Movie Review: “Hellraiser: Judgement” [Spoiler-Free]


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how the puzzle box (which, if you’re a Hellraiser fan, you’ll know is an incredibly important part of the movies’ lore) is obsolete, and that in a world of technology they must adapt in order to stay relevant.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!

Anime Review: “Devilman Crybaby” [Spoiler-Free]


Disclaimer: Please note that I delved into Devilman Crybaby having not seen the original anime, so I’ll not be comparing the two during this review. I did see the 2-part OAV “The Birth” from the 90’s, but as it was a very short story that only really focused on Devilman’s “birth”, so to speak, I’ll not be comparing this to Crybaby either.

Devilman Crybaby is a Netflix original series, the first of which has actually come out of Japan (previous anime-style series featured as Originals on Netflix were actually produced in the USA). It is based on the Devilman manga from the 70’s, which has been translated to animation format a few times in the past as well. This particular iteration boasts a new animation style, and – supposedly – a more faithful adaptation of the original manga story. The story in question follows a young man, Akira – who happens to be particularly kind and innocent – who is possessed by a demon/devil and is able to defeat the evil creature’s takeover of his soul. His body, personality, and mannerisms change dramatically, but he is otherwise able to control the devil’s powers and becomes Devilman, a half-human, half-devil being who fights other fully-possessed human-devils in order to protect humanity. As the series progresses we begin to uncover more and more information about where the devils came from, what they want, and why Akira’s friend Ryo pushed him into becoming possessed in the first place.

So what does one say about Devilman Crybaby? Well, let’s first start with something simple: the animation style. I’ll be the first to say that it turned me off in the beginning. My husband’s reaction was similar, but also biased, due to his love of the prior iterations of the story. I, personally, came into the show clean (only going back to watch the OAV after I’d already watched a few episodes of Crybaby), and my initial thoughts about the animation style was that it looked unfinished. The line-work is very light, the colors seemed washed out, and the artwork in general seemed rushed to me, with body proportions often seeming so out of whack that I imagined artists working so fast that they had no time to go back and fix things. In time I got more comfortable with the style, but I was still personally annoyed by the extreme “stretching out” of the characters. A lot of traditional anime features characters that are unnaturally tall and skinny, with super-long legs and extraordinarily delicate, long fingers, but Crybaby, I felt, took this to the extreme. Everyone’s legs were ridiculously long, and so skinny that they wouldn’t be able to to stand up under their own body weight. They looked like Barbie dolls, if Barbie was wearing the smallest girdle she could find and had been spending nights on a medieval rack. It may be a picky complaint, but I personally feel with animation that a strange style can be very distracting and take your attention away from the actual content of the show, and that’s what happened to me while watching Crybaby.

Moving to the content in question: I personally enjoyed the story, though I found it a little confusing at times. I’ve personally found that it’s become a trend in more recent anime releases to be very vague about individual motivations, light on clarifying details, and purposely bewildering when it comes to revealing any kind of furthering information toward the plot. Crybaby was no different. Although it wasn’t as mystifying as some others I’ve watched in recent years, there were definitely a number of points that had me frowning and wondering if I’d missed something somewhere. In particular, Ryo’s motivations had my brain swimming throughout the first half of the show, as he seemed to act like a hero one moment, and a vicious lunatic the next. He seemed ridiculously schizophrenic to me, and while his character and driving force made sense by the end of the show, there were practically zero little hits or details that would give a viewer the opportunity to guess at what might be going on with him. Instead, it all came to a head in one fell swoop in a single episode very near the end of the show, giving an impression that the creators suddenly realized out of nowhere that they were running out of time to tie up those points. Similar issues arose with other parts of the story, but Ryo is the easiest piece to speak about without accidentally revealing anything. Basically, I felt as though information was purposely withheld in a way that made the show needlessly vague with plot points, but then it slammed you with everything at once right at the end, as though in a mad catch-up to fit everything in before they ran out of episodes. The plot itself was very interesting and I’ll honestly say that I enjoyed it overall, but this method of “everything truly important crammed into the last couple of episodes” annoys me as it makes it difficult for the viewer to form ideas and theories throughout, and then suddenly says “HERE IT ALL IS!” with little warning.

