Film Review | Hellraiser: Judgment | 2018

***this post contains spoilers

“I knew what I wanted to make, and I felt like ‘you know what, I wrote a traditional Hellraiser story with Revelations and I got raped by the fans. I’m not going to try and appease the fans anymore.’ I’m going to make a film for me and I have a very strong idea visually on where I want to go with the story and its going to be very different. I’m going to make a food for me and offer everybody a bite.” (“Interview with Gary J Tunnicliffe”60 Minutes WithArchived from the original on 12 November 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017.)

The Hellraiser films are not so much a “series” (as in, a continuation of a story or set of stories) as they are a reworking of various different motifs and considerably smaller number of characters into completely self-contained vesicles (which I do not mean as either a good or bad thing, it is simply the best description which occurs to me). The only consistency throughout all of the films and what holds them all together is the presence of the mysterious puzzle-box known as the Lament Configuration and the bizarre, other-dimensional beings known as the Cenobites (koinos, “common”, bios, “life” | used to refer to members of a communal, religious order).

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Hellraiser mainstay, Pinhead; leader of the Cenobites, the “High Priest of Hell.”

Of the 10 films to date, only Hellraiser (1st in the franchise), Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser: Bloodline (4th) and Hellraiser: Hellseeker (6th) can be considered any kind of proper series (Hellseeker only because it features the return of Kirsty Cotten, the protagonist of Hellraiser 1 & 2). This is especially true of the fifth installment, Inferno, which, though a very good movie, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any of the preceding films in the series, save for the cenobites (and they are all different save for the Chatterer – who lost his legs somehow – and Pinhead, who only shows up at the end of the film). Despite the disparate styles and plots of the various films, they (by and large) maintained a continuous mystique and consistently raised questions concerning the principal motivating factor in human activity: Desire. After the abysmal outing that was Hellraiser: Revelation (9th in the franchise) – despite it’s excellent script – I was interested to see what the talented FX artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe could do with Barker’s material in the capacity of writer/director.

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Hellraiser: Judgment (10th in the franchise), was released in 2018 and was directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe, produced by Michael Leahy and was created with roughly the same budget (approx. $300,000) as its predecessor. I had absolutely no idea what the budget for this movie was before seeing it and never once did a single thing throughout my viewing thereof ever appear “cheap.” It is also worth noting that the idea (floated by some critics and reviewers) that around $300,000 is a “small budget” speaks volumes of the excess which is bred by a distance from any real fiscal instability, from any real poverty and the unabated hunger for spectacle for its own sake.

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The plot of the film centers around three detectives, two brothers and woman, who are hunting down a serial killer known as The Preceptor, who kills according to the Bible. Every murder committed by The Preceptor corresponds to a particular “sin” described in the ten commandments and if that sounds almost identical to Andrew Kevin Walker’s script for Se7en that’s because it is. The generic (and often uneventful) police procedural is, thankfully, interspliced with numerous scenes of a otherword which we later learn is Hell. This extradimensional realm is, as per usual, populated by the ominous cenobites as well as another group of peculiar beings known as the Stygian Inquisition who appear to be headed by a horribly scarred and bespectacled human-like creature called The Auditor, who is responsible for processing the souls of those desired by Hell. The Auditor’s task is accomplished by sitting across from the prospect and inquiring into the nature of their past to unearth their sins whereupon the hell-clerk will type up a thorough documentation of the individual’s misdeeds on a typewriter affixed, not with paper, but human flesh. Ink is dispensed with for blood.

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The Auditor as portrayed by G. J. Tunnicliffe.

Two storylines run in concert. The first is that of detectives Sean & David Carter who are looking for a serial killer and who are quickly joined by a female detective named Egerton who is brought on by the higher-ups to both the expedite the case as well as keep an eye on Sean (who suffers from PTSD and turns to the bottle). The second storyline follows the Auditor processing souls in hell with the aid of various other grotesque and bizarre entities. The outer realm and the mundane collide when the Auditor absconds into his pocket dimension with Sean.

Process of the Stygian Inquisition.

