For those Hellraiser fans who’ve yet to abandon Pinhead’s sin-o-rama condemnation – how could you miss Hellraiser: Deader (real title) – 2018 brings yet another straight-to-video (ceno)bite of sadomasochism. Enter Hellraiser: Judgment, Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s religious allegory about divinity, evil and *putrid* torture exploitation. The chains that bind are greased and tightened once more, but a task force retread ends up overshadowing most of Pinhead’s minimal exposure. It’s serial killer procedural flavors slapped between familiar franchise beats, none of which make for a double-decker delight.
Frankly, I liked Hellraiser: Judgment better when it was The Devil’s Carnival.
Detective brothers Sean (Damon Carney) and David Carter (Randy Wayne) are hot on the trail of their serial killer adversary, The Preceptor – this mass murderer who selects victims based on broken Commandments. One night Sean’s investigating a child predator’s apartment when he finds an address. Without backup, he unknowingly stumbles into Pinhead’s (Paul T. Taylor) latest operation – where he’s “audited” and judged for his actions on Earth. How will Sean, an ex-militant with blood on his hands, fare in the eyes of underworld demons? Oh, that’s only the *first* complication.
Upon the film’s graphic, psycho-sick opening of flayed skin and regurgitated juices, we assume Hellraiser: Judgment to be some brand of Saw ripoff under Cenobite guidance. The Auditor, a criss-cross-sliced host played by Tunnicliffe, types files in blood (via typewriter) that recount his subject’s moral status. Then in stumbles The Assessor (Jon Gulager) – a piggish slob of a man – who eats the written pages and vomits the mashed contents down a tube. Topless, thong-wearing vixens then shove their hands into the rancid bile and profess a final ruling (*represses nausea*). Next comes the “cleaners,” naked older ladies who lick and “wash” the tied-up subject, and finally, The Butcher (Joel Decker) enters – releasing The Surgeon (Jillyan Blundell) from his covered backpack nest. Very Ferra & Torr from Mortal Kombat X.
It’s a sadistically elaborate system that fits Pinhead’s mold but promises a movie that devolves into generic copland thriller boredom. Cenobite makeup effects are solid for the most part – skin pulled like facial sphincters, lips removed – and there’s one memorable kill that involves a 21-year-old daddy’s girl who worships her dog (false God), but we’re otherwise robbed of Lemarchand interest. Sean and David follow a Seven-ish inspired route with their assigned watchdog Detective Christine Egerton (Alexandra Harris) in the mix – conversations about Charles Dickens and alcoholism reign supreme (like, plentiful Dickens references). It’s ambitious at best, but uninspired and uncharismatic in reality.
I mention The Devil’s Carnival because there’s a power shift at play in Hellraiser: Judgment. We learn that the big guy upstairs harbors his own thoughts about “The Preceptor” which clash with Pinhead’s decision (in some way). Blinding light cuts through the darkened Cenobite hideout – a boarded-up farmhouse – and Jophiel (Helena Grace Donald) appears like some catty right-hand angel out of a bad business sitcom. Pinhead eventually gets pissed, defies God, but – again – this is all after a lackluster criminal case plays out with weightless genre devotion. A movie-long war between heaven and hell would have been *something* – not a few-minutes finale.
Gore is, for lack of a better descriptor, used liberally when possible. Like I said, the opening “trial” will test your stomach and carve some BDSM nightmares – but even for an 80-minute movie, corpses are livelier than atmospheric details. Also, did I spy some CGI bloodsplatter? Hellraiser: Judgment goes savage when it should, but not often enough to detract from scripted car conversations stolen from NYPD Blue cutting room floors. Vile, offensive imagery that’d make Pinhead himself wince is available to behold, and erased almost immediately by yet another stretch of investigative doldrums.
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At least you’ll get to watch blood squirt against walls a whole bunch? Tunnicliffe loooooves his cutaway, “whoops, no budget for this” sanguine redecoration.
Hellraiser: Judgment is a disappointment for horror fans who strive to support one of the genre’s most iconic leaders – Pinhead etched into the Mt. Gushmore of horror heavyweights. It’s the kind of movie that casts Heather Langenkamp for one blink-and-you-miss landlady scene in a last-ditch attempt to generate diehard buzz. Hallmark skin-strips and damnations return, but almost as an afterthought. I know most of these Hellraiser movies pose some kind of cheap narrative that walks humans into Pinhead’s web, but this tangled mess is one of the least realized, most throwaway of them all (the “I’m back!” sequence made me L-O-L). Let’s hope eleven is Hellraiser’s lucky number?
What. Another sequel is…wait for it…*bound* to happen. *Shoots middle fingers upwards as the chains emerge and pull this writer’s face apart.*
Hellraiser: Judgment is a stuffy police procedural masquerading as a torturous Pinhead franchise entry.