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Review: 'Hellraiser: Judgment' resurrects a franchise left for dead

Posted Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 11:03 AM Central

by John Couture

In 1987, Clive Barker introduced the world to Pinhead and the horror landscape has never been the same. During the height of Freddy and Jason's popularity as horror icons, suddenly there was a third pillar of the horror community that brings his own terrible story to the genre.

At 13-years-old, I probably wasn't old enough back then to appreciate the subtlety of the mix of pain and pleasure that forms the basis of the film, I simply enjoyed horrific villains and bloody carnage. OK, I was a teenager going through puberty, so the sex didn't hurt either.

There is no question that Clive Barker is a horror film icon and after writing several films, he got his first chance to direct one of his stories with Hellraiser. I was hooked. I would follow him to the Candyman franchise and countless direct-to-video horror films in the years that would follow. So, it was with more than a bit of trepidation that I agreed to review Hellraiser: Judgment.

You see, Hellraiser: Revelations was terrible. I don't just mean direct-to-video, we lack the funds for catering let alone special effects bad, I mean I literally could do better with aluminum foil and toothpicks bad. Yeah, it's not a coincidence that we haven't seen a new Hellraiser film in seven years.

That film's biggest problem (among many) was the look of the new Pinhead. Doug Bradley, who had played Pinhead in the previous 8 films politely declined bringing the horror icon to the screen for Revelations. The result was a new-look Pinhead that was, at best, a cheap knockoff that you might find for sale at a ridiculous price on the streets of New York City.

The writer of Revelations was back to write and direct Hellraiser: Judgment and my hackles were raised expecting to be disappointed yet again. I'm happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised and Hellraiser: Judgment is a nice pseudo-reboot of an iconic franchise that has been long left for dead. But you know, the horror baddie is never really dead in a horror film.

Following the gimmicky found footage approach used in Revelations, writer/director Gary J. Tunnicliffe reintroduces a more traditional horror storyline. In keeping with contemporary horror franchises (I'm looking at you Saw), he adds a crime procedural element in which three detectives are investigating Pinhead's handiwork as "crimes." This sort of detachment has worked well in other franchises, but I felt as though it was a bit distracting here. It does provide a much better narrative framing device that found footage, but I hope they go back to a more traditional Hellraiser feel for possible future installments.

What is more interesting in Judgment though is the coherent storyline and the introduction or fleshing out (no pun intended) of Hellraiser mythology that is consistent with the vision that Clive Barker intended 30 years ago. Man, I'm old.

Hellraiser: Judgment is the tenth film in the franchise and unlike its other 1980s peers, it does not enjoy an established level of success at the box office. In fact, only four of the films have seen a theatrical release and none since 1996's Hellraiser: Bloodline. As a franchise, the films haven't even crossed the $50 million mark, collectively. So, the future of the franchise is very much in doubt.

What this franchise does have though is a rabid fan base that just wants to see a proper Pinhead film that carries the character over into the 21st century with all of the aplomb that he deserves. I'm not sure if Hellraiser: Judgment does that all by itself, but it does lay the framework for some interesting new storylines. With the rumors constantly circulating that Clive Barker is interested in returning to the franchise, there is hope that we might eventually get to see the master's full vision on the big screen.

And what a vision that would be. When the original Hellraiser was released in 1987, the prudish MPAA slapped an X rating on it and forced the film to cut our several key gory and sexually masochistic scenes to simply earn an R rating. With the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey series and a more forgiving MPAA in place, it's quite possible that Barker could finally fully realize Pinhead and create diabolical dreams that will fuel future therapist bills for many years to come.

I feel that while not perfect, Hellraiser: Judgment is easily the best of the direct-to-video installments of the franchise and opens the possibility of finally realizing Pinhead's potential. It's your move Dimension, might I suggest you pick up the phone the next time that Clive Barker calls.

Hellraiser: Judgment is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.