Seven years after the troubled production of Hellraiser: Revelations effectively left the franchise on ice, it made a return with Hellrasier: Judgement – which was equally problematic in its own right. Former Pinhead actor Doug Bradley was made to sign a non-disclosure agreement before reading the script – never a good sign – and following the dreadful response to Revelations and the prosecution of the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, this one was shelved, and then released with very little fanfare a year later. Yet what’s interesting is that despite its low budget ($350,000; the same as Revelations) and rushed release, it’s still a solid entry in the franchise, having seemed to learn from the mistakes made by its predecessor.
Unlike the conventional slasher setup of the film that came before it, Judgement plays more like a police procedural, following Sean Carter (Damon Carney, with no relation to Jay-Z) and his brother David (Randy Wayne) as they hunt down the Preceptor, a serial killer terrorising women in their town. But that isn’t their only trouble, as new recruit Christine Egerton (Alexandra Harris) suspects the brothers aren’t without their demons. And speaking of demons, this is a Hellraiser movie too, with the newly-introduced Auditor (played by director Gary J. Tunnicliffe), instructed by Pinhead, preying on Sean and connecting to our world.
Yet while this brief synopsis may not sound the most enticing – the Saw franchise has a monopoly on the police-procedural-cum-horror formula – Judgement succeeds by doing something Revelations didn’t: it plays up the supernatural elements of the Hellraiser franchise. Unlike last time out, where Pinhead was not only horribly designed but barely present, the iconic villain is a lot more prevalent here, played instead by Paul T. Taylor, and redesigned to more closely resemble the Doug Bradley aesthetic. Tunnicliffe, who here directs, writes and acts, playing the Auditor: the leader of the Stygian Inquisition, a separate group in Hell. The franchise has been screaming out for an expansion of the lore, and it’s done brilliantly here, tying into the themes of justice present in the human-based story.
And it’s with the Auditor that the film’s gruesome sequences occur: without getting into much detail, there’s the consumption of children’s tears, the sifting through of vomit (!) and the sheering off of skin, inducing some genuinely jaw-dropping moments. Judgement feels even more depraved than Revelations, by ditching the more grounded approach and going all-out with horror thrills. Pinhead’s expanded role is also much welcomed, actually giving audiences a chance to show why he’s so menacing and revered, with the film’s last-minute twist setting up a prospective sequel that could genuinely take the character in a direction we’ve never seen before.
It’s the human characters that are far less interesting. The performances from the three leads aren’t awful but certainly aren’t of note, and it handles the Se7en-inflected serial killer plot line competently, but without any nuance. When you find out who the killer is, it won’t shock you, with the only particular element of note being the exploration of how witnessing Hell and its agents can impact someone’s mindset: allowing Carney’s Sean to have some form of depth, which his co-stars lack.
But of course, nobody’s really here for the humans, and Judgement‘s move towards more the demonic elements ensures the drabness of the human story never becomes too unbearable. It’s clear to see why once again, Doug Bradley didn’t return – Pinhead’s still barely in it compared to other villainous characters, and a horror icon of that calibre should be used so much more – but for people with less investment in the Hellraiser franchise, it’s still a watchable horror that shines when it leaves our world behind.