Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Movie Review: HELLRAISER: JUDGEMENT (2018)

Did you know there was a new Hellraiser movie coming out, direct-to-video as it may be? I didn't know until just last week, and then I only found out while scanning through the upcoming releases on blu-ray.com.

I don't have terribly high hopes for this movie, though I still want it to be a good time. While I disagree that the Hellraiser series is one good movie (the original) and a bunch of crap sequels, I will agree that the series took a nose-dive with 2005's Hellworld. I actually like most of the Hellraiser sequels, though I won't pretend they don't have their (sometimes glaring) flaws. Whereas the other big horror movie monsters were inclined to show up and start reaping souls for no apparent reason, other than the fact that somebody did something bad once upon a time, Pinhead and the Cenobites only came out to play if they were explicitly summoned. The horror of the Hellraiser series is in the consequences that come with every choice we make, consequences that rarely effect only ourselves, and even when the series was at its absolute worst, this point was still part of the story.

So I'm going to look at this new installment as someone's attempt to make up for the atrocity that was 2011's Hellraiser: Revelations. They at least got someone different to play Pinhead this time ... though the writer is the same ....

Welp, I still say the glass is at least partially full. On to the screening!

I don't even have to pretend: that was better than Revelations. Better than most of the more recent sequels, actually.

Hellraiser: Judgment tries respectably to return the series to its strange and bizarre roots. The opening sequence, in which a man named Watkins is lured to a dilapidated house where he is interviewed by a man with a heavily scarred face before things begin to transpire is delightfully macabre, so much so that even with the benefit of hindsight, I still don't care that it makes no sense. In fact, I'm glad it makes no sense; the Hellraiser series is always at its best when it lets its freak flag fly. Remember that scene in the original movie when the skeleton claws its way up through the floor of the attic?

The opening sequence in this film is kind of like that, so freaky-cool that it hooks you right in. I half want to recommend this movie on the strength of that bit alone.

But there's more to see here than just the first few minutes. Our tale follows three detectives on the trail of a serial killer called "The Preceptor", so the parallels to be drawn between this film and 2000's Hellraiser: Inferno, which also featured a detective on a case, are obvious. The detectives' story is probably the weakest part of the film; the actors do a fine enough job playing their respective roles, though one of them is playing the stereotypical "world-weary one", and you can pretty much guess the sort of things he'll get up to over the course of the story. Though his part of the tale isn't without surprises, either.

As is always the case with Hellraiser, the Cenobites are what we come to see, and they do not disappoint here. While old series favorites make their appearances, new creatures like The Auditor, played by director Gary J Tunnicliffe, and the Butcher, a silent, mountainous beast that was sadly underutilized here, expand the roster memorably.

I even enjoyed the portrayal of Pinhead in this movie. You will never hear me dispute that Doug Bradley is Pinhead for all time; no one can deny that his performances defined the character forever. But Bradley is an old man now, and so someone else has to fill the role. This time, at least, we found a suitable if green replacement in Paul T Taylor. I say he's "green" because it's clear he hasn't quite grown into the character, yet. There are some moments when this Pinhead is looking down his nose a little too pointedly, or trying too hard for that straight-backed, almost regal presence that Doug Bradley exhibited so naturally. But the seeds are there; Taylor has the right build for the character, and while his performance may be rough, it's much better than the performance Stephan Smith Collins turned in for Revelations. It also helps that Taylor gets more Pinhead-worthy dialogue than hackneyed soliloquies about "suffering". If there is another Hellraiser movie in the future, and after this installment I find myself hoping there will be, I hope Paul Taylor will be able to play the role again.

While it is true that this movie runs out of steam towards the end and eventually begins to fall back on series tropes, I can forgive it. The film starts so strong that I would have been surprised if it had been able to maintain that pace. The first hour or so of this movie is some of the most quotable Hellraiser we've seen since the original film. To its credit the puzzle box barely even figures in this story, and instead appears more as one more easter egg among many for the series fans to spot, than as the key plot device it has tradtionally been. I don't believe this entry is going to win over anyone who gave up on the series after Hellraiser II, but for the rest of us, Hellraiser: Judgment is a sign that there may be life in this old series yet.

Hellraiser: Judgment is not rated but contains scenes of gore and grotesque imagery.

Robert's Score:
8 / 10

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