By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Damon Carney, Randy Wayne and Alexandra Harris
Written and directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Although HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT is the 10th in the endless film series derived from Clive Barker’s mythology, it could very easily have been titled HELLRAISER: SE7EN.
While it was reportedly conceived as a franchise entry from the start, JUDGMENT feels very much like one of those direct-to-video HELLRAISERs that started as original scripts and had Pinhead shoehorned into them. In this case, it’s the umpteenth knockoff of David Fincher’s serial-killer classic, right down to an imitation of Kyle Cooper’s trendsetting title sequence. But before we get to them, the first 12 minutes of this 81-minute feature (out today on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD from Lionsgate) introduce us to the new vision of hell, announcing its intentions to shake things up by having Pinhead intone “Obsolete, irrelevant,” over a shot of the Lament Configuration.
Part of that reimagining involves restricting Pinhead (now played by Paul T. Taylor, who proves a pretty decent replacement for Doug Bradley) to the sidelines for much of the running time. Instead, the lead Cenobite is the Auditor, amusingly played by writer/director Gary J. Tunnicliffe as an officious office worker, tapping away on a typewriter while a child molester confesses his sins. (This guy’s name is Watkins, his typed name separating the W from the rest—a nod to Peter Atkins, scripter of the first three HELLRAISER sequels?) Then the inspiration flags, as the perv is subjected to an extended “cleansing” involving lots of blood, vomit and mucus, followed by sepia-tinted butchery of the kind familiar from a few dozen torture-horror flicks.
Then it’s off into SE7EN territory as detectives David Carter (Randy Wayne, who even resembles a young Brad Pitt) and his older brother Sean (Damon Carney) deal with a series of gruesome slayings by a madman calling himself the Preceptor, modeling his crimes on the Ten Commandments instead of the Seven Deadly Sins. They’re joined by Detective Egerton (Alexandra Harris), who seems to be on hand mostly to provide a female presence, since prominently billed NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET regular Heather Langenkamp only gets about a minute of screen time as Watkins’ landlady. The trail leads Sean to pay a visit to 55 Ludovico Drive on the outskirts of town, where he is greeted with “We have such sights to show you” before having his own session with the Auditor.
Bits of fan service like this will only go so far to sate die-hard devotees of the franchise, who will likely be disappointed that JUDGMENT’s ambitions to change up Barker’s mythos are given short shrift in favor of its derivative central plot, which climaxes with a not-very-surprising twist. The new bureaucracy of hell, which is now in competition with agents of heaven (represented by Helena Grace Donald as the angel Jophiel) has all kinds of possibilities that are only tentatively explored while the gross-out side of the business takes center stage.
Crucially, JUDGMENT eschews the intriguing central conceit of the first couple of films, in which the protagonists sought out the Cenobites for various reasons, as opposed to simply being victimized by them. This simplification is encapsulated in Pinhead’s cover-quoted line “Evil seeks evil”—a description he never would have applied to himself under Barker’s watch. The most promising idea here only turns up at the end, suggesting a potentially interesting new direction for future movies (even as a post-credits prologue reveals business as usual going on in another country).
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray presents HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT in a 1.78:1 hi-def widescreen transfer that’s sufficiently sharp and does well by the limited color palette, with punchy DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. Bonus features are restricted to an extended version of Watkins’ “cleansing,” for those who feel that scene isn’t icky and protracted enough as it is; an extraneous deleted scene of Sean and Detective Egerton in church; and a gag reel that has some good chuckles while revealing what Taylor’s real voice sounds like, and that the police-station exteriors were actually shot at a flower market.