Movie Review: Hellraiser Judgment (2018)

Director: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Writer: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Starring: Gary J. Tunnicliffe, Damon Carney, Randy Wayne, Alexandra Harris and Paul T. Taylor (as Pinhead)

Hellraiser Judgment is of course, the latest installment in the long-running horror franchise. But there’s more to it than that, as this is arguably the film that Gary J. Tunnicliffe actually wanted to make. Those upset with Revelations should now know that Tunnicliffe was tied up with Scream 4 and Hollywood didn’t care what was put on film, so long as it kept the copyrights for another few years. After first coming up with what the industry thought was a completely disgusting and deeply disturbing film in it’s original draft (the one that I actually wanted to see) he was finally given the go ahead to create the film. Problem is, this didn’t come without a pound of suggestions from the industry and somehow or another this story about the judgment of one’s sins (following closer now to Barker’s Scarlet Gospels than previous Hellraiser mythos) became what many felt was a Hellraiser injected version of Se7en, which was a bizarre cop drama placed around the seven deadly sins. As you might expect, this whole cop-drama more or less ruined what could have been much better than the final product. I don’t blame Gary for this however, I blame that smoldering pound of industry notes. In the beginning, the story was supposed to focus around a corrupt police officer who had found his way into this mysterious and seemingly abandoned dwelling, where he was actually being taken for the judgement of his sins and an eventual cleansing. Though as it turned out, the man had such a laundry list of sins that they exhausted The Auditor (Gary J. Tunnicliffe), choked The Assessor (John Gulager) and poisoned The Jury (Andi Leah Powers, Mary Kathryn Bryant and Valerie Sharp, respectively). All of this did happen in the film, but the problem was that there was too much movie in the way of all that. What I mean by this, is that the added notes from Hollywood seemed to point Gary in the odd direction of turning the film into a sort of noir/detective film or a police procedural, quite like had already been done nearly a decade ago with Hellraiser:Inferno.

Though the film began with the successful judging and what many feel is a satisfying end for any child predator, (he was the first victim, though was unrelated to the film as nothing more than an introduction piece) the rest of the film more or less revolved around two detectives by the name of Sean Carter (Damon Carney) and David Carter (Randy Wayne) as well as a woman sent from the higher-ups by the name of Christine Egerton (Alexandra Harris). They were on the lookout for a killer who would kill according to the seven sins, so yes – the Se7en reference is appropriate here. But at least it isn’t a home invasion movie this time around, I rather despise those. In any case, it turns out in the end that the detective who choked The Assessor was actually the killer responsible for the whole thing. So there, I saved you that plot point. I will say that some of the murder methods were quite interesting, but this wasn’t the movie that I expected to see. However, bits of Hellraiser did manage to rear it’s needled skull in areas, some of which that I felt were so clever, the film was actually worth a purchase. Though Pinhead (Paul T. Taylor) was used sparingly, I felt that his performance was indeed memorable and felt like a true successor to Doug Bradley’s worn crown. I would honestly not mind seeing more of Taylor as this character and feel that there is enough in him to spawn a few more sequels, at least.

That being said, the best performance in the entire film (and my whole reason for buying it) was that of Gary J. Tunnicliffe as The Auditor. Not only did he write, direct and do the makeup/special effects for the film, he also played in it as one might consider to be a starring role. I think he had more lines than Taylor, but that might change with the next outing. For anyone questioning me here, you need only to see the film and realize how much he brought this character to life, which is essentially a waddling and witty British cenobite with his head firmly wrapped around Barker’s mythos. One of my favorite lines in the film is, “And obviously, I’m a man for whom pain is nothing more than a common currency. I will spend some on you… if you like.” That very quote to me is what Hellraiser, The Hellbound Heart and Barker’s writing is all about. That’s a Doug quote too, I feel – but Gary made it work. I would have honestly liked to have seen more judgments, more victims and more of the cleansing process than I did and would have also liked to see more types of cleansing processes than I did with just The Surgeon (Jillyan Blundell) and The Butcher (Joel Decker). There were also three cleaners (Diane Ayala Goldner, Molly Nikki Anerson and Christina Parson, respectively) who would lick one’s body clean in preparation for the surgery. This sort of had the erotic “pleasure” portion of the formula, yet it also brought a bit of discomfort when they poured soap and water down Carter’s throat. I would have liked to have seen more variations on this, torture porn or not. It was entertaining and kept my attention, two things that I find necessary in good cinema.

