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Directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

I have been an ardent lover of the Hellraiser film series ever since first viewing Clive Barkers original 1987 horror masterpiece, and have followed the sequels (good, bad and meh) ever since. Now that the tenth entry in the movie franchise has hit UK shelves, I thought I’d offer my take on Hellraiser Judgment. I am pleased to say that the ninth sequel offers something special. Written and directed by Gary Tunnicliffe who, himself, is also a Hellraiser fan and has been directly involved with the franchise ever since its third entry, certainly demonstrates a considerable love of the material.

The movie opens with musings on the redundancy of the musical puzzle box, the Lament Configuration, which, I have to say, has operated most effectively in all previous instalments. But this is in service of introducing a new Order of Hell, the Stygian Inquisition (“far too inquisitive” to paraphrase Eddie Izzard). In a house with too many light bulbs and not enough illumination, we are presented with a new host of characters that, whilst not cenobites themselves, are certainly cut from similar cloth; the Auditor, the Assessor, the Jury and then the Cleaners and the Butcher. Hells court is in session and from opening statements to passing sentence, every stage of the process is gut wrenching. The opening sequence is the most visceral since the originals and though devoid of all the usual Hellraiser trappings, feels more Hellraiser than several of the previous entries in the series.

The story unfolds mostly as a police procedural, a staple in the series since Hellraiser Inferno (the fifth entry and the first of the direct to DVD sequels) and though this may feel formulaic it actually works best here. For instance, the title, Judgement, is actually relevant (I challenge you to point out the “revelation” in Hellraiser Revelations). Murders, in the style of Seven, are happening across town and are based on the Ten Commandments. This criminal casts judgment upon his victims just as the Stygian Inquisition does with its victims and – no spoilers – a certain character gets judged in the films closing scenes. Our heroes, the Carter brothers, Sean and David, and rookie Christine Egerton (audience surrogate) are on the case, hunting down the perpetrator known only as the Preceptor.

It’s gritty, gross and, in some scenes, uncomfortable to watch – as intended by the filmmakers, it has to be said. The Cenobites are their usual twisted, creepy selves. They are limited in number this time, featuring just Pinhead, the Stitch Twins (underused but shine in one well-executed dream-sequence at around the 45 minute mark) and Chatterer (how Chatterer returned after the events of Hellraiser 2 has never been explained and at this stage, is perhaps a bit late to do so).

I found Hellraiser Judgment to be delightfully low on jump scares, the director preferring to focus on mood, tension and horror. The editing and sound design is top notch and all done on what must have been a shoestring budget. The soundtrack is serviceable and though missing the bombast of the series’ early entries, does create a dark mood counterpointed with occasional flourishes of Beethoven’s Für Elise. I like that this film opens up the franchises mythos to encompass Angels and other orders of hell, increasing by far the story telling potential of the franchise going forward in whatever form that may be.

The iconic Pinhead, unfortunately not played by horror legend Doug Bradley on this occasion but rather Paul T Taylor who delivers an eloquent menace in a new, improved outfit (and is a marked step up from the Pinhead that appeared in Hellraiser Revelations). Where certain previous films have not necessarily known what to do with Pinhead, this film does and, though it may not feel like it for the first two acts, the finale is very much all about our favourite character. I won’t spoil it here; you will need to watch the film. A surprise guest appearance comes in the form of Elm Street’s Heather Langenkamp as “landlady” (neither cenobite nor member of the Stygian Inquisition) and though not a major part, Heather’s presence raised the films profile prior to premiere. I was not familiar with our leads and didn’t buy them as brothers, (by that same token, Patrick Stewart is renowned for his acting abilities, famously portraying Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek, but yet I’ve never quite bought him as a Frenchman) with actor Damon Carney putting in a stand out performance. He is great in every scene he’s in and looks the part of a worn out, noire detective.

The film plays out as a mystery, but one that is almost entirely devoid of red herrings, like guessing a coin toss, you’re probably half right. There are clues, two by my count, but I wouldn’t blame the viewer for missing them. There is a lot of ground covered in the story of this film and I was pleased to find that, at several points, I was not able to predict what was going to happen next – an increasingly rare delight. Surprisingly, the film ends on a cliff hanger and left me wanting more. Will there ever be a sequel? There is room for one, but alas, only time will tell.

The tagline, “Evil seeks Evil” is decent, though perhaps would have been more at home in Hellraiser VI Hell“seeker” – but never mind!

Rating: ★★★½☆

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