I could not wait. Some would forget about it for many months until they casually notice the cheaply priced UK dvd for sale but I am a huge Hellraiser nerd and so I went for it, ordered the American region dvd. Was it a huge mistake? Was I let down?
News of this next sequel in the possibly increasingly low quality series came a fair ago. The film was actually finished and held back from cinemas or dvd release last year due to some distributor/studio reasons but thankfully they came to sort things out and we can now view this new chapter in the Hellraiser cinematic world.
I don’t know how well you know the movies or the original created by the legend author/artist/filmmaker Clive Barker in the late 80’s but many fans have become very cynical and jaded about any new entry in the series. Arguably the first three movies are best and certainly probably the ones most fans liked above the others. Those movies were produced with mostly big studio financing and it can be seen on screen. Around 1996 came Hellraiser:Bloodline and at the time I was really eager to see where they would take Pinhead and the Cenobites. Well that film sadly went straight to VHS (I had to buy an ex-rental from a reliable local store) and it was some kind of tragic cinematic mess. The director took his name off the film, the studio recut the movie which just could not manage to successfully put on screen the complex and ambitious tale of medieval times, present day and sci-fi future locations on a challenging budget. The series was gone for a few years until it returned with Hellraiser:Inferno, a more intimate smaller story and the new few straight to dvd sequels remained similar to that one in budget and ambition. There have been strong rumours that some of those sequels were made from old on-spec horror scripts which simply stuck Pinhead in for a few minutes and hey presto-cheap Hellraiser sequel to make some money from the loyal fans.
The most recent sequel Hellraiser:Revelations controversially hired a new actor to play Pinhead lead Cenobite. Many fans just could not accept this, and the film was largely seen as a real waste of time and a cheap cash-in mess, the actor receiving strong criticism and negative responses.
A couple of years on and Gary J Tunnicliffe, a special effects artist who had worked on several of the sequels since Hellraiser3, has given us this next sequel. Again many fans were very sceptical and weary but in interviews Tunnicliffe was stating that he had a fresh concept for this new sequel, something that could really push the series forward and not simply for the sake of keeping the film rights for the studios. He sounded very confident in what he was telling us. We could bare in mind that he did write the terrible previous Hellraiser:Revelations sequel but he argued that the studio did what they did and he had no say in how that one was made. He stated that he offered them a couple of new Hellraiser scripts, one very extreme and one which was basically the new sequel. They eventually did give him the chance to direct it and I think it was a good thing to do.
If you are a Hellraiser fan you probably know that in the decades that the franchise has existed, there have been many sequels, comicbook tales inspired by the films, new short stories and merchandise going off in various interesting directions. Some of the sequels could have done many great things over the years but as is often the case movie studios, producers and distributors get nervous or greedy and hold back and cash in or play safe.
With Hellraiser:Judgment it is quickly obvious that Tunnicliffe does genuinely have a great personal interest in the series, the world, the character of Pinhead and where it could possibly go. So the main storyline of the film is quite standard detective murder mystery but from the first few minutes it takes us into strange and bizarre Hellraiser places we haven’t really experienced since possibly the second movie. Be prepared to wonder ‘what the hell is happening here?’ before the familiar detective plot comes into play after the main title. It looks nice and nasty, all sepia gloom and dark shadows with weird characters and a glimpse of our second new Pinhead actor.
So it moves forward as three cops-two male pals, one new female-attempt to track down a mysterious serial killer who seems inspired by Old Testament scripture for his murders. Yes that does sound like the David Fincher classic Seven and many other cop thriller/serial killer movies of the last 20 years but this brings in Pinhead and Cenobites with it. Like most of the cheap sequels, again Pinhead is not in the movie for very long at all, but actually that probably works very well-remember he only appeared in the original for a few minutes but made a lasting impression.
This sequel does feel quite similar to Hellraiser:Inferno which also had a detective hunting down a mysterious serial killer. There are a few similar steps along the film in terms of narrative, and almost wonder why Tunnicliffe did not go with more of a different or unusual plot but it largely serves to bring in Pinhead and the Hellraiser world. Now, I will not detail every unusual new character or scene we get in this new sequel. There is a new character actually played by Tunnicliffe called The Auditor who is not exactly a Cenobite but works for some department of Hell. He works with Pinhead but not for him. There is a big change this time where Tunnicliffe decides to bring in the opposite of Hell:Heaven. The director believed that in the Hellraiser world or films it should be logical that both could meet at some point and so we see an angel speak with The Auditor and later confront Pinhead. This may not go down well with some long-time fans of Hellraiser but in some ways yes it does make sense. The budget of the film may have limited how this could come across on screen but it works alright.
I should consider this new third actor taking on the role of Pinhead, one of the most iconic and well known modern horror movie monsters of the last 30 years. Paul T. Taylor dons the iconic special effects makeup and actually I think that he does put in a pretty good performance. I did miss the familiar sound of the voice of Pinhead as we known it from Doug Bradley but that was not a huge distraction really. So the previous new actor has disappeared, possibly hiding in shame of his performance in Hellraiser:Revelations but I think I would be happy to see Paul T. Taylor remain the Priest of Pain for at least one more sequel. He also personally seems very excited to be the character and understands how significant and iconic the role is in the horror world.
The film does meander along into the second half with not really too much taking place beyond a mystery killer teasing the detectives, they argue among themselves and one of them goes off alone. Meanwhile the Auditor and Pinhead are also interested in knowing who the serial killer is and where he is. This links both sides of the story and thankfully there is just about enough characterisation for us to care about the detectives and what happens to them. A couple of big twists in the plot help keep our interest, though at least one of them is probably fairly obvious-again the detective storyline not hugely original but basically serves its purpose.
Fans will be please to see some familiar cenobites return to the screen and even a cameo from another iconic horror actor which sadly missed the chance to really do something maybe more entertaining, even if as extra deleted scenes on the dvd.
The actually ending is fairly bold, especially considering the previous line of safe Hellraiser sequels and Tunnicliffe has suggested it keeps things open for a follow on sequel in future. We see Pinhead confront the angel, they argue about what should be done with the serial killer, she tricks Pinhead. He decides to kill her classic Hellraiser style with the sudden flesh ripping hooks and chains but some powerful force moves around his domain and he banished from his role, made human and left on Earth. This ending may confuse or even enrage many long-time fans. Some may just think it to be really dumb or stupid but at least Tunnicliffe has taken a bold step with a very loved and iconic horror monster. We will seen the response over time, if not a direct follow on sequel. I think it actually could, and possibly should happen. Tunnicliffe I think is evidently talented and enthusiastic enough to continue the series personally and I would welcome that. The combination of him as continuing director, Taylor as new Pinhead and a bigger budget could offer something really great next time.
So is it a new horror movie classic? No, not at all. Is it a Hellraiser sequel worth seeing? I think so. Even horror fans not really big on Hellraiser may still enjoy it on some level. It has more gore and blood than some of the sequel, a better Pinhead performance and in some ways a more bold and challenging tale to offer on screen. I say give it a go, Hellraiser fan or casual horror movie fan of any kind.
James Parsons is author horror novel Northern Souls available now as paperback & ebook from all good bookshops and online. Also his two SF books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century as paperback, ebook and hardback in shops and online as well.