Hellraiser: Judgement is truly fascinating to me. For a franchise to experiment with its formula at this level so late in the game is truly a bold choice in my mind. It tries to push its tentpole character of Pinhead into the background in exchange for fresh new characters, setting, and storytelling (at least as far as this franchise is concerned). The results are a bit mixed but with a decent Video and Audio transfer this could be Worth A Look for series fans and horror enthusiasts.
Going into Hellraiser: Judgement, I started playing my typical guessing game: what two or more pop culture trends will they try and mash together? I mean, when a franchise hits its tenth installment in thirty some odd years, what can we possibly expect? It is worth noting that the last installment featured a group of online MMORPG players getting invited to a deadly rave party. That film felt strange to me, trying so hard to be hip or cutting edge, while actually feeling aimless and pandering. Normally I have checked out of a franchise by this point. But let's be honest: have we actually seen the Hellraiser franchise reach its fullest potential yet? I would say no. Its titular character of Pinhead seems to always be pushed to the background, and we are still waiting for the hellish storyline to match its nightmarish premise.
Our tenth installment starts off with one hell of a gripping opener, in a mysterious house where a man is being judged for his sins by a whole slew of new hellish characters; from the scarred-up Auditor (our director Garry J. Tunnicliffe) who documents the sins; the Assessor (John Gulager) who ingests the sins in written form, to the three women of the jury (Andy Leah Powers, Mary Kathryn Bryant, Valerie Sharp) who determine the punishment. This creates such an intriguing world of dread, I instantly wanted more. It was as if Writer/Director Garry J. Tunnicliffe took the Saw universe and applied its sense of morality to Hellraiser. Unfortunately, even with a morality throughline, the imagery doesn’t last long and I soon realized Hellraiser: Judgement falls victim to what I would consider to be an epidemic in Hollywood today -- this beginning hook is only here to create intrigue that, by design, has no pay off. It is simply here to create questions, while the so called "answers" will be less than the sum of their parts.
You know those less successful parts of all Saw films that dealt with the police procedural aspect? Well if you take that and Seven, put it in a blender and hit puree, we end up with the large majority of this movie. A serial killer is out on the loose, killing people based on their sins. And of course, we have to have a couple bland as hell detectives in the form of Sean and David Carter (Damon Carney, and Randy Wayne), two of the most unconvincing brothers who just so happen to both be detectives, and partners. Detective Christina Egerton (Alexandra Harris) is sent to keep these two brothers on the books, and make sure they stay on the straight and narrow in the face of a seductive, shadowy organization. But where are Pinhead and his Cenobites? Barely in the film.
Pinhead is now played by Paul T. Taylor, who does not give any weight or presence to this character. I honestly feel bad for Taylor, as Pinhead has nothing to do but just sit, look bored, and dictate a bit. He is the exact definition of a passive character that is only here to bring in the fans of Hellraiser while creating their own NEW status queue. As the film goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that the characters we see in the first fifteen minutes are the new attraction, and Pinhead is just along for the ride. In the end, Hellraiser: Judgement is a bold take on the material. Too bold in fact. Bold enough to hijack the franchise and take it in a curious direction. This feels more like a rebranding of the franchise, and one I can't entirely stand behind.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Lionsgate brings Hellraiser: Judgement to Blu-ray in standard fashion with a slipcover to hard cover casing. Enclosed lies a BD-25 Blu-ray along with an Digital HD Ultraviolet download code. We are brought straight to a still image main menu with navigation from there.
Hell rains down on your television thanks to Hellraiser: Judgement's 1080P MPEG-4 encoded transfer that gives us a whole lot more than it seems at first glance. Given this film's $350,000 budget I wasn’t expecting much but, much to my surpris,e this is a mostly solid transfer that takes some risks in terms of style. Starting with the opener, there is a heavy amount of digital grain that brings us back to films like SAW, which was clearly a template here. Along with that comes a bit of softening of textures that can be noticeable at times. There has also been some obvious tampering with the color palette at times, whether it is the orange hues of the Assessor's office, or the dark blue hues of Pinhead's throne, there is also some softening that rears its ugly head as well. Black levels are generally accurate and where they should be. Besides some minor side effects, this transfer remains solid, proving that it doesn’t always take a massive budget to provide a good, stylish transfer.
The High Priest of Hell passes his judgement on your home theater system, with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is everything fans of the series would expect. This is an aggressive mix that provided some quality moments horror fans will go back to again, and again. The film opens with an impactful bang from the subwoofer, and as we enter the Auditor's office, sounds of horror and dread pour from the fronts to the rears. Moments like that are unfortunately few and far between in this film, but no opportunity is wasted here. Dynamics are quite high as well, with expert speaker separation and nuance. It just goes to show you what I have said before. "You don’t need to have a large budget to create an immersive listening experience." Hellraiser: Judgement isn't reference-quality listening, but it's just one step below.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (HD 7:10)
Gag Reel (4:23)
Hellraiser: Judgement makes a bold attempt at bringing the franchise to a new era, while stretching and testing the limits of its fanbase. Unfortunately, that elastic band snaps back and slaps them in the face. There is a lot of intrigue developed around our new characters, but we are a more sophisticated audience today so it doesn’t take long for us to figure out there is absolutely no intention to give us a satisfying conclusion to these new questions. Add in the attempt to push Pinhead into the background and what we are left with is a bold, but ultimately unsatisfying entry in the Hellraiser series. But given the above average Video and Audio transfer, this might be a worthy Worth A Look if for no other reason but as a discussion piece about where they actually take this franchise.