There are moments of true promise in Hellraiser: Judgement. Moments that speak to the possibilities of the ailing franchise that have long been ignored despite a wealth of books. comics and other material that seek to save it from its decades long tail spin. The big question is, “are those moments enough to save it?”. Well, I wish that was an easy answer.
Judgement starts out strong enough and it is this initial volley of images that immediately sets it apart from the later installments. It’s evident from these first few minutes that director Gary J. Tunnicliffe not only understands the subject matter but has reverence for it. He understands that Barker’s universe extends past the cenobites, past the box. We are treated to two new denizens of the dark almost immediately with the characters of the Assessor and the Auditor, the latter played by director Tunnicliffe himself. These first few minutes hit most of the right notes and work to set an interesting tone that I had hoped would carry through to the better part of the film’s running time. Alas, when Tunnicliffe focuses on the human drama, the film starts to lose its appeal and becomes less frightful and more frighteningly similar to those that came directly before it.
Sean (Damon Carney) and David Carter (Randy Wayne) are both detectives and brothers, working as partners to take down a serial killer dubbed the Preceptor, a predator that judges his victims in the truest most biblical sense, leaving cryptic clues for the brothers that work as enigmatic dangling carrots pushing the older bother Sean closer to the edge, David the younger of the two, plays his brother’s keeper. defending his sometimes unorthodox actions from their new teammate Christine (Alexandra Harris) an agent brought in in hopes to speed along the investigation. Their are times where the plot surrounding the Preceptor seems lifted right from Fincher‘s Seven and its hard to look past it, especially when this is the main driving force behind moving the action forward. From the opening credits to the music played during the reveal the similarities are too noticeable to go overlooked and it hurts the film even more when so much of the forward momentum is placed on the killings rather than Pinhead and his own motives.
Sean, investigating clues left be the Preceptor eventually makes his way to a house that serves as the doorway between our world and Pinhead’s. Again, we are seeing hints of greater things here. I think that’s what frustrated me the most about Judgement; at a running time of just an hour and twenty minutes we are giving hints of things that prove far more interesting than the payout. All three human leads are for the most part flawed, but not heroically, so its hard to really get behind any central characters. Pinhead’s screen time (and I really had no problem with Paul Taylor filling Doug Bradley‘s shoes…sacrilege, I know) is minimal and although the effects here are really quite good for what is obviously a meager budget, the choice of lighting does not flatter any of the centerpieces or the backdrops for that matter. Watching the original you see that Barker had no problem spilling pools of obsidian black onto the screen. Entire set pieces were defined through the harsh contrast of bold shadows and it gave the scene itself presence. Technically, if I had to choose the biggest culprit in undermining the visual success of the picture, it is most certainly, again, the lighting. Gone are the lavish, dread soaked, meandering hallways of Leviathan’s labyrinth and in their stead are four walls that always sorta look repurposed from the scene before. The long dark of hell has been usurped by flaking wallpaper and stained base boards and the choice at times comes across tragically amateur. Which leads me to my most lingering impression of the film: Judgement, for all its ambition and good intentions FEELS very much like a fan film. I’m not saying that we needed an over-polished, over-produced film, but it would have been great to have something that technically stood on par with the first two films.
Hellraiser: Judgement is not a bad film. It feels canon, if sometimes a distant cousin. What I do know is that this long in between visits I would have rather have seen the core family get more screen time with a story that focused less on the human element with that piece is less lively, and decidedly less original. A decent enough entry that stands a full head above the worst entires of the series but just can’t seem to touch the first two installments, Judgement still makes for recommended viewing.