As a massive Hellraiser fan I try to keep an open mind when anything new is announced. We’ve had it pretty good with Hellraiser for a while too, compared to a lot of other franchises. Sure, the last film in 2011 was utter garbage, but we’ve had a successful comic series since then and a novel written by creator Clive Barker, himself. Other franchises have had the past several years go by with nothing going on whatsoever, but the Hellraiser universe just keeps expanding.
Now, finally, we have the announcement of the thing that gets everyone excited: a new movie. Better yet, it’s another entry in the continuing series pantheon and not a dreaded remake. But these days, it’s actually pretty hard to get people excited about a new Hellraiser entry. It’s a franchise that started out incredibly strong. Hellbound: Hellraiser II is one of the best sequels ever made, maybe in any genre, in terms of its characters, atmosphere, and incredible dialogue and score. Hellraiser III is an underrated entry and Bloodline showed, at the very least, a ton of ambition and heart.
From there, things took a turn into straight-to-video territory. One that the series has never left. With DTV not really existing anymore—my God, how quickly things have changed—I’m curious to see what sort of release the new entry in the saga will get.
The aforementioned entry is Hellraiser: Judgment, a picture that was announced when it was already in production. This could be a red flag or it could be something worth praising. It’s awful to get people hyped up for something so far in advance that they either forget about it by the time it eventually happens, or get people excited and then have the movie fall apart for whatever reason. I think a lot of filmmakers fantasize about having a project that goes under the radar and isn’t picked up as a news story before it’s even rolling. It certainly lessens the pressure.
So now that it’s happening, how do we feel about it? There’s no turning back. Hellraiser: Judgment is in the can. And there are reasons to be worried, sure, that always seems to be the natural go-to state on the Internet. But there are reasons to be excited as well. As to which outweighs which, we’ll examine the facts and leave that up to you.
It’s directed by a franchise veteran
Gary Tunnicliffe goes back a long way with the Hellraiser series, back to Hellraiser III, in fact. He’s worked on the effects for every movie in the franchise since then, wrote the screenplay for Hellraiser: Revelations and has finally ascended to the director’s chair for Judgment. Hell, he’s such a fan that he even directed a fan film called “No More Souls” in which he himself played Pinhead. It can be found as an Easter Egg on the Hellraiser: Deader DVD.
It’s been a long time to get Judgment made in any incarnation and has been a longstanding labor of love for Tunnicliffe. Before it was a Hellraiser sequel, it was a kickstarter project that didn’t quite make it. He created original characters, an original story, and was looking to make this his first feature, but it didn’t quite come together at the time. Now, he’s been given the opportunity to meld his unique story and characters with a franchise he loves deeply and knows intimately.
The new Pinhead looks great
From what we’ve seen, at least, this Pinhead is a massive improvement over Stephan Smith-Collins in Revelations. Granted, we’ve only been given a heavily edited poster, but already the differences are very clear. They’ve taken a much needed “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the character. The design appears to be the same as Bradley’s version, but Paul Taylor already looks confident and composed in the makeup. Hopefully his performance will deliver.
It can’t be worse than Revelations
Let’s just address the elephant in the room. The Hellraiser sequels have been low budget, straight-to-DVD affairs for the past sixteen years and none of them have cost upwards of a million. But Revelations cost only $300,000 and that was simply not enough. Had it been made for the same amount as Deader or Hellworld it could have been one of the best of the video sequels, which only makes it all the more frustrating that didn’t happen. Revelations left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It was made for all the wrong reasons, and had nothing going for it. Already, this has much more to offer than its predecessor.
It’s being made for the exact same reason as Revelations
While Judgment has a few more things going for it, it’s being made for the exact same reason that Revelations was made. Dimension needs to produce a film every five years in order to hold onto the rights to the franchise and here we are five years later in the exact same boat. It’s a situation that feels way too familiar to get too excited. Everybody saw how it turned out last time. Sure, business is always a factor, but a decision like this is purely economical and leaves very little room or time for creativity.
The people paying for it don’t care about quality
I don’t normally say that because in the world of Blumhouse I try to give producers and production companies the benefit of the doubt, but just look at the recent history of this series. The people with the power to get this project made only care about the profit. They want to make as much money as they can for as little money as possible. I can’t imagine they gave Tunnicliffe much to work with or were helpful when he ran into problems, but I have no real way of knowing for certain. Though, looking it at it as an outsider, this film happened really quickly, and they didn’t even try to negotiate with Bradley.
We could have had Doug Bradley back
At least from the way it sounds, from Doug’s perspective, negotiations were very brief and probably never serious. They wanted him to commit on the spot, more or less, and when he tried to see the script or asked about the NDA they wanted him to sign, that was the end of it. He was replaced almost immediately, but at least they found an actor this time instead of casting someone to fit into Bradley’s costumes. Sure, Paul Taylor might not have many credits, but a stage actor turned demonic acupuncture enthusiast is exactly what Doug was back in the day.
It didn’t start out as a Hellraiser movie
Sure, Judgment was a passion project for Gary Tunnicliffe, but it also was an original script that was converted to be a Hellraiser sequel, rather than a part of the mythology that was developed organically. Inferno, Hellseeker, Deader and—depending on what sources you listen to—Hellworld were all pre-existing scripts that were bought by the studio and converted into sequels after the fact. That wasn’t a great time, even if one or two of those weren’t terrible. It’s still not a time I was exactly hoping to go back to.
It’s a franchise that now has more bad movies than good ones
And it kills me to say that because I love this concept and the story and the characters so much, but it’s true. Even if I try to love as many of them as I can to some degree, it’s true. I can find a way to love every Friday the 13th sequel, but I actually have a harder time doing the same for Hellraiser. Revelations and Hellworld don’t have a lot to offer. Deader is strong, Hellseeker brings back elements that were sorely missed, but recycles the plot of Inferno, the previous entry. Pinhead got less and less screen time as the series progressed. I’d like to think Revelations was the bottom of the barrel. I believe that’s true. But either way, we’ll have to wait and see.