From Hell to Judgment: Revisiting Hellraiser franchise

From Hell to Judgment: Revisiting Hellraiser franchise

Watching Hellraiser is like drinking a strong spirit, the first sip may be a slap on the face, but the more you drink, the more palatable it becomes. To the point it turns inebriating and enjoyable.

During my youth, I was exposed to Hellraiser through a horror movies special in the local channel. I couldn’t appreciate its potential. Therefore I was a bit wary of immersing again in the franchise when a friend invited me to watch Judgement.

What if I had forgotten the characters? What if I had missed so many parts that the story would become impossible to understand? Making franchises had ruined a lot of horror movies, right?

When Hellraiser Judgement credits rolled, this harsh truth could feel more true.

Starting backwards: Hellraiser Judgment

The plot takes us to a well known abandoned house, where our beloved Pinhead muses about why his existence is not as fun as it used to be. I was expecting to see the other cenobites in this story, but Pinhead has become the poster boy of the franchise.

Hellraiser Judgement had new additions to Hell’s ‘staff’, the Stygian Inquisition, led by the extremely polite and charming Auditor. A group from hell who judges human’s sins from and cooperates occasionally with the Cenobites. Thus the reason Pinhead is with them.

Hellraiser-Judgement-screencaption-the-trial
© Dimension Films

From the side of the humans, the story goes around the investigations of Detectives Sean, David and Christine, trying to uncover a murder mistery from a serial killer self called The Preceptor.

The investigation part was one of the loosest part of the film, forcing the audience to care for those characters with little redeeming qualities. They are nothing but the basic archetypes we could find in any police drama. If the whole movie had been about different sinners being judged, I wouldn’t have minded.

And actually, that’s the main problem with it. Tunnicliffe wanted the movie to be about the visual effects, —not for less he was the long run make-up artist of the series, but studio executives refused his original pitch. Also, lack of budget restrained a good portion of the production, but at the end he declared he was satisfied with the final result.

Because visually, Hellraiser Judgment is a great example of how gruesome horror movies can get, especially during the judgment process. The monsters in this installment are more unsettling than in the original film. Tunnicliffe intrigues the audience with every Trial, leading you to wonder what that sinner had done based on the initial questions from the Auditor.

Hellraiser-Judgement-screencaption-the-Auditor
© Dimension Films

However, at some parts, its meaning is lackluster as a whole. The house, that serves as a gateway to Hell, where the trial takes place, is nothing but a carnival of disgusting imagery, with no substance or meaning behind what we are seeing.

The original cenobites weren’t only there for the shock factor. They intended to portray different facets of fear. Like fear of non consensual intercourse, fear of overindulging on eating, or fear of pain. They were ugly and scary, but also thought provoking.

Perhaps it was my fault for not watching more than the first film, but the inclusion of Heaven in Hell’s matters for Judgement… it made the film look more like a fan-fiction than an official production.

Where the saga begins

Hellraiser’s initial plot was a simple: a story about adultery and murder.

Larry Cotton moves to an abandoned house with his second wife Julia. Years prior to this event, Larry’s brother Frank had tested a cosmic puzzle cube, bought a street vendor in Morocco, in that house’s attic. This action had killed him, dragging him to a realm of pleasure and pain inhabited by divine beings called the cenobites. 

To Julia, the new place revives her erotic memories of when she had cheated her husband with Frank. But all her dreams and desires come back literally to life when Larry cuts his hand accidentally. The scattered blood awakens Frank, now as a manipulating flesh-less monster.

Hellraiser-1987-screencapture-Frank-Cotton
©1987 Rivdel Films

With Larry into oblivion, Julia invites other men to the house to kill them, so that Frank can consume their blood to regain his body.

The heroine in the story is Kristy, Larry’s teenage daughter. Who discovers that what is actually happening turns uglier than the plain affair her dad was suspecting. She manages to get away with the cosmic cube, figures out how to solve the puzzle, and summons accidentally the cenobites.

Desperate, Kristy gambles her own life in exchange of leading them to their escapee Frank.

The length of the franchise

Visually, Hellraiser from the 80’s had aged in the special effects, yet some scenes like Frank’s resurrection are still very impressive. Bob Keen, who had by the time worked also in Star Wars, created the special effects for that particular scene. In the makeup department, Doug Bradley excelled as Pinhead, to the point he applied his own makeup ever for every Hellraiser he participated in later on. 

Hellraiser-1987-screencaption-puzzle-box
©1987 Rivdel Films

Sadly, Doug Bradley pass the baton to Stephen Smith Collins for Hellraiser Revelations, who at the same time gave the role of Pinhead to Paul T. Taylor for Hellraiser Judgement. Ending officially the saga with him. 

This doesn’t mean the future of Hellraiser is black. In fact, last year Clive Baker revealed that he’s working with writer David S. Goye in a remake of the original film, much like it has happened with Halloween and IT. Let’s just hope it doesn’t become a new 1998 Psycho.

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