Somewhere, in the underlining story of Hellraiser: Judgment, there’s a good idea. In its brisk 81 minutes, which somehow manages to doubly bore with its police procedural knockoff and apparent obsession with Cenobite bureaucracy, there is at least the foundation of something that could have made for a truly compelling Hellraiser entry. Unfortunately, director Gary J. Tunnicliffe decided to remake Seven, and thrown in some scenes that felt more like a back door pilot for Law & Order: Leviathan.
The idea: what if modern life is so sinful, that the mere idea of sin being bad and shameful is quaint. Everyone’s sin is an open book, and no one seems to care because we’re addicted to our phones, or something. Look, they’re demons, not Rhodes scholars! The basis for Hellraiser is that when truly terrible sinners run out of Earthly sin, the Cenobites come and offer next level sin through their puzzle box. What greater sin is there for a cynical culture is the belief we’ve “been there and seen all that”? The idea that there are no more surprises. We are numb to everything.
Too bad this latest entry didn’t follow its own advice because Judgment is just about as pedestrian as you can get. Fans can forgive the horridness of the previous entry, Revelations, because it was made under the cynical precept that Dimension was just putting something together to hold on to the Hellraiser rights. In this business, it’s called pulling a “Fantastic Four”. Tunnicliffe though, having worked behind the scenes for years on Hellraiser movies as a make-up artist, seemed like he had something specific he wanted to do. Whether or not he accomplished it is a question I can’t answer.
As for the film itself is every strung-out cop cliché you can think of in the packaging of an actor who looks like someone in casting said, “Bring me Michael Fassbender’s cheap American equivalent.” Detectives Sean Carter (Damon Carney) has been there, seen that, and read the book, but he stopped short of watching the movie version because you kids don’t read any more! That insult is directed at little brother and fellow detective David Carter played by Randy Wayne, who looks like he’d last about five minutes in Fifty Shades of Grey’s Red Room, to say nothing of the Cenobite’s Hell Realm.
These two detectives of nowhere/anywhere USA are investigating the serial murder spree of “The Preceptor”, who’s committing a murder in honour of every one of the Ten Commandments. The Preceptor has killed all the way through to #8, and who’s ever in charge of this surprisingly depleted police force has assigned Detective Christine Egerton (Alexandra Harris) to help the brothers make a break before the last two murders are completed.
If the limited budget of Judgement is hurt the most by any one thing, it’s the complete and utter lack of extras. All the scenes at the police station take place in the same small dingy detective’s office that Egerton rightly mocks as looking like something out of a hard-boiled 1940s film noir. Crime scenes are surprisingly sparse as one man guards a spot in the middle of an open area where there’s no press attention from a media that would undoubtedly be hungry for every last detail about such a salacious killer. Also, there is not a single CSI person collecting evidence! If these three people are responsible for the policing of an entire city, that explains a lot.
As for our old friend Pinhead (now played by Paul T. Taylor), whatever’s going in, he seems cool with it. Every once in a while, we cut to Pinhead, sitting in a room somewhere, starring at a wall. We’re introduced to a new Cenobite called the Auditor, played by director Tunnicliffe himself. The Auditor is part of the previously unseen Cenobite legal system (I guess?) where you recount for him your sins. Those sins are assessed by a character played by Feast director John Gulager, who eats the type written pages listing those sins, and then your guilt/innocence is determined by a jury of three naked women with half-eaten faces who put their hands in the Assessor’s barf after he throws up the pages. Spoiler alert: no one is found innocent.
Though I mock the Cenobite legal system, likely to my own detriment, I must also confess to finding this the film’s most interesting part. When Sean Carter finds himself before the Auditor, it felt like the movie was going somewhere new and interesting. We had to slog though just about every serial killer movie cliché catalogued in the last 20 years of cinema history to get there, but I would have been okay with that if the movie managed to keep this feeling of genuinely exploring new ground in a well-worn universe.
Sadly though, this Seven parody must answer itself as Ameri-Fassbender struggles with issues of being the toughest cop on the force, of being messed-up from his military service, of being a crappy husband, and on, and on, and on. This naturally leads to a plot twist, which is hardly unexpected, but far from earned. At 81 minutes, we’re not given nearly enough time to get to know Carter, or to be either shocked or impressed about the direction the story takes his character in. Instead it seems like a weak way to bring the Cenobites, always the most interesting part of any Hellrasier story, back into the plot.
It is in the end that we finally see Taylor show off his chops as one of the most iconic horror characters. I give Taylor credit for at least being able to wear the pins and the leather with a certain degree of majesty, but there’s no way that he can fill the shoes of Doug Bradley. That’s not to say that no one can out Pinhead Bradley, and maybe if Taylor had been given something more to do he could have proved it, but Pinhead’s appearance in Judgment seemed kind of pro forma.
In other words, the Auditor, played by the film’s director, was the Cenobite star, and that’s okay. As for human celebrities, we get A Nightmare on Elm Street star Heather Langenkamp as the landlady of one of the Cenobites’ victims, and the production must have only been able to afford her for one scene, because there’s actually a scene later when Sean talks to the landlady through an open door, which obscures the view of the hallway outside. Did Langenkamp get paid by the word? And why invite horror royalty to your set, and give her such a blah part as an eye witness? This is like getting Jason Statham for a James Bond movie, and having him appear as the bartender that makes 007 his martini!
This infuriating exercise seems to be brought to us by the same people at Dimension who just seem to crank out Hellraiser movies now as a way of holding on to the rights so that no one else can have them. Meaning that Tunnicliffe’s ideas might have been able to bear fruit if the studio wasn’t being so damn cheap. This is a series that has gone into space, dammit! Seriously though, whatever Tunnicliffe might have been going for, I doubt it was a 75 per cent warmed over remake of Hellraiser: Inferno, another chapter from this franchises about a haunted cop hunting a psycho killer with a silly name.
Next time, and there will be a next time, let’s hope that Dimension digs deeper in their pockets to let the director be able to execute a modicum of imagination greater than what’s accomplished in Judgement. In the meantime, this Hellraiser is for fans and completists only.