One point of the plot that I did find extremely interesting was the gradual focus on, basically, how horrible people are. The show on the surface is about a devil-man hybrid creature fighting other devils in order to protect humanity, but as the story moves on we see more and more evidence to make us question whether or not humanity deserves to be protected. This type of storytelling isn’t for everyone, I know, but I personally enjoy it. Humanity is flawed in a great many ways, so I enjoy those more ambiguous stories that don’t necessarily have a black-and-white, good-and-evil set-up. There were likable characters on all sides, including super-sweet Miki, crazy-cool post-transformation Akira, and the wide variety of creepy and weird devil creatures, and the show played with the idea of “goodness” being a choice; one that humans often make poorly, while believing themselves to be “correct”.

Another point that I feel I should mention is that this show – like its predecessors – is extremely graphic, which should of course be taken into account when deciding if it’s something you’d like to check out. There’s a good bit of nudity, some graphic situations of a sexual nature, and a lot of violence, including gore. Quite a bit of gore. It’s animated, of course, so it’s not quite the same as watching a super-bloody horror movie, but it absolutely has the capability to disgust and disturb, based on your own personal lines.

One final thing that I’ll say is that the ending of the show completely caught me off guard and made me unsure as to how I felt about the entire experience. I can’t really say anything without massive spoilers, but suffice it to say that the events of the last two episodes struck me as surprising and extreme, and by the time the credits rolled on that last episode I was left staring at the television screen, feeling a little bit like a huge joke a had been played on me.

I’m sure it seems as though I’m throwing out more negatives than positives here, but the truth of the matter is that I did enjoy the show. The things I’ve mentioned as annoyances definitely detracted from it for me, and though I personally enjoy the adult content and the commentary on mankind, I know that those are also things that some people would be unable to enjoy. But overall, as a whole, I have to say that the series was interesting, fun, weird, mind-bending, and a little hypnotizing. I was hooked and wanted to keep moving to the next episode and the next. How I felt about the ending is similar to what I’ve felt at the end of certain movies and books, so it’s not an isolated event and not a deal-breaker by any stretch. I do feel that certain aspects of the show could have been done better, but in the end I whole-heartedly give the series a thumbs up. If you’re a fan of anime, specifically graphic anime with supernatural themes, this ten-episode Netflix Original series is worth checking out.

Movie Review: “Thor: Ragnarok” [Spoiler-Free]


Upon it’s opening in theaters, Thor: Ragnarok garnered a lot of love and a significant bit of rage, so let me preface this review by saying this:
It’s a movie, people. Enjoy it, or don’t, but in the end, whether or not you thought it worthy of the original comic story-line isn’t about to make or break the rest of your existence, so just relax. ^_~

Now, I’m a huge fan of Marvel in general, so I may be a little bit biased, but I’ll try to lay it out plainly and simply.

First off, while I love Thor, and am a huge fan of Chris Hemsworth, I’ve personally felt that the Thor movies have been some of the weakest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I thoroughly enjoyed the first in the line, but didn’t feel that it compared to the first Iron Man or Captain America films. The second in the Thor line – Dark World – felt extraordinarily forgettable to me; in fact, to this day, pretty much the only thing I remember about it is the floating transfer truck scene. So with that said, I went into Ragnarok with very little in the way of hopes or expectations. I’d heard good things from friends and strangers alike, but after being underwhelmed the first two times around, I just naturally didn’t have the highest hopes.

I did, however, find myself well and truly surprised.