Ultimately, The Scarlet Gospels influences started melding in with the mix, and they’re a far different mythos than the Leviathan based Cenobites from earlier films and comics – these are actually based on God, the devil, heaven and hell. So we actually have an angel take the stage in the form of Jophiel (Helena Grace Donald) who more or less seems to be the seraphic higher up that Pinhead himself now answers to (Hey, I didn’t write the script) and this threw off a lot of Hellraiser fans, because Pinhead doesn’t answer to anyone. In fact, Gary more or less recreated the famous “Jesus Wept” scene with Jophiel and ripped her apart in much the same fashion. After this, The Auditor warns him that he shouldn’t have done that and there are far worse things than hell. At the end of the film, in a rather unforeseen and strongly contested moment, we now see Pinhead in a human form as that of a street beggar, shouting in stark disbelief that he has now become human. Paul T. Taylor discusses though, how he might make this work in future films over at Midnight’s Edge (who have been exhaustively covering this film, I will have links following this review) and though fans might be put off by the idea, I think it is a fascinating new direction for the franchise and should definitely be attempted. Though I will let him explain them, and you can choose whether to agree or disagree with my opinions there.

What you may not know, is that many of the later Hellraiser films were merely horror scripts with the cenobites added in later to give them an extra bit of pizzazz. That means, that Inferno, Hellseeker (Clive’s favorite of the bunch), Deader (Gary’s favorite of the bunch) and Hellworld were all horror stories not written with Hellraiser in mind. Gary believes that Deader was a fine script, and such a fine one that it didn’t need Hellraiser to begin with and was originally due to shoot without it’s involvement. Deader is a very different kind of film, that probably would have been something of a cult classic had it not been a Hellraiser film at all. As a Hellraiser fan, I feel that Deader is the worst one, but as a horror fan, I feel that Deader could have been something truly special had it the chance to stand on it’s own. It is also worth noting that Deader contains the infamous No More Souls film as an Easter Egg.

I have no idea what the future of this franchise holds, and Judgment reviews are heavily mixed. Some people like it, others think it is better than the previous installments, and others feel that it was just plain garbage. However, anything is preferred after the cinematic abortions that were Hellworld and Revelations. I do feel honestly, that this is the best one for me since Hellseeker and Inferno, both of which I heavily enjoyed. I’d actually place it right next to Inferno, which is kind of ironic since both films have the same sort of detective and police procedural vibe. Oddly, there are a slew of other characters used from the mythos like the Stitch Twins (Jillyan Blundell and Lindi Simpson, respectively) instead of Angelique, as well as the Chatterer (Mike J. Regan) who was a bit out-of-place entirely. The most unexpected character was that of Landlady, which was a small role played by the famous make-up/special effects artist Heather Lagenkamp who was of course known for her major role in The Nightmare On Elm Street films as her character Nancy Thompson. It was just a sort of walk-on role for her, which I didn’t even notice until Gary pointed it out during his interview with Midnight’s Edge.

The film did not sell very well at my local Walmart and I’m not even sure if they’re still carrying it there, to be honest. Regardless of what Gary wants, I think that Hollywood is going to find it best to resurrect Clive’s dead monster in order to line their pocketbooks again. There were talks of Clive’s shelved reboot script in December of last year, and it seems possible that we might see this taking form in the next few years. Regardless of what you thought of the film, it has only proven mediocre and that is not anything that Hollywood wants right now, especially from a once big-budget franchise as Hellraiser used to be in the eighties. I also may be fooling myself that Clive’s BDSM obsession wrapped in leather will appeal to the fear sensibilities of a politically correct generation that has since shunned horror monsters for ideologies that they don’t agree with. Jason, Freddy and even Pinhead are proving more as joke characters for this new breed of mankind, which means that Hollywood is in trouble and it might be best to let Tunnicliffe and Taylor (even though Gary admits that he really wants Doug to reprise the role again one day) play around with the mythos for a while, then let it fade out into the oblivion where films that released before the age of the internet are soon heading towards. I understand that we are trying to attempt to save them with all of these damned reboots, but sometimes it might be best to leave the past in the past, and to come up with something that speaks to the generation as a whole. Hellraiser is now, unfortunately; an old relic with all of the other great films of that era. It may be time to let the needle-faced monster rest in peace, some feel that he had already overstayed his welcome long ago.

(81 Minutes, Unrated)

7/10

Midnight’s Edge Videos:

Recasting A Horror Icon
Hellraiser Judgment Explained
Official Director’s Commentary
A Conversation With Paul T. Taylor

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