Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)

FEBRUARY 16, 2018


Of all the major horror franchises that came along (or at least had their biggest showcase) in the 1980's, Hellraiser was the one I never particularly got into the way I did for the others. I was late to the party in even seeing them; I think I was in high school before I watched the first three, only watching them once or twice before the release of Hellraiser: Bloodline, which was the only one I saw theatrically until Revelations in 2011. And most of the others I only bothered to watch for HMAD entries, having heard nothing good about any of them (and then, adding more negative reviews to their coffers), so now that I'm only updating sporadically I probably wouldn't have exactly rushed to watch the tenth film, Hellraiser: Judgment if not for two things. One is that I was offered a copy, so I could save myself a rental fee or blind buy down the road, and - more importantly - the other is that I heard from a number of people that it was a surprisingly decent entry, not quite hitting the highs of its theatrical releases, but certainly a step up from its DTV brethren.

And they're right! I mean, I wouldn't exactly refer to it as a "good" movie, but it's the only one of the DTV films (and I'm including Revelations in that group, despite its one-week limited release) that feels like a legit addition to the mythology that was established in the first four films. Even the one where Kirsty showed back up didn't really feel like a new chapter in an ongoing story (however loosely it was depicted), but a gimmick used to lure in folks who might be disinterested, like how Marvel (unnecessarily!) threw in Falcon and a setup for Civil War to entice people into seeing Ant-Man. But here, the scenes with Pinhead and some of his fellow Cenobites/demons/angels/whatever almost feel like they could have come from Clive Barker's imagination, and it's a shame the entire movie couldn't revolve around them as these sequences (which make up maybe 25% of the 80 minute film) are clearly where all the budget went, and now that I've seen it for myself, obviously the reason for the film's better-than-average reviews (it's actually got a higher Rotten Tomatoes score than Hellbound as of this writing, insanely enough).

Alas, that other 75% focuses on a trio of cops investigating a Seven-y serial killer who is killing people according to the Ten Commandments, even though "Thou Shall Not Kill" is one of them, the hypocrite. Maybe if we ever really saw him in action and/or the film gave us a few red herrings as to his identity this material would be more enjoyable (if still cliche; how many Biblically minded killers have we seen over the past 20 years or so?), but we mostly only see aftermath. The MO for these scenes is as follows: the detectives arrive on a scene to look at a dead body or some other kind of tableau, talk about this or that clue, then retreat to their wood-paneled office that looks suspiciously like one you might find in a used car lot or construction site. The murder sites are fine, but their office and some of the other sets are so phony looking (again, probably because all the money went into the Pinhead scenes) that it was hard to care much about their (and only their, as no other cops are seen in the film, despite the fact that this killer has seemingly earned a citywide manhunt) investigation into this vaguely defined, rarely seen killer.

It also lacks much in the way of surprises after its first (and best) ten minutes. In the opening scene we see Pinhead lamenting (heh) the advance of technology, and how he is becoming obsolete as people can just go to the internet to have their desires fulfilled instead of going to him (kind of like how we don't really need travel agents anymore when we can just head to Expedia), and I loved that concept. Unfortunately not too much is done with it, but at least it leads into the introduction of The Auditor, who looks like a Cenobite version of Claude Rains as the Invisible Man. His job is to interview would-be victims about their crimes and type them out on a typically monstrous typewriter, at which point the pages will be consumed by the Assessor (played by John Gulager!). He then pukes the results into a funnel where a trio of naked women with their faces ripped off scoop up the gross mixture in their hands and pass judgment. Why they go through all this trouble, I don't know, but I like the idea of them having their own pointless bureaucratic process for what they do.

But then our protagonist Sean (Damon Carney, who I dubbed "Michael Fauxbender" due to his mild resemblance to the actor and that their boring serial killer plot reminded me of the woeful Snowman) follows a couple of clues and ends up in the house, where we see the process again, too soon after the first and more or less spoiling the film's mystery before the halfway point. His "audit" is largely unheard by us, but the lengthy results cause the Assessor to choke during his consumption, and whatever he did has gotten the OK from the higher-ups, who instruct the Auditor to let Sean go. At this point the film starts to resemble one of the later episodes of Supernatural, with angels and demons arguing over jurisdiction and the like, but since it was at least moving away from the serial killer plot I was happy to watch it even if it was largely a repeat of a sequence we just saw 25 minutes or so ago.