Now, it’s difficult to say too much without spoilers, but here are just a few points that made the movie a hit with me:

  • The soundtrack was phenomenal. If you’ve seen the trailers to this movie, you already know what I’m talking about. That one track alone bumped up the movie’s excellence factor by a vast ratio.
  • Thor – likely as a result of hanging out with the other Avengers – has developed quite the amusing sense of humor. In the opening, pre-title scene alone he cracked wise half a dozen times and had me giggling like a fool. Since Thor has traditionally been one of the dryer characters in the MCU, throwing out previous humor-moments mainly because of accidental ignorance of Earth customs – I felt it was great to see him actually have a bit more personality of his own.
  • There was a solid level of action throughout. Without going into too much detail for fear of possible spoilers, I can tell you that the movie began with a battle, moved into an almost-battle-that-became-a-tense-chase-scene, which then moved into an attack, followed by a battle, followed by more battling, before eventually moving to the big final battle. There was a lot of action, is what I’m saying, and it was excellent action at that. Sword fights, fist fights, comedic fights, genuine death and destruction. It was all there, and it was all great.
  • More interaction between Thor and Loki. That may be a given, but I thought it was worth mentioning, because Loki is a wonderful character, in my opinion, and Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston have an amazing chemistry that works so well as brothers who both love and hate each other.
  • Cate Blanchette as Hela was absolutely perfect. I may not be the best person to ask, since I never actually read any comics involving the character, but that aside, I thought she was amazing. She pulled off a character who is truly, remorsefully evil and doesn’t think twice about killing in an instant if it suits her. She absolutely came off as the type of person who didn’t doubt her own intentions for even a fraction of a second, and that’s a truly frightening concept.

That’s not to say that the movie was a masterpiece. It had it’s little annoyances, for sure, but that’s true of practically any piece of media, so I tend not to be overly critical of these kinds of things.

I will, however, bring up the playful humor, as this was one of the points so angrily discussed by rage-filled comic fans after the film’s release.

The argument, in a nutshell, is that Ragnarok is an extremely important story-line in the Thor comics, and is one that is filled with drama and pain, as well as a very serious, emotional tone. The film, however – like most of the MCU – takes on a much lighter tone to the story, complete with the very regular bursts of humor that the Marvel films have become known for. Many comic fans scoffed at this, basically stating that the near-constant humor downplayed the tragic events of Ragnarok and made light of what should have been a devastating experience for Thor and his people. And for the most part I have to say that I…disagree. There’s something to be said for remaining true to source material, but at the same time the MCU has developed into its own entity, and while they can do serious, part of the identity of these movies has become their humor. There’s nothing wrong with new takes on old classics, understanding of course that some people will like it and others won’t. Overwhelmingly I’ve felt that the people making this complaint about Thor Ragnarok were whining, more than anything, that the movie wasn’t exactly what they wanted it to be, which, let’s face it, is life. There have been plenty of movies that I was excited for and ended up hating; I didn’t start an internet crusade as a result, because other people did like them, and in this world of entitlement I must point out that paying to go see a movie doesn’t mean you deserve to enjoy it. It’d be nice if you did, but it’s not your right. Putting that back into the conversation of Thor Ragnarok, anyone who’d seen previous MCU movies knew damn well what kind of universe they were getting into when they went to see this film, and it would have been an entirely logical assumption that it would be rife with the same humor all the films have come to be known for. So to then turn around and whine about that humor seems ridiculous to me. Therein lay my two cents.

THAT SAID…I will admit that there were a few moments – specifically at the end of the movie – wherein the little humorous pokes made me groan a little because of the genuinely dramatic moments they were interrupting. At this point alone, I did, in fact, find myself thinking, “Uh, yeah, okay…they probably could have done without that for this scene.” That, however, is pretty much my only real complaint about the movie.

All in all, I thought Thor Ragnarok was an incredibly fun movie that expanded upon Thor’s character within the MCU, and it was enjoyable all around. If you’re a fan of previous Marvel movies, and you’re able to put aside any fanatic-obsessive dedication you may have to the original comic story-line, you’ll probably enjoy this one as well.

Have you seen Thor Ragnarok? Let me know what you thought of it in the comment section below!

