With constant rumours of big budget remakes and reboots of Hellraiser, it was somewhat of a surprise when Hellraiser: Judgement was announced. In what would be the tenth in the series, the plot had ties to the first movie even if there was no direct continuity as a sequel to anything in-between. By this point the links between movies were virtually non-existent however it looked like fans were going to get a better film than they’d been treated to in years past. Doug Bradley was still out of the picture but Pinhead did return with Paul T. Taylor in the roll as the Hell Priest, taking over from Stephen Smith Collins in Revelations. While the studio looked to be more invested this time around, the budget wasn’t much more than its predecessor and was once again only put into production to retain the rights. Gary J. Tuncliffe had been working on special effects for the franchise as far back as Hellraiser III and was unhappy with the quality of the sequels, including Revelations which he had written the script for. Giving a second chance, he was hired to write direct a new Hellraiser film and Judgement was born.
A serial killer known as the Preceptor has been killing people based on the Ten Commandments. Three detectives, the Carter Brothers, Sean and David, and Christine Egerton, are investigating the grisly crimes. Sean finds a connection between a local criminal that went missing and an abandoned house – 55 Ludovico Place. When he arrives he falls unconscious an awakes to be greeted by the Auditor (Tuncliffe), a demon of Hell’s Stygian Inquisition. As the demon looks to hand down his judgement, the angel Jophiel (Helena Grace Donald), intervenes and demands he be let go. The Auditor seeks out Pinhead of the Order of the Gash. The two muse over Heaven’s intentions and what it means for Hell.
Tuncliffe’s sctipt is very ambitious. By introducing different factions of Hell, he shows that not all of it is run by Cenobites. While Pinhead previously claimed that Cenonbites are demons to some, angels to others, here we see angels as a different entity altogether. It’s a bold take on the series and those familiar with Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels may appreciate the direction it has taken.
Unfortunately, the execution doesn’t live up to the idea. While the scenes in Hell are visceral and captivating, the film is let down by its human element. The characters are paper thin, offering little to care for and slow the pace of the movie down. More care is given to Pinhead who has more function to the plot than the later sequels offered and Taylor puts in a respectable performance. Tuncliffe himself shines as the Auditor and is one of the most engaging characters in the movie. The rest of the cast are underwhelming and do little to elicit much sympathy or even empathy as they hurtle towards the inevitable.
The look of the movie is reminiscent of low budget British shock horror, Cradle of Fear, directed by Alex Chandon in 2001. This is not a favourable comparison and while the former has its own cult following and offers some ludicrous enjoyment at times, Judgement is weighed down by its own solemnity. This shouldn’t be an issue for a Hellraiser film, especially considering the slash horror elements of its sequels, however Judgment struggles to support its own burden and in the end the movie falls flat.
With an intriguing twist that is unlikely to go anywhere in a followup, Judgement ultimately ends with a whimper. The credits roll and a feeling the story is incomplete. With news that a reboot is still going ahead and that HBO have commissioned a TV series, concepts proposed by Tuncliffe might be explored further. There still may be a sequel to Judgment to retain the rights and while the director has presented an exciting design for his version of Hell, the film itself feels like another cut-rate cash grab.