In fact, if I had to guess, this sequence (or the earlier one) was added to get Pinhead and the other creations into the movie more. Since 2000's Inferno, the common complaint about these films (besides just kinda sucking in general) is that Pinhead isn't in them enough, even though that's the one thing that they share with the original (where he isn't even named Pinhead yet, but "Lead Cenobite"), so I'm sure there was a push to find a way to include him in more sequences (hilariously, at one point during the serial killer investigation they briefly cut to him spinning a Lament as he sat around waiting, as if to remind us that he was there). And unlike the more expensive Doug Bradley, new actor Paul Taylor (thankfully replacing the guy who played him in Revelations) was probably easier to pay for more days of work, so the reasons to limit his appearance were presumably based more on narrative than money. And Taylor is actually pretty good in the role; his physique is similar to Bradley's, which helps, and he's got a similar enough voice that it's easy enough to accept the transition. Whereas the last guy felt like seeing a kid in a costume, Taylor is someone who could conceivably continue playing the character for future installments and be accepted by the fans, not unlike the initial hesitance/eventual championing of every new James Bond or Batman (remember when everyone cried about Ben Affleck being cast? Some of the same people are now upset he might not come back for more).

Speaking of winning fans over, the makers cast Heather Langenkamp in the film and touted her involvement back when the film was first going into production in 2016, but if you're planning to see it for her, I'd advise against it, as her role can barely even be considered a cameo. She plays the landlord of one of the victims, and her on-screen time is limited to just two shots (one from behind!) as she walks down a flight of stairs, mutters a few things about the tenant, and opens a door. It's the kind of role that would usually be filled by Central Casting and perhaps not even meet the director until the day of shooting, yet she is given fourth billing for this nothing appearance. I'm not even joking when I say that an extra standing behind one of the cops as they wait in line for coffee is actually on-screen more than Ms. Langenkamp, and it's pretty lame of them to use her name/our affinity for "Nancy" to sucker in a few folks who might otherwise have no interest in another (or even their first). I was thinking she'd show up in one of the deleted scenes, but that's not the case. There are only two, and one is just an extension of the opening with the Auditor (played by writer/director Gary Tunnicliffe himself), letting things go on a bit longer but otherwise offering nothing of note. The other is more substantial, showing Sean and the other detective (Egerton, played by Alexandra Harris) talking about God while in a church, which clues us more into Sean's motives and gives Egerton a bit more to do than just ask for or deliver exposition (per Tunnicliffe, she wasn't even in the original story concept, but added at the producers' request, which helps explain why she's fairly extraneous in the narrative). With the the movie being so short I can't say it needed to lose scenes for pacing, but I doubt anyone will watch it and think it should have been in the movie, either. There's also a gag reel which provided some minimal amusement.

Tunnicliffe and his crew should be proud of what they've done here. It's no secret that this film (and the last one) were made quick and cheap by Dimension in order to hang on to their rights to the series (the contracts require them to make a movie within a certain amount of time; failure to do so for the Halloween series is why it ended up at Blumhouse), but he clearly wants to restore the series to its former highs instead of just playing studio lapdog and putting in the bare minimum that they require. The effects are practical, the designs are solid, and the scripts (yes, even Revelations') are far more interesting than the previous entries, where they were rewriting unrelated spec scripts to include Pinhead, which would be fine if the series was more anthological from the start, but there was this cool world opening up (particularly in the 2nd and 4th films) that got unceremoniously dropped when the series went DTV. Even if the results are imperfect, the attempt to get things back on track is admirable, and I hope that Dimension's money woes clear up somehow or (far more likely) the series is handed over to a studio that might realize the potential and give Tunnicliffe (or his replacement, if that was the case) the money to live up to the standards the series set in its initial entries. Until then, at least we have, for the first time since 1996, an entry that is actually worth watching (uneven as it may be), though I should stress that it might take suffering through the likes of Hellworld to really appreciate it.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Completely off topic but you have to see Annihilation before it leaves theaters. It is mind blowing and definitely horror!


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