The Hellraiser franchise is flawed but fascinating, nonetheless. What began life as a bona fide genre classic thanks to Clive Barker’s sublime 1987 progenitor eventually descended into a series of subpar installments which saw the franchise’s unique mythology and bold concepts make way for subpar and pointless sequels that failed to capture imaginations. The basic premise — the forbidden puzzle box, S&M demons — remained a constant throughout, but the Hellraiser we fell in love with during the early films was gone. Instead of crafting new tales around the rich and sinister lore Barker conceived, the basic components were mostly slotted into scripts for non-related films. Overall, the series is a case of wondering what could have been and then some.
That said, I’ve always found the franchise to be enjoyable for the most part. Regardless of how downtrodden the sequels are at times, they’re somewhat elevated by the appearance of Pinhead and the Cenobites. Hellbound (1988), Hell On Earth (1992), and Bloodline (1996) expanded the mythology to some degree. Inferno (2000), on the other hand, marks the first transition into “just put Pinhead it and people will buy it” territory, yet it actually succeeds as its own entity. Meanwhile, Hellworld (2005) is a botched attempt at creating a hip, meta horror for millennial teenagers at the time which, if in the right frame of mind, can be enjoyed in a trainwreck sort of way. Most of the others would be forgettable if they weren’t emboldened by Cenobites led by Doug Bradley giving it his all.
Viewing the franchise as a series of anthologies where the Cenobites can creep up anywhere without having to worry about narrative cohesion makes for a good time in the dilapidated alleyways of cheap DTV horror fare. For most viewers, though, the suffering was legendary. For others like me, we’re still fascinated by the sights the series has to show us.
Since 2011s Revelations, Doug Bradley has abandoned the role of Pinhead and left the mantle for a new actor to pick make their own. The franchise has entered a new territory, and while the last film left much to be desired (it was terrible), the latest sequel, Judgment, looks like it has some potential. For a start, it’s directed by Gary Tunnicliffe, the make-up effects extraordinaire who’s supplied the nightmarish imagery and gruesome delights for the franchise’s entirety thus far. Tunnicliffe at least cares about the Hellraiser world and appears to be sincere in his quest to rebuild it and restore its vitality. It’s a step in the right direction.
The story follows three detectives out to stop a serial killer who end up being sucked into a hellish underbelly where demons dwell and serve punishment to those foolish enough to summon them. You can probably put the rest together if you’ve seen any of these films in the past. Fortunately, Tunnicliffe has introduced new demons and monstrosities to the cinematic canon which should spice things up some. It’s also worth noting that the plot is somewhat reminiscent of Inferno, but comparisons to one of the better DTV sequels is at least better than Revelations. Be hopeful.
That said, response to the trailer has been quite strong in the horror community since it dropped earlier this week, so if you’re still on board with the series then chances are you’re already looking forward to the upcoming Blu-ray, DVD and VOD release on February the 13th — just in time for Valentine’s Day. I’m leaning towards optimistic and I look forward to seeing what Tunnicliffe has in store.