With Dimension Films and the Weinstein Company soon to be gutted for parts, it seems safe to assume that Hellraiser: Judgment will close out the franchise’s original iteration. That the thirty-year saga ends with less of a bang than a desperate wheeze should come as no surprise to those who’ve waded through all ten of the series’ increasingly misguided instalments. In fact, long-time readers may remember that I called the last entry, Hellraiser: Revelations (2011), “not so much a cynical cash grab as a cynical seat filler for the aforementioned cynical cash grab.” What now can be said of an equally cynical seat filler with no more seat to fill?
In fairness, Hellraiser: Judgment does benefit from a slight budget hike, rounding out at $350,000, just enough to cover Robert Downey Jr’s nail-clipping allowance over at Disney. Mind you, the folks at Dimension do take the opportunity to cast competent actors this time around, though I question their decision to skimp out on the extras. I don’t care how weirdly sympathetic Damon Carney comes across as an unhinged detective investigating a string of murders straight out of Seven (1995) or how affably Alexandra Harris plays the newbie profiler assigned to keep him in check; them crime scenes look downright absurd without a single CSI or beat cop around to process the evidence.
Writer-director Gary J. Tunnicliffe also uses the extra smackeroos to upgrade the Cenobites’ lair, replacing the previous instalment’s Halloween decorations with a typewriter, six naked breasts, and a bucket of vomit. I’ve always respected Hellraiser for keeping things classy even as the franchise went straight-to-video, so imagine my surprise at seeing Clive Barker’s ethereal musings on the inherent sensuality of suffering reduced to “Ooh, let’s spray puke on big boobies!” To make matters worse, Hellraiser: Judgment lingers on this crass imagery for a whopping twelve minutes, depicting every mind-numbing detail of hell’s bureaucracy in a sequence that I suspect was shot as proof of concept and then shoved at the start of the flick to pad its runtime.
It’s unfortunate because Tunnicliffe’s script does boast some neat innovations. For one, I like the idea of Pinhead (portrayed a bit flatly by Paul T. Taylor) growing impatient with LeMarchand’s puzzle box and unleashing a new scourge to collect souls: a house that lures the obsessed, weighs their sins, and fashions a custom torment. Granted, the notion demonstrates a continued misunderstanding of the Cenobites, whom I find more compelling as explorers of the senses than relentless finger waggers, but what do you expect from a movie titled Hellraiser: Judgment?
More to the point, this House of the Gash, as it were, prevents the film’s serial killer plot from grating viewers with yet another retread of Hellraiser: Inferno (2000). You see, Sean, the aforementioned unhinged detective, eventually finds the cursed property but escapes unscathed, thanks to the aggressive lobby of an angelic figure named Jophiel (Helena Grace Donald). The mystery surrounding her agenda proves far more compelling than that of the commandment-themed murders, but it’s worth noting Hellraiser: Judgment derives all of its momentum from this one riddle, providing little to entertain us until the climactic reveal.
So do the final revelations make the trudge worthwhile? Well, no, but then few movies have bored me as relentlessly as Hellraiser: Judgment. To be fair, Jophiel’s true motivations did catch me by surprise if only because of their adolescent cynicism. Frankly, I find the whole ordeal ugly and depressing, but I might’ve felt differently if it were setting up a crossover with another Dimension property, The Prophecy. Consider Pinhead’s weird cliffhanger coda, which echoes a major story arc from the latter franchise. Was the studio setting up a shared universe or just ripping itself off? Either way strikes me as wasted potential.
Without a destination, you see, it all boils down to the journey. Take, as metaphor, Hellraiser: Judgment’s other fresh addition, the Auditor, played by Tunnicliffe himself as somewhat of a chatterer (not to be confused with the Chatterer, who makes a brief appearance). I don’t mind the demon’s incessant prattling so much as the fact he’s just running out the clock, spewing out cheap filler in wait for some wonder that’ll never come, due to cash-flow issues. To think, all this time, he and Dimension Films could’ve made a genuine statement, regaled us with modest but poetic insights on humanity’s baser cravings, or done something, anything creative… Well, now it’s too late.