Book Review: “Stalking Jack the Ripper”


Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco and presented by James Patterson was chosen by my online book club to read for the month of November. I didn’t finish reading it until recently, but my tardiness is entirely the result of holiday busyness and should not, in any way, reflect upon the book itself.

I’ll fully admit that when the book was chosen, I was not 100% on board with it. I’ve never been the biggest fan of historic pieces, and that’s what I assumed this was. However, I was put in my place right from the start, because while the story does follow the brutal murders of Jack the Ripper, and although Maniscalco does weave in as much historical truth as possible, the overarching story is a wonderful work of fiction that had me hooked right from the off.

We have to start with our heroine, Ms Audrey Rose Wadsworth, whom I fell in love with right from the beginning and kept loving more and more as the story went on. Audrey Rose is a lovely lady from a well-off family who is every bit a feminist, but not the type we’ve come to know (and occasionally hate) in this modern day. Audrey Rose is devilishly interested in science, unheard of for women of her era, and has many firm beliefs about a woman’s place in the world, that being more or less that she belongs exactly where she chooses to be. Our protagonist believes that a woman can do anything a man can do, should she choose to do so, and she is not shy about sharing those thoughts and feelings. Simultaneously, however, Audrey Rose revels in her own feminine side, and doesn’t feel ashamed by it for one second. She digs elbows deep into cadavers in order to unlock the secrets of the human body, and then turns around and commissions lovely dresses and learns proper makeup application from her cousin. It’s an extraordinarily refreshing take, to see a woman who believes in strength and progress for women, who also accepts the fact that she loves “womanly” things and that’s perfectly fine too. Of course, she has her flaws – she can occasionally be a bit snooty, a bit naive, and certainly lets her emotions get the best of her on occasion – but a protagonist without flaws is an unacceptably boring protagonist indeed.

Meanwhile we have a delightful co-star to the piece in the Mr Thomas Cresswell. He and Audrey both apprentice under her uncle in order to learn forensic science, and when we meet Thomas he is an extraordinarily cocky young man who knows how terribly clever he is and has no trouble sharing that information. However, we feel a bit of affection for him as it is clear that he, unlike so many others, has absolutely no qualms with Audrey’s choice to pursue science, and makes it clear (if not in an incredibly annoying way) that he believes Audrey to be an extraordinarily intelligent talent herself. As the story progresses we love him more and more as his annoying little habits become interspersed with moments of vulnerability and a relatable backstory.

I’m focusing on the characters because they truly are what make the story, but of course there is the wonderful plot as well, which follows our two leads as they work to try and uncover the identity of the mysterious murderer who has been hacking ladies of the evening into pieces. As she outlines in an additional section at the end of the book, Maniscalco did her very best to work as much historical accuracy into the story as she could, while still creating a fictional tale with an interesting end to the story that has no actual end in real life. I, personally, think she did an amazing job. The ending, in particular, took me completely by surprise, as I had correctly guessed at the identity of the killer, but not at the motive for the killings. It made for what I thought was a wonderful conclusion, and it makes me keen to wonder what kind of other ideas Maniscalco has up her sleeve for future tales.

The book, if you hadn’t guessed, is the first in a series following Ms Audrey Rose as she delves into further mysteries. The second entry is titled Hunting Prince Dracula and I genuinely can’t wait to get into it, as I’ve been completely enchanted by Maniscalco’s writing style.

If you’re a fan of young adult fiction, this is definitely a book worth looking into, but even if you’re not a YA fan, it is still worth looking into. It’s a macabre tale that doesn’t skimp on the gore when it’s a logical place for such things to exist, and it has wonderful characters, lots of fun moments, lots of creepy ones, and does a great job of making you feel like this could actually have been the true story of the real Jack the Ripper. A little slow at times, it is an otherwise entrancing novel that I found myself desperate to reach the conclusion of, and it has made me excited for Maniscalco’s future tales. Two thumbs up!