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The Auditor.
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The Assessor.
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The Jury.
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The Cleaners.
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The Butcher.
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The Surgeon. The last processor of the Stygian Inquisition.

Sean unintentionally puts a damper on the Auditor’s plans when he declares that “no one can judge him but God.” Shortly thereafter, a angel named Jophiel appears and demands that The Auditor release Sean, stating that God has plans for him. The Auditor is confused and reluctant, greeting the angel kindly but coldly. Shortly thereafter The Auditor seeks council with Pinhead, the leader of the cenobites about what to do concerning the angel and the human. Pinhead asks where Sean is and they both return to the rooms of the acquisition only to discover that the detective escaped. Later it is revealed that the Preceptor is none other than Sean and that the reason he was killing those who had broken the ten commandments was due to his intense religiosity and hatred for the modern world. Pinhead seeks to claim the deranged detective’s soul but the angel Jophiel intercedes once more and demands the man’s release; God wants him out in the world, deeming those he kills to be “acceptable losses.” Pinhead, knowing that Egerton will shoot Sean given that she knows he is the killer, upon his return to earth, happily obliges and Sean is swiftly dispatched by the police woman just as planned. This infuriates the angel who then threatens the cenobite.

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Detective Egerton.

Pinhead, however, is none to happy being threatened with “pain” and decides to torture and dismember the angel and, after sufficient suffering, kills her. All the while the Auditor had been slinking and when the angel is dead he moves to the cenobite’s side and notes that he should not have acted so rashly, for God will surely punish him. Indeed, this is just what happens as a bright, white light envelopes Pinhead, who is transformed into a human and banished from Hell, forced to live amongst the mortals, presumably, for the rest of his days. He cries out at the loss of his “sweet suffering” and then screams. Credits rolls and at their end two Mormon missionaries appear at a house in Germany, peddling their creed, once the door is opened the Auditor’s voice is heard, welcoming them in and signalling that they are soon to be processed by the Stygian Inquisition. It is here that the film ends.

Whilst nowhere near as dense in symbolism and metaphor as some other Barker-inspired films such as The Midnight Meat Train, the film does offer some peculiar and unexpected critiques. One of the most unexpected to me was the criticism of the “anti-modern savior” in the character of Sean Carter, The Preceptor. Whilst his religiosity and hatred of other human beings acts as Sean’s primary source of motivation (especially when coupled with his desire for revenge against his brother and wife who were having a affair behind his back), he also takes sadistic pleasure in what he does, despite the fact that he feels considerable remorse afterwards (as he states in his confessions to The Auditor). Sean’s revenge against his traitorous brother and wife is understandable and his disdain towards those who act wholly without any moral consideration, is also, if not righteous, again, understandable. Yet, at one point later in the film, when he confronts his brother, he screams that he would kill every single human being alive if he was able due their sinfulness, completely neglecting his own past transgressions (beating his dog, slaughtering other humans in war, torturing and murdering those who broke the ten commandments) and the fact that he is precisely the kind of monstrous personality he decries. Sean then is, in many ways, analogous to the self-righteous religious radicals who use the phrase “modernity” with disgust and style themselves as revolutionaries despite being wholly chained to a tradition which has never even existed, those who state how much they cannot stand the modern world, even as it sustains them, those who state that they hate everyone, even as they spout fascicle platitudes of brotherhood and unity under God; those whose plans for change all invariably boil down to nothing more than murder and violent repression on a monumental scale which is always permissible so long as they are the ones carrying it out and so long as it is done in the name of their favored deity (who can, of course, do no wrong, and they, as the instruments of providence, likewise are absolved of all). Unlike this common crop of self-loathing, hypocritical, hysteric, psychologically damaged loons, Sean is, at least, willing to admit his murderous intentions. This vain, human wailing is sharply contrasted by the opening of the film which shows Pinhead and The Auditor discussing the increasingly outmoded nature of the Lament Configurations; they note that the interconnectivity of technological systems has rendered the puzzle boxes relatively ineffective as conduits of desire; people aren’t interested in rituals and puzzle boxes anymore, but rather, the liminal sea of the internet. Instead of bemoaning this, the two denizens of the outer world see this as a opportunity to try out new methods of their own, namely the pocket-dimension houses of the Stygian Inquisition who lure their victims via internet transmissions. Where The Preceptor flails and cries out, the cenobites and the inquisition adapt. And yet, just like many humans, Pinhead falls victim to his own hubris whereas The Auditor never overplays his hand and it is for this reason that it is he alone who stands triumphant at the end of the picture.

