Saturday 20 February 2021

Dark Eyes Retrovision #25: Hellraiser: Judgment (USA/UK 2018: Dir Gary J. Tunnicliffe)

Thirty years after the first movie, here's the sequel that everyone hoped would happen; just not in the way it did. 2011's Hellraiser: Revelations, which was pretty ropey, was of course made so that Dimension Films could contractually retain the rights to the movie's characters; they had plans for a bigger budgeted follow up, but somewhere along the line all the life got sucked out of that project. Gary Tunnicliffe, makeup supervisor on all the Hellraiser movies since the third, Hell on Earth, was scriptwriter on the last movie in the franchise (Revelations, which was the first of the series not to star Doug Bradley as 'Pinhead'), and appointed as director on this one. Back in 2017, when I covered all the previous Hellraiser films for an extended piece in DEoLJudgment had already been completed for a year or so, but it's taken an extra four years to be released in the UK. Was it worth the wait?

Judgment begins with a conversation between Pinhead (Paul T. Taylor) and The Auditor (Tunicliffe himself, playing a new, rather unctuous Cenobite) bemoaning the fact that technology has made it possible for "lust to be sated electronically" (I think he's talking about internet porn), rendering the Lament Configuration obsolete. But all is not lost; sin is still sin and in the 21st century there's a lot of it about.

Case in point: child killer Mr Watkins (Jeff Fenter) gets a written summons to come to 55 Ludovico Place (which has moved from Dollis Hill in London to Oklahoma and completely changed its shape - Cenobite fixer uppers at work). Inside he's tied to a chair and The Auditor makes him confess his crimes. He's then passed along a weird production line; first to The Assessor (John Gulager) who soaks the killer's typed confession in tears of children, eats the results and sicks it up into a funnel; the sick flows into a trough which three naked women, with flesh stripped from their faces called The Jury, grub around in and then deliver a verdict: guilty! Watkins is strapped to a table, touched up by some older naked ladies called The Cleaners and finally a figure in rubber wear and a gas mask flays all the skin from his body. Whoa!

Meanwhile two detectives, who are brothers, are on the track of a murderer and not doing that well; they're joined by a third, Detective Egerton (Alexandra Harris) who has been bussed in by someone higher up to move the case along. They're on the track of a serial killer called the Preceptor whose murders are inspired by The Ten Commandments. Detective Sean Carter (Damon Carney) is a combat vet with PTSD and a pissed off wife; his brother is the far more smartly suited David (Randy Wayne). The detectives' work leads them to Watkins, the house in Ludovico Street and the Cenobites; because a serial killer ticks all their "we have such sights to show you" boxes.

This isn't the first time that Dimension have dusted down an old crime script from their vaults and jazzed it up with some Cenobite action; previous Hellraiser sequels have done the same, with the same result as this one; they feel like two films shoehorned into one. Judgment is full of stylistic touches that recall movies like 1995's Se7en - murky rooms, lots of offal, quasi-literary script - and while this is much better than Revelations, sadly that's not saying much: there's some playing around with Cenobite law and a final scene, with one of the hell-based characters ending up on skid row, hints strongly that Dimension feel there's life in the old box yet.

Hellraiser: Judgment is available from Lionsgate UK on Digital Download from 22 February and Blu-ray/DVD  from 1 March. DVD/Blu-ray extras:  Deleted and Extended Scenes; Gag Reel

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