Besides from Clive Barker and Doug Bradley no one has done more for the Hellraiser movie series than Gary John Tunnicliffe. A master at his craft, his long running relationship with the sick series started with his work on the make up and special effects for Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth in 1992 and continued with him creating amazing effects and macabre make up for the sensationally titled sequels Bloodline, Hellseeker, Hellworld and Deader.
When 2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations came along he found himself not only working behind the scenes but also penning the script with an offer to direct which he sadly had to decline due to a scheduling conflict with his work on Scream 4. By 2018 Tunnicliffe finally got his chance to be in charge with Hellraiser: Judgement, a movie that he wrote, directed, headed up the art department on and did the special makeup for as well as staring in it.
Interestingly his ideas for the series came about way back in 1996 around the release of Hellraiser: Bloodline where he pitched his ideas to Bob Weinstein at Dimension who owned the rights to the Hellraiser films. Although he would have to wait for these sadistic seeds to bear strange fruit his enthusiasm and passion for the project caught the companies eye leading to his later opportunities.
Ironically Tunnicliffe’s tale for Judgment was nearly never part of Pinhead’s wicked world as, disillusioned with Dimension, he attempted to make it as an independent picture removing all references of Clive Barker’s work. With an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign in 2013 the script gathered dust until Dimension, facing another rights retention deadline as they had before the making of Revelations, offered Tunnicliffe the shot he had been waiting for.
Although he was in charge this puzzle box of a operation had a few more moves as Dimension worried Tunnicliffe’s ideas for Judgment would be too extreme and too unhinged for audiences to handle. Unsure of his script at first they insisted on a series of rewrites, notes and suggested changes the at last in 2018 his vision finally made it to screen, sort of.
I say sort of as Hellraiser: Judgement is a tale of two movies, the one it appears Tunnicliffe wanted to make and the one that the studio forced him to make. Beginning with a disturbing and putrid pre-credit sequence we are introduced to a new faction of hell, the Stygian Inquisition, a set of characters separate from the Cenobites who we know and loath.
Made up of The Auditor (played by Tunnicliffe himself), The Assessor (John Gulager director of Feast 1 to 3 and Piranha 3DD) and a jury of three naked women with shredded faces these disgusting demonic entities processes the souls of sinners such as the peodophilic child killer we see going through the terrifying experience in the opening.
Starting with an interview typed up in his own blood the captured murder then watches as the pages are eaten and vomited up into a tube for the jury to finger through. The screaming wrong dower is then taken to be licked clean and sliced to pieces by a gas mask wearing being known as The Surgeon who rides in on the back of a doll mask wearing giant known as The Butcher.
So far so strange, that is until we move to the real world and are plunged into a turgid and trite police procedural staring cop brothers Sean and David Carter (Damon Carney from Fear the Walking Dead and Randy Wayne from Escape Room). Tracking down a dull psychopath dubbed The Preceptor the dreary duo are joined by new cop Christine Egerton (Alexandra Harris star of Secret Diary of an American Cheerleader) who is there to help them stop the 10 Commandment style slayings.
Worlds collide when Sean follows a lead in the case that takes him to the gateway into the Stygian Inquisition’s lair where he is forced to undergo the odious ordeal. Escaping due to the interference of angelic force named Jophiel (Helena Grace Donald) Sean finds himself losing his mind as Pinhead (Paul T. Taylor) and his menacing minions haunt his dreams and hunt him down.
Although having worked on many Hellraiser films, Gary John Tunnicliffe was generally disappointed by their quality and he had a poignant point as several of the direct-to-video sequels where screenplays that had been converted and altered to fit the franchise, injecting in Hellraiser tropes rather than crafting stories around Clive Barker’s brilliant original movie and books.
With Judgment Tunnicliffe wanted to right those wrongs, taking the world of the Cenobites to a new and exciting area infused and inspired by Barker’s vivid visions of vivisection and pain. In some ways he succeeds and the start and finish of Judgment show real promise. The Stygian Inquisition characters are striking and brought to life with bloody and brilliant effects. Teasing not only an original and untaped realm of hell ripe with nightmarish imagery and imagination in his story Tunnicliffe also introduces an interesting Good Omens style war between the forces of good and evil that has plenty of potential.
Sadly the majority of the movie is taken up by the boring investigation which treads far to familiar ground. Photocopying ideas and images from Se7en to Saw to Hannibal and more, the over the top murder scenes and ranting religious musings fail to inspire anything but ennui slowing the pace and sidelining the audiences intelligence all because movie companies think that people wont notice the lack of originality.
It is unfortunate as there is a neat twist tying the separate sides of the story together to a bigger more shocking and sacrilegious truth but it is not enough to excuse the lazy uninspiring psycho killer sections.
Ultimately many will watch this and wish that Dimensions had just allowed Tunnicliffe free reign to create the Hellraiser he wanted to. I for one would love to have seen that as maybe then my judgement on this horror sequel wouldn’t have to be so harsh.
Hellraiser: Judgment is on Digital Download 22 February and Blu-ray™ and DVD 1 March from Lionsgate UK