Anyone who knows me, even if just from the podcast, knows my favorite horror movie is Hellraiser. To be fair it’s one of my favorite movies period, and has been since I first saw it one sunny September day in 1987. It’s difficult to believe that was 3 decades ago, as the memory is still as fresh as if I had seen it only yesterday. I’d gone with a friend who was not fond of horror movies to say the least, and finally walked out after Frank’s classic, “Jesus wept,” line. I’m not sure he ever forgave me for dragging him along, but I couldn’t have been happier.
Everything about the movie appealed to me, and Clive Barker cemented himself alongside Stephen King as one of my idols. The idea of the Cenobites, their reason for existence, and Frank’s obsession with extremes was something that resonated with me, and has never been very far from my thoughts. With the advent of VHS players, Hellraiser became the movie to which I judged future friendships. If someone was able to sit through it, or even better, like it, I knew they’d be a keeper. It’s a test I still use to this day and has served me well.
I can’t say the same about the sequels. Even Hellraiser II, which some prefer to the original never had the profound effect of the original, and while I enjoyed 3 and 4-everything after that was nearly as painful as the implements hanging from Pinhead’s belt. Even 3 and 4 weren’t especially great, but they were entertaining, and at least attempted to do something different, or expand the world that Barker had created.
When the rumblings of yet another sequel started rearing its head a couple of years ago (not to mention the remake which has fortunately not come to fruition yet), the news was greeted with an eye roll and shoulder shrug. Yet every time I read something about it, I have to say my interest was piqued more and more. Even when Doug Bradley said he wouldn’t be playing Pinhead, I still had hope.
And now after several postponements and some time in limbo, Hellraiser: Judgment will be available on VOD Feb 13. The short answer to the question of whether I like it or not is, “Well, it doesn’t suck!” And while it’s probably the best of the direct to obscurity sequels, it’s not exactly a good movie.
The first 10 minutes or so is spent expanding the mythos that Barker began all those years ago, and it is easily the best part of the entire movie. We follow what turns out to be a pedophile to an abandoned house where he is strapped into a wheelchair. A tube winds itself from the victim to a typewriter, where The Auditor types his sins with blood flowing from the tube onto pages made from flesh.
Once completed The Assessor comes in, seasons the paper with tears of children and eats the paper, then vomits it into a funnel. The vomit then makes its way into a trough where The Jury, 3 women with their faces stripped away plunge their hands into the mess and deliver a verdict.
When that’s completed the pedophile is then strapped to a table where The Cleaners come in, lick his entire body then pour their spit into his mouth to cleanse the inside. The final step is when the Butcher makes his appearance, an obese dark Angel who carries The Surgeon on his back who filets the victim and strips his skin off.
The whole process is so fascinating; I really wish there had been more, as I was mesmerized and sickened by the process. Sadly, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to this beginning, as we then get treated to a substandard serial killer/cops on the trail flick. Pinhead and the gang are relegated to the beginning and end with just a couple of quick scenes in between. Paul T. Taylor is a fantastic Pinhead however, and makes you realize a Hellraiser movie can succeed without Doug Bradley. This incarnation really hearkens back to the original movie. Pinhead here is all business, and scary as hell. His black eyes and calm, almost bored demeanor are a highlight for sure.
Director Gary J. Tunnicliffe also plays The Auditor and is also a highlight, and as I said, wish there had been more of him and his level of Hell in the film (he’s not a Cenobite, but another aspect of Hell). Heather Langenkamp, of Nightmare on Elm Street fame has a sneeze and you’ll miss it cameo, and I have to believe there’s a lot more of her on the editing room floor than in the movie.
This brings us to the “detectives” working on the case; a pair of brothers, played by Damon Carney and Randy Wayne, as well as a female detective assigned to the case, played by Alexandra Harris. These characters are easily the weakest link in the movie. You never believe they’re actually brothers. Let alone detectives, and in spite of solid performances, the script really lets them down. Harris does a fine job as well, but feels like she was thrown in there just to spice things up.
The biggest problem the movie has is the small budget. There are so many cool ideas that could have been explored but had to be cut because there simply wasn’t room in the budget for them. The “detective’s” office looked more like a closet with some furniture thrown into it, and the finale takes place in an empty warehouse. I don’t blame the director for these choices, as you work with what you have, but still I can’t help but wonder what this movie could have been had they had a decent budget.
While I would have a hard time recommending buying the DVD/BluRay, I don’t think people will mind spending a few bucks to stream it. There are far worse movies out there, but in terms of Hellraiser sequels, you’ll find none that are much better. I just hope we get a proper sequel one day with more than a $1.98 budget, this franchise deserves more.