Detectives Sean and David Carter are on the case to find a gruesome serial killer terrorizing the city. Joining forces with Detective Christine Egerton, they dig deeper into a spiraling maze of horror that may not be of this world
2018 starts out with a bang by delivering (to fans of the franchise) yet another inclusion of horror and cenobite laced madness. For those of you who have been sticking with the franchise since its inception, well…. we know all too well it’s been a disappointing spiral into lesser-inspired releases. I felt like this review shouldn’t begin without jumping back a bit from where we came from.
Hellraiser arrived on the scene at the tail end of the 80’s offering a new vision of horror from artisan Clive Barker. It then pushed on ahead with 2 very satisfying sequels (in my opinion) cementing the franchise into horror history. Though in an almost 45% descent the franchise took a dive with too many sequels that got less satisfying in linear descent. This sometimes presenting Doug Bradley’s version of Pinhead as a “madness host” rather than a formidable character. Despite all this misdirection, we still held tightly with reports, news, and rumors, of more Hellraiser releases that eventually would remove Mr. Bradley altogether as a the Pinhead himself (sadly none-the-less).
This leads us up to 2018, of which I’m glad I’m still around to see care given where it is truly deserved. Though, as most fans would admit, this franchise is overdue for a fresh presentation under the care of …well, someone who cares to stay true to Barker’s first offering and flavor. Director Gary J. Tunnicliffe has been unrelentlessly pursuing the reemergence of a new reinvented Pinhead and Hellraiser inclusion for quite some time. This being his directorial debut within the franchise. From this introduction actor Paul T. Taylor comes to the gate with his fresh interpretation of our fan-favorite character dressed to kill and made up for viscerally-driven horror-fueled action (Doug Bradley has moved on to other horror releases over the years, and still remains a respected icon of this franchise).
Moving on….Hellraiser: Judgment comes at us with new Pinhead player Paul T. Taylor who as mentioned replaces Doug Bradley, and the 2nd incarnation, 2011’s Stephan Smith Collins. For those already curious, Paul T. Taylor does a bang up job. Fans will of course still miss Bradley, but Paul T. Taylor does a job worthy of the role. What struck me most beyond facial features being slightly different was a great voice that really felt like it belonged to a Pinhead character. Maybe that Shakespearian manner of which we are used to is lesser than previous, but the voice used for the role and by Taylor is downright chilling.
The film begins with a great first act that really adds a whole new arc-element to the Hellraiser environments. We are quickly introduced to the curious location of “55 Ludovico Street” (Film Trivia: the address taken from the original “Cotton” location used for Hellraiser (1987))
The location itself is sort of a gateway to those invited in. This lair of sorts appears to be run by a new character named “The Auditor” (Gary J. Tunnicliffe) who basically is the acting clerk in charge of processing new applicants sins into an old typewriter. The setup works much like an office from hell that takes note, passes the results to (other new character) “The Assessor”, who vomits the results out to a jury. Thus leading us to the Butcher and the Surgeon. Now I would hate to spoil these tasty surreal details for you, so you’ll have to process the visuals on your own. Further research here indicates that the process is all part of what is called the “Stygian Inquisition”. Though our end game appears to all lead up to Pinhead who waits for those to summon him and his Cenobian “Order of the Gash” minions.
This inclusion takes on the background of Pinhead and the film’s various monstrosities into a new place in the story’s lineage which at one point also introduces new arc, Jophiel (Helena Grace Donald) an angel who seems to have certain authority over the “Order of the Gash”. I will say that this aspect feels like it left holes in the film which I’m hoping are details to be further explored in future film follow ups. The short answer here I took away was that demons, angels, and oddities are bound by certain supernatural limitations and rules. How this all embellishes down the road is any one’s guess.
The main story is centered on focal characters detectives Sean and David Carter (Randy Wayne, Damon Carney) brothers who are hot on the trail of a mass serial killer who self-named himself the “Preceptor”. The murders are gruesome, biblically rooted and rich in “Seven-eseque” setups that feel more like an homage to the series “Hannibal” than anything. None-the-less, a case is underway with the assistance of appointed newcomer Christine Egerton (Alexandra Harris).
As the hunt ensues, so does the inquisition into recent sinners while also paying special interest to the extreme-rooted serial killings of the Preceptor. Fans will be delighted to see a few old familiar characters make appearance while being exposed to new orders and players. The film feels solid, dark, and brooding while at times almost having a certain subtle comedic element laid underneath (I did say subtle). In retrospect, we are not given all answers this round which appear to be intestinally positioned for other entries to come. Additional research reveals that some intended characters were left out due to budget restrictions. This does not at all take away from the film, but was good to hear that more abominations are waiting in the wings.
Heather Langenkamp (Freddy Krueger films) makes a cameo playing the role of Landlady. A short appearance, but always welcome by the genre as a iconic contributor to the cause.
Will Hellraiser fans feel redeemed with this entry? I am leaning towards a thick “yes” with an asterisk next to it. “Hellraiser: Judgment” is a creepy film with weird nightmarish elements throughout. Pinhead is indeed present poised to make an impact, but I have to say it was Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s “The Auditor” who leaves a more lasting impression as an associate of Pinhead.
Great job by the team who really nailed the visuals and FX work. We love where this new Hellraiser epic is going, we just want more now (more than ever). Gary J. Tunnicliffe is a rightful heir to the do exactly that. Let’s give the man and his team the support they need…onward!