It’s always a concern when a long-running franchise reboots or moves forward without the actor who made them what they are. Doug Bradley was the “lead cenobite”, Pinhead, since the original film landed in the late 80’s, and while no one would ever argue that the later Hellraiser movies were master-crafts of modern cinema, fans of the franchise would certainly agree that Bradley made the character his own. He is Pinhead, and he is Hellraiser. He remained so until the 2011 Hellraiser: Revelations, when Stephan Smith Collins took over and, let’s just say, wasn’t widely loved for his version of the iconic character. So, understandably, horror fans were both intrigued and concerned when yet another actor, Paul T. Taylor, took over the role for Hellraiser: Judgement. Would he be able to pull off the necessary look? The definitive voice? The required sense of terrifying stoicism in the face of limitless pain and torture?
The irony here, which I’m making my way toward, is that Taylor was one of the only good parts of the movie.
Judgement opens with the cenobites discussing how they need to “get with the times”, for lack of a better phrasing. They talk about how the puzzle box (which, if you’re a Hellraiser fan, you’ll know is an incredibly important part of the movies’ lore) is obsolete, and that in a world of technology they must adapt in order to stay relevant. It’s an amusing conversation that sets the tone for…a plot twist that never really occurs. Though the cenobites’ methods are quite different in this movie from previous ones, “embracing technology” is not even remotely part of those new methods. The closest thing we see is when the “Auditor” character uses an old-school typewriter to record the victims’ sins. Now, I’ll grant that seeing the cenobites using modern technology is definitely not what I look for in a Hellraiser movie, so I’m not terribly disappointed in this respect. However, I thought it worth mentioning simply for the fact that it makes the opening conversation seem unnecessary and misleading about what’s to come.
Moving into the judgement process itself, I don’t want to give much away because I found this to be one of the most interesting parts of the film, but I will tell you that it involves a trial-like process of auditing, judging, and sentencing. This process was, in my opinion, very odd, very creative, and – in places – very visceral. I enjoyed it, while simultaneously wondering about the mental state of whomever came up with it. The sentencing part in particular, which involves “cleansing” from the jurors followed by a visit from the Butcher and the Surgeon, was in line with the kind of disgusting torture I would expect from a Hellraiser film. Additionally, I loved the design of the characters in these roles, particularly the Butcher and Surgeon, whose bodies are stitched together. The jurors, who are beautiful women with destroyed faces, satisfy the gratuitous nudity quota of the film, and perform, subjectively, the most disgusting acts of the process. These acts – while not necessarily gory – are the kinds of things that will make the average person gag. One scene in particular seems to exist purely for the gross-out factor, but also fits in with the task they’re supposed to be performing at the time, so it at least makes sense while making your stomach turn.
You may notice, as I’m speaking about this judgement process, that I’m not mentioning Pinhead. That’s because he’s not involved in the slightest, and that’s the – rather large – downside. During all of this judging, Pinhead is only seen a small handful of times, for a few seconds at a time, lounging in a stone chair in another room, listening to the screams. Taylor’s look and mannerisms during these tiny scenes are spot on, but still, I found myself constantly wondering when Pinhead was going to have any input to anything that was occurring.
The other side to the plot follows a group of three detectives as they investigate a series of murders perpetrated by a killer who bases his killings on the ten commandments and those who he perceives to have broken them. Aside from the crime scenes left behind after a few of the murders – which, admittedly, are creative – this side of the movie was rather boring to me. The three detectives aren’t particularly interesting or likable, so I didn’t find myself rooting for anyone, or even rooting against them (as one might be wont to do in a slasher flick). I just, generally, didn’t much care about them at all. I wanted to see more of the cenobites, more of the gruesome killings, and more of Pinheadalreadyomfg, and the exploits of these three vanilla human characters did nothing for me at all.
There was a bit of heavenly influence into the plot as well, which I won’t comment on for the sake of spoilers, but I will say that I, personally, thought it was silly. The idea had promise, but I didn’t feel it was played out well, and didn’t add anything to the movie at all, though admittedly the plot, such as it was, would have made less sense without it.
Taylor’s Pinhead finally got a few lengthy scenes coming up to the end of the movie, and here I’ll let you know that I think he did a great job. Taylor’s portrayal of the iconic character was very similar to Bradley’s in many respects, and was overall as good as we could have hoped for from anyone who isn’t Bradley himself. He got the stance, facial “expression”, and voice down, while the costume and makeup team nailed (ha ha) the look. I felt it was an excellent performance, all told, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Taylor in the role again in the future. Given the right script and some key scenes, I think he could cement himself as the lead cenobite of this age of Hellraiser films.
With that, however, I must make one last point about the movie, and that’s that I hated the ending. In part my disdain is because of the fact that it’s one of those endings that just happens, all of a sudden, when you feel like there really should be more to it. But also, I just thought it was a stupid idea for an ending. I get what they were going for; I just didn’t like it. At all.
In conclusion, Judgement was hardly the worst of the Hellraiser line of movies, but it definitely wasn’t one of the best and would have been completely forgettable if not for the judgement scenes. It had some good points, but large chunks of it were very “meh” and I felt that Taylor’s Pinhead was drastically under-utilized. My overall feeling by the end of the film is that I would love to see Taylor team up with the costume crew and whichever insane mind came up with the judgement process for this story, retcon this film, and go for a reboot that hearkens back to the original Hellraiser movie. I’d love to see what they could do with the other original cenobites, especially after getting a tease of Chatterer in a couple of small scenes throughout Judgement.
An okay movie with some very interesting ideas pasted against a mostly underwhelming plot.
Have you seen Hellraiser: Judgement? Let me know what you thought of it in the comment section below!