Studio: Dimension Films
Director: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Writer: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Producer: Michael Leahy
Stars: Damon Carney, Randy Wayne, Alexandra Harris, Heather Langenkamp, Paul T. Taylor, Gary J. Tunnicliffe, Jeff Fenter, Rheagan Wallace, Helena Grace Donald, Grace Montie, John Gulager
The hunt for a sadistic serial killer leads three detectives into a confrontation with otherworldly horror.
“Hellraiser: Judgment” writer/director Gary J. Tunnicliffe created a little confusion in 2016 when he assured Fangoria that “the film isn’t a re-hashing of an old script (as some lesser informed sites are assuming) nor was it rushed into production. It’s a completely original piece…” A cancelled Kickstarter project however, didn’t fully align with Tunnicliffe’s claim.
In 2013, Tunnicliffe sought crowdfunding for a feature titled “Judgement” (sic). The movie was meant to be “an uncensored, extreme horror film” that producer Joel Soisson described as “Se7en meets Hellraiser.” The proposal included pictures and pitches for characters called ‘The Auditor,’ ‘The Assessor,’ ‘The Jury,’ and more, all of whom appear in “Hellraiser: Judgment” exactly as depicted for “Judgement.” So the inference, at least the way I read it, that “Hellraiser: Judgment” wasn’t rising from the ashes of this previous project seemed curious to say the least.
In a later 2016 interview, Tunnicliffe clarified that “Hellraiser: Judgment” began life as a Hellraiser concept, but became an original project before boomeranging back into a Hellraiser sequel. Essentially, “Judgement” went into the cooler after raising only $8,714 of its $195k goal, then returned to life three years later when Dimension green-lighted it as a Hellraiser follow-up. So calling it a “re-hashing of an old script” was misleading because “Judgement” always intended to be Hellraiser canon anyway. Or something like that.
While we have The Wayback Machine fired up, it’s worth noting that at a 2013 Beyond Fest screening of “Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut” (review here), the subject of “Hellraiser” came up during a Q&A with Clive Barker. When the series’ much-maligned sequels were mentioned, Barker took a sincere moment to call them, and I quote, “absolute abominations.” Barker added that he hadn’t seen “the last three” movies, which for the record would have been “Deader,” “Hellworld,” and “Revelations.”
Although “Hellraiser: Judgment” shows all the DTV signs of a bankbook starving for another nickel, and has a spotty story stitched from stolen tropes and stereotypes, it doesn’t deserve to be added to the “absolute abomination” category. Clive Barker can safely include it on his “no need to bother with” list though. While “Judgment” duplicates some of the surface appeal that made “Hellraiser” distinct, substance and style are separate stories.
The non-cenobite side of the plot, which you realize in hindsight links so loosely to the cenobite side that it’s a wonder the script feels connected at all, concerns a couple of sibling detectives fresh from the copy machine tray. Sean is an unshaven alcoholic in a leather jacket who forgets his wife’s birthday. His brother David provides the clean-cut pretty boy in a tie counterpart. Christine completes the cop trio as a plucky, unwelcome woman assigned to shake up the tandem team.
The detectives are trying to find a serial killer called ‘The Preceptor,’ who chooses victims according to Ten Commandments violations. This mystery never gains any meaningful traction. The cenobite stuff makes so much noise, you regularly forget there is an ongoing multiple murder investigation to be solved in the mortal world.
Plus, there are only five actors in the title credits and a scant few additional characters beyond that. So unless you have suspicions about the medical examiner, random vagrant, or other single scene bit player, the list of people the killer could be is a scandalously short one.
Two of the things “Hellraiser” is predominantly known for, Pinhead and the puzzle box, as well as one thing “Judgment” loudly trumpets, “A Nightmare on Elm Street’s” Heather Langenkamp in the cast, irrelevantly combine for maybe five minutes of content. Langenkamp’s inconsequential cameo as ‘Landlady’ occupies one brief clip of an unimportant scene. I don’t know why anyone bothered to include the character, much less why Langenkamp agreed to speak only six sentences.
Although it comes into play in the climax, the puzzle box mostly sits on a shelf (literally). Meanwhile, Pinhead largely lounges in a chair. All this fuss over getting Pinhead to look “right” after the doughy disappointment of “Hellraiser: Revelations” and it doesn’t even matter all that much. Paul T. Taylor sounds fine, and Pinhead’s presentation is about 80% of the way there. His silhouette lines stand too straight, though a standard lighting scheme takes more blame for showcasing awkwardness in Pinhead’s appearance. Instead of blue fog and shadow, bright lights practically blind the cenobite priest, highlighting every hiccup in his design. Still, he never looks as poorly costumed as the angel outfitted in a midriff-baring white pantsuit.
Newcomer The Auditor steals Pinhead’s usual spotlight. Normally, I would wag a finger at writer/director Gary J. Tunnicliffe for casting himself in what might be the movie’s meatiest role. Except his performance as a demonic accountant might also be the movie’s highlight. Tunnicliffe’s deliciously campy take on the ghoulishly goofy character captures some throwback Full Moon charm, even if The Auditor leans too far into an Andre Toulon meets The Invisible Man mash-up.
Other dubious casting choices don’t hold up as well. “Feast” director and Tunnicliffe friend John Gulager, whose other auspicious acting credits include ‘Man on Bridge,’ ‘Man in Elevator,’ and ‘Driver #1,’ really isn’t right for the role of The Assessor, which in turn isn’t really right for “Hellraiser.” Channeling Laurence R. Harvey from “The Human Centipede” series, a sweaty, shirtless, grinning Gulager pours “tears of children” on papers before eating them with a knife and fork in slow-motion. It’s a moment meant to be unnerving that instead reads as silly.
The Assessor goes on to have his vomit funneled into a trough where three nude women with skinless faces run their hands through his upchuck. This is indicative of how the movie’s misguided idea of manufacturing the macabre focuses on being disgustingly sick when it should be hauntingly unsettling.
Some setups come close to clever. A live dog sewn inside a dead woman’s stomach has novelty value. Severed hands arranged as fists around jars of blood capture similarly sinister sparks of creativity. Tunnicliffe has Hellraiser-ish ideas in the form of imagery, but the themes aren’t on a Barker-esque wavelength.
Clive Barker’s work weaves sexuality with slaughter for S&M sensuality. Simply spraying blood on bare breasted women, something “Hellraiser: Judgment” does, isn’t in that same spirit of lust fused with horror. Nudity and gore are just smashing together instead of feeding each other in complementary fashion.
“Hellraiser: Judgment” never has true hope of fleshing its fantasy because the boundaries of its budget are visible everywhere. Tight, simply dressed locations seem even smaller due to a close-up camera consistently jammed into headshots. Lighting amplifies staging, like when the killer butchers a victim in a room with one bulb burning bright red and one flickering like a strobe for another tenuously-motivated effect. “Hellraiser: Judgment” tries its best. Slim production value only allows it to go so far.
Given the violently fluctuating quality levels of the series to date, I’m not sure what the standards even are for grading a “Hellraiser” movie anymore. “Judgment” wears more warts than Pinhead has nails, yet it probably features enough weirdness to be worth a curious look for franchise fans who’d settle for anything remotely resembling mediocrity at this point. Does that equal a thumbs up or a thumbs down? I don’t really know.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 55