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In this edition of The silver liningwe will discuss Gary J. Tunnicliffesequel to 2018, Hellraiser: Judgment.
Watching a bad movie doesn’t have to be a bad experience. Even the worst movies can boast a good idea or two, and that’s why we try to look on the bright side with The Silver Lining, where we shine a light on the best parts of traditionally maligned horror movies.
Be a fan of hellraiser movies can be a bit of a rollercoaster. Sure, the first two are great, and there are some fun sequels further along, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen Pinhead and company in a truly memorable movie. Some friends and I even used to joke about it, commenting that the poor quality of the sequels was actually part of a cenobitic plot to generate more sweet suffering in the world.
Although we now have reason to hope for the best, as the rights to the franchise have reverted to Clive Barker and we’re currently expecting both a new feature film and a TV show, that hasn’t always been the case. For a very long time, Dimension Films held the franchise hostage, only greenlighting new films when the property rights were about to expire, and never investing more than the bare minimum.
The last time this happened was in 2018 when Dimension published Hellraiser: Judgment. While clearly just another attempt to maintain IP, there was something different about this mandatory sequel. Director Gary J. Tunnicliffe was actually an experienced veteran of the genre, having developed special effects for previous hellraiser films and even the making of the semi-official short film Pinhead No More Souls: One Last Slice of Sensation back in 2004.
Already a huge fan of the franchise, Gary delivered a gritty thriller following police detectives as they pursue a serial killer obsessed with the 10 Commandments, with investigators ending up descending into a nightmare of hellish proportions. Not only would these morally dubious characters meet the iconic Cenobites, they would also be joined by the Stygian Inquisition, another hellish sect that aims to judge and “reward” accomplished sinners.
With a passionate director and the promise of a story that would add to the original mythology instead of just rehash it, it seemed like things were finally looking up for the bruised and beaten. hellraiser franchise.
SO WHAT WRONG?
Good intentions are not enough to save a film, and Hellraiser: Judgment is the proof. Despite Tunnicliffe’s best efforts, the studio’s lack of support ultimately doomed his ambitious passion project. Although the film technically recouped its greatly reduced budget of $350,000 and earned 40% on Rotten Tomatoes (not too bad for a low-budget horror film), it all went for naught. . The finished film was barely marketed, and the studio’s lack of genuine interest was reflected in the film’s production value.
At worst, the cheap digital photography makes the film look like a mid-level CW show, with scenes obviously shot on makeshift soundstages and interiors that don’t quite match the exteriors. While there was an effort to scout out real spooky locations in and around Oklahoma City, just three weeks of production time meant the team had to cut corners in order to meet their deadline.
The rushed pre-production also meant that Tunnicliffe’s script was a bit half-baked, toying with some genuinely interesting concepts without really diving into any of them. The structure of the story was also very reminiscent of the Saw sequels, with the film focusing on procedural elements of policing and often veering into “torture porn” territory. While the Heaven versus Hell element was a welcome addition to the lore, it kind of reminded me of the worst parts of Barker’s own conclusion to the hellraiser cannon in sound Scarlet Gospelswhich watered down a singular mythology with overused Christian iconography.
JudgementThe script was perhaps only a draft or two away from being legitimately exciting hellraiser sequel, but the lack of narrative polish meant this precarious production was already built on rocky foundations. That being said, Tunnicliffe claimed that the original version of the story was meant to be a bit more nightmarish, retaining the surreal atmosphere of the Inquisition scenes throughout and playing with deceptive flashbacks. I can’t say how much it would have improved the overall experience, but it certainly would have been more dynamic.
Of course, the real leather elephant in the room was the Pinhead redesign, with Doug Bradley refusing to reprise the role after realizing it was another cash grab from Dimension Films. No matter how well a newcomer performs, fans would never prepare for a replacement in a direct sequel. When asked if he had any advice for his successor, Bradley even scoffed at the director’s praise for Paul T. Taylortake the lead Cenobite. Ouch.
THE SILVER LINING
Hellraiser: Judgment may not be the best sequel in the franchise, but if you consider the number of keys that were thrown into the cogs of this production and then look at the finished product, it’s a miracle that the movie turned out to be as entertaining as it did. The filmmakers did their best to work with what they had, and despite some inevitable flaws, the effort really shows.
Even Pinhead’s on-screen presence is miles ahead of the previous sequel, with Paul T. Taylor giving it his all in a regal reinterpretation of the character. Even his costume has been updated, now sporting references to Marvel’s Leviathan and Doctor Strange, among others. There are also other fun little Easter eggs, like a Scream Queen cameo Heather Langenkamp and the creepy assessor played by Feast director John Gulager.
Personally, I think the best part of Judgement is his introduction to The Auditor, played by Tunnicliffe himself. This bespectacled monster really steals the show with his oddly charming performance and creepy ways, making him a truly worthy addition to the hellraiser cannon. The character design was actually repurposed from the director’s own reimagining of Pinhead in Pascal Laugier’s unproduced reboot.
The Audit Process itself features some of the craziest imagery in the entire series, showcasing a form of torture so bizarre and convoluted I almost wish it had been featured in another movie, separate from this once franchise. dying. Judgement also offers plenty of handy gore and monster makeup, though I wish the cinematography had been a bit more polished so those effects could show through.
Although I’m still on the fence about the film’s religious angle (which might appeal to Todd McFarlane fans Spawn comics), I enjoy how the feud between the Stygian Inquisition and the Cenobites adds to Barker’s incomprehensible hell lore. It’s just a shame the limited budget didn’t allow Tunnicliffe to go crazy with these ideas, especially when he introduces angels into the mix.
If the studio had really believed in the director’s vision, I’m pretty sure that Hellraiser: Judgment would be remembered as a surprisingly effective sequel. However, even in its current state, it’s remarkable that the film is as watchable as it is, and I’d recommend it to any hardcore hellraiser fan who might have left the franchise after Line.