Review: Hellraiser Judgment (2018)

Spoilers ahead.

I met Paul T Taylor in 2016 while he was promoting his upcoming debut as the new Pinhead. He described the film as akin to an “Office Spaces in Hell” wherein the Cenobites would play a more classically demonic role than their original iteration as “explorers in the further regions of experience; demons to some, angels to others.” Having now seen the film, I appreciate this concise summary even more. For good or ill, Judgment strives to be Biblical, with a heavenly hierarchy calling the shots.

In order to make a clean break with the series’ original shtick of masochistic mysticism,  the movie opens with Pinhead and newcomer The Auditor describing the series’ famed Lemarchand Box/Lament Configuration as “obsolete” due to competing internet technology. Enter “the house,” 55 Ludovico Place, as an alternative business model wherein the Cenobites will lure their clientele. If that address sounds familiar, it seems to be a reference to A Clockwork Orange wherein the Ludovico Technique of aversion therapy is used upon Alex.

After a full demonstration of the house’s gruesome function upon an unsuspecting pedophile (a considerable improvement upon the Chris Hanson approach), the movie leaves the Cenobites behind in favor of a mundane plot involving three detectives pursuing a murderer whose M.O. is awkwardly similar to that of the villain in Seven (1995) (albeit referencing the 10 Commandments instead of the 7 Deadly Sins). This is where, in my opinion, the movie begins to falter. The hunt for a human serial killer in light of the over-the-top supernatural slaughter one has just witnessed feels incongruous and uninteresting–one has to resist the temptation to fast-forward to the next scene featuring a Cenobite! The Detectives Carter feel more like strangers than brothers, and not in the plausibly estranged kind of way; horror movie veteran Heather Langenkamp helps the law enforcement chemistry but cannot completely redeem it.

However, it is difficult to discern where the fault lies with the acting as opposed to the writing, for every character–even Pinhead– is easily upstaged by the preferential material given to The Auditor (probably not a coincidence, considering this actor is also the film’s director). His lines and mannerisms are far livelier, more soulful and engaging than the rest of the cast. Indeed, it is by his graces alone that the movie might merit repeated viewings.

From there an unsurprising revelation of the serial killer’s identity dumps us into a muddled morass of the biblical and blasphemous wherein the Cenobites rather than Heaven come out as the ethical party. This might have worked if given time to develop, but foisted so abruptly it felt like some wannabe postmodernist’s attempt to go “edgy” rather than let the Biblical theme be. This concludes with Pinhead being punished by banishment back to Earth and a human form–another interesting yet half-baked idea that smacks of writing-by-committee rather than a focused vision.

All-in-all, the film continues the legacy of enjoyable but sub-par sequels to the excellent first and second installments of the Hellraiser series, and sadly deserves the straight-to-disc treatment it got. I would be for Taylor, Tunnicliffe, and Langenkamp returning to the series–but only with Clive Barker’s indispensable guidance.

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