What is most interesting about The Auditor, in terms of his personality, was how polite and dutiful he was, in contrast to the cenobite, Chatterer, who is erratic and violent when unconstrained by his master; so much so that when Sean helps hurry the auditing procedure along, The Auditor treats him kindly, gifting him a reward of inhuman knowledge; yet he is, at the same time, completely sanguine about inflicting suffering, if it is necessary to complete his task. This contrasts with the cenobites who enjoy suffering for its own sake. “I am a man for whom pain is nothing more than a common currency,” The Auditor states flatly, during his interrogation of the child murderer Watkins, who had been reticent in divulging his sins, “I will spend some on you… if you like?” One can easily image The Auditor as having been a overzealous DMV worker in his previous, human life.

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“DMV? How dare you use that word. I am the DMV.”

It was a thoroughly enjoyable film, well-crafted and with something to say. I’d recommend it.

 

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The Last Jedi: How General Hux Saved The Order, A Writer’s Review

[review will contain spoilers and will assume the reader has, at minimum, some ancillary knowledge of the film]


Star Wars: The Last Jedi has proved to be the most divisive Star Wars film to date; it’s 39 point split between critics (92% fresh) and laymen (53%) on Rotten Tomatoes (as of this writing) well attests to this (it is similarly contested on a variety of other movie review aggregation sites as well). The point of this review, as with all my reviews, is to lay out some solid do’s and don’t’s for prospective or active-but-inexperienced writers as pertains to things such as world-building, character-building, narrative fluidity, in-story believability and so forth, thus I will cover this split between audience and critic in as brief a way as possible. Put most starkly and shortly: Critics are far more left-leaning and ideologically and politically self-aware than your average, vape-sucking, porg-collecting, Cowboy-Bebop-apparel-wearing, Joe-bag-of-doughnuts and the film is very, very heavy-handed with it’s progressive political messaging. More on that later – first, the plot.

Refersher on the plot.

The plot of The Last Jedi takes off directly after the events of the previous installment (The Force Awakens, 2015) and begins with our bland Mary Sue of a protagonist, Rey, confronting a defeated and cynical Luke Skywalker, demanding he come assist the Rebel Alliance. Later she asks his guidance for training. Skywalker refuses both, struggling with the weight of his past mistakes; namely, training Kylo Ren who had slaughtered or corrupted all of his other Jedi-students. At the same time, the First Order starfleet, led by General Hux catches up to the disordered remnants of the Rebel Alliance but they flee through hyperspace. Hux conceives of a way to track them through hyperspace whereupon he and Supreme Leader Snoke (undisputed emperor of the First Order) and the rest of their forces engage Poe, Princess Leia and the various other members of the horribly out-gunned, out-manned and out-witted remnants of the Alliance. All the while the conflicted Kylo Ren attempts to lure Rey to the Dark Side of the Force.

Problems.

Extremely narrow world-building wherein plot-advancement overtakes characterization or explanation of events.

The first and foremost problem of this film is the Rebels – oh, sorry, I mean, #TheResistance. In the previous film, The Force Awakens, the New Republic which The Resistance had erected upon the ruins of the Galactic Empire was obliterated by General Hux through the utilization of the Starkiller Base (death star 2.0) whereupon The Resistance were basically transformed from soldiers of various different planets into a rag-tag collective of vengeful jihadists. Never is it mentioned whether of not there were any defectors from the New Republic or it’s attendant satellites to the First Order, nor is there ever any mention from any individual pertaining to their opinions upon the New Republic or it’s vanguard, The Resistance nor the First Order nor any other vying faction (there doesn’t appear to be any third contender in the struggle). It is as if the whole of the universe is compressed to nothing more than The Resistance and the First Order. Everyone is either in the war effort or they are completely unconcerned. There are only two exceptions, the first being the charming but underhanded rogue, DJ (Benecio Del Torro) and the second being a unnamed child who has less than a minute total of screen time. The child is sympathetic to The Resistance not because he had animus against the First Order but simply because he lives a horrible life and their message gives him hope, DJ, in contrast, is a completely neutral opportunist who doesn’t take sides (he has a little pin on his cap which actually reads “Don’t Join” – playing off his initials – which was rather on the nose for me) because he believes that good and evil are wholly subjective and that it’s wisest to go with the winning team because they tend to pay better. Other than these two one get’s absolutely no sense of what the broader universe thinks about the whole conflict which is rather unfortunate as it would have given a great deal of moral weight to the story as a whole and contributed markedly to potential story-lines in the future.

