I’m a horror fan, and I mean pretty much any kind of horror (barring torture porn, which I know seems weird since I’m talking about this series, but it’s different… trust me). I also happen to have a big soft spot for the Hellraiser series, though most of its direct-to-video entries are pretty godawful. For me, and so many other Hellraiser fans, these films are equal parts fun, goofy, and creepy, without ever really hitting a terrifying note. Or maybe I’m just desensitized.
Either way, I love them for their unique lore and aesthetic, as well as their silliness. I’ve been disappointed over and over by the aforementioned low budget sequels, but surprisingly, Hellraiser: Judgement actually delivered on a good deal of what I loved about the original two films. It has a striking aesthetic (most likely because it is directed by one of the series’ longtime FX artist), it has some very fun and silly moments, and the gore is juuuuust right. But, though I can say I mostly enjoyed watching it the first time, I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this entry, and I would like to talk about why briefly.
I did some reading about the movie after viewing, and one thing that is repeatedly noted is how much was changed about not only the script, but the final product as well. Some of the tweaks seemed pretty reasonable – cutting down on the gross-out factor including some overuse of gore, for example. But after reading a summary of the original script, I knew that the film could have been so much better, and so much more on-brand. The director had the right idea in so many ways, but as often happens with series like this, the studio ruined it. They also probably saved it in a lot of ways, but I’ll get into that later. For now, let’s talk positives!
Here is what I loved about the film:
The aesthetic, as I mentioned before. The differentiation between the series mainstays the Cenobites and the new Stygian inquisition is done through clever and deliberate color schemes, the trimmed down costuming is fantastic, and the sort of decrepit nastiness of the Stygian inquisition’s domain is refreshing for this series. It deviates from a lot of what the original aesthetic brought to the table – that harsh contrast between the gore and the very clean lines of not only the domain of the Cenobites but also the Cenobites themselves – but it doesn’t stray so far that it seems entirely out of place. There is still a certain measure of order to it, it’s just much, much grosser and much, much more depraved.
Pinhead. Finally, after the disappointment that was Revelations (the most recent entry in the series before this one), we have a good Pinhead again. In case you’re unfamiliar with him by name, go ahead and look up an image and you’ll realize you’ve probably seen him somewhere before. He’s one of the most ubiquitous horror antagonists in the world and, therefore, one of the most important aspects of this series. The original actor was exceptionally good in this role, and though it seems like the shoes would be easy to fill since a lot of his deal is being quietly menacing and saying very few lines at a time, that is apparently not the case. I was sooooo underwhelmed by the replacement they used in Revelations. So it was a big surprise that the new actor actually did right by the original, and made me hopeful that he will return for future installments (with a bigger budget and less creative stifling please dear god). My only beef with him is that his acting in the final scene of the movie is… not fantastic.
The new lore. Again, I’ve mentioned it some already, but I quite enjoy the Stygian inquisition. The director himself played the Auditor, who documents the sins of his victims before they are judged and punished, and he is a great fit for the series. The tone of the character is great, and the director did a darn good job playing him. I hope they’ll return and we’ll get to see more of the intended characters within the inquisition (who weren’t included because of BUDGET). As I said above, the inquisition feels a lot grimier than the Cenobites, and I do love me some grime. I’m not a huge fan of some of the aspects of it, but I’ll explain that next becauuuuuse…
Here are the things I HATED about this movie:
Police procedural bullshit – and to add insult to injury, bad police procedural bullshit. I think we’re all tired of this by now. And I don’t think I have to say anymore.
Some of the gross-out elements that were kept. I’ve never been a big fan of horror films that do what I call Fear Factor-ing. There’s nothing really scary about saying “here, eat this gross shit”/”now watch someone eat this gross shit” – it’s either boring or just nasty for the sake of being nasty. And while I can understand and respect why maybe that does entertain some people, I’m not having it.
Not. Enough. Time. In. Hell. I already mentioned the police procedural nightmare that takes up a good deal of this movie, but truly, why do I have to see so much of it? It was never interesting. Again, I think it may have worked out well in the original script because it seemed like it was meant to involve far less of the investigative elements and far more of the story elements. Maybe I’m projecting. Either way, Hell needed more screen time. I can appreciate the back-and-forth to a degree, but too much teasing defeats the purpose. By the time you’ve dragged me away for yet more police procedural bullshit, I’ve lost interest in the film entirely.
Finally, here’s how I feel about this film overall: meh. I think there were bad decisions made all around, and maybe the reason the studio squeezed this project so hard is because there were parts that truly did go too far. I can accept that. But a better middle ground could have been found. What I will praise it for – well I’ve detailed that above – but I’d also like to praise it for making me hopeful about this series again. If the studio realizes that the director knows what he’s doing, if they approve a script without tweaking it until it’s dead, and if they give it the budget it deserves, the next Hellraiser movie could actually be good. Maybe even as fun and engaging as the original two. I’m keeping my fingers crossed… though not too tightly.