film, Tunnicliffe attempts to add some new elements to the mythology, with the Auditor assessing the souls of those that happen to wander through the front door. In the opening, in particular, the level of practical effects and what they manage to achieve is quite surprising given the limited $350,000 budget. It also conjures up some pretty horrific injury, that only pure gorehounds will get much satisfaction from.
In the sense of conjuring up images of the grotesque, Hellraiser: Judgment is pretty successful. It is certainly not a film for the squeamish, with skin peels, puddles of bile, and buckets of gore occupying the frame on numerous occasions. In these moments the film ends up evoking something more in line with Tom Six’s Human Centipede films than it does much else in the Hellraiser franchise past. These moments, coupled with the very unimaginative police drama on the outskirts make Judgment a very arduous experience to sit through, one where you somewhat admire what the creative team have down with their limited budget (Tunnicliffe is clearly putting his effects knowledge to visceral use here), but are frankly either too unengaged or too repulsed to connect with the material in a way that is all that entertaining.
The final moments of Judgment touch on an idea that is, in theory, quite a fun means of shaking up the status quo of this franchise. But it comes in quite literally the dying seconds of what has otherwise been a pretty miserable exercise to sit through. There is undeniably a lot of talent in the effects department here, but it is otherwise in service of a story that is uninspired and cribs from better thrillers. It is frustrating that there are morsels of some inspiration in here that either get rushed over or buried in quite extreme and gruesome imagery and predictable plotting. Those fans who have been willing to stick with the franchise for this long might get a kick out of it, but even then they will know that they have seen better days. What the future holds for the Hellraiser franchise is uncertain right now, but one hopes it will be a brighter and more inspired future than what this delivers.
Dir: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Scr: Gary J. Tunnicliffe, based on characters created by Clive Barker
Cast: Damon Carney, Randy Wayne, Alexandra Harris, Heather Langenkamp, Paul T. Taylor
Prd: Michael Leahy
DOP: Samuel Calvin
Music: Deron Johnson
Runtime: 81 minutes
Hellraiser: Judgment is available on-demand from February 22nd, 2021.