Rey is still a Mary-Sue.

As per The Force Awakens, one of the central problems is Rey. She is still covered in a suit of impenetrable plot armor only now it has gotten even stronger. Her plot armor has gotten so strong that it no longer intervenes for the sake of plot advancement and tends to manifest at random for no other reason than to allow her to showoff. For example, she is able to easily defeat Luke Skywalker in single combat before she has even completed her Jedi training. Thus far in the series she has not suffered one true personal defeat (she always turns it around, a la Kylo mind-probe scene), either physically or mentally with the possible exception of her manipulation at the hands of Snoke (though that hideously backfires on him so I don’t really count that as a loss).

The Canto Bight Arc.

Easily the worst section (narrative-wise) of the whole film is the journey to Canto Bight, a kind of futurist Las Vegas where the galaxies monied interests, primarily arms manufacturers, gather to frolic and relax. There are four problems with the section:

  • The justification for Token Black Dude and Diversity Quota Girl to go to Canto Bight (to find a hacker to break Hux’s shields) are completely superfluous given the fact that the purple-haired Vice Admiral Holdo (a better name for her might have been Captain Queer-theory) already had a plan to escape from Hux’s starfleet. She withholds this plan, however, and it is never revealed as to why. This is especially odd since all of the Resistance fighters who remain ignorant of her plan think they’re living on borrowed time. Made no sense at all.
  • The endless and heavy handed hammering of PETAesquery was nauseating and misplaced.
  • Due to the amount of time needed to set up Canto Bight, explain it, have Token and Quota Girl find DJ and then rescue a bunch of enslaved children and animals the scene drags on for FAR longer than needed.
  • Additionally, all the while the Resistance fighters are saving kids and fluffy animals they never seem in the slightest concerned for their comrades. The idea was Rose’s (Asian Diversity Quota Girl) so I kept expecting Finn (Token Black) to be more mission oriented and raise at least one concern, such as, “Every second we waste saving these animals is a second closer Hux comes to annihilating the Resistance!” But he never said anything other than, “-was it worth it?” To which, Rose, after removing a saddle from one of the weird kangaroo monsters they saved says, “Now it’s worth it.” A triumvirate of stupid, lazy and incredibly cheezy writing.

Supreme Leader Snoke’s mystique is a Red Herring.

In The Force Awakens Snoke was built up and up and up, but nothing was explained about him other than that he, 1. wasn’t human, 2. could use the force, 3. led the First Order, 4. was cartoonishly evil. Outside of that nothing was known. If you assumed they would flesh him out in The Last Jedi you’d be sorry mistaken. He’s dispatched pretty quickly actually and leaves the film as mysteriously as he entered it – nothing more than a red herring for Kylo’s ascension to the throne. Lots of wasted potential there.

Phasma is under utilized.

Captain Phasma, trainer and leader of Hux’s Stormtroopers, is perhaps the only product of “Diversity” in the film that is at all mildly interesting (i.e. Phasma was originally intended to be male but was changed to a female due to backlash for lack of gender diversity). The shimmering Stormtrooper is under-utilized and then discarded even more briskly than Snoke. The only thing you find out about Phasma is that her armor is impervious to blaster-fire and that she’s a good close-range fighter. That’s about it. A waste; though her send off was quite good, especially her last line to Finn, “You were always scum.” Quite true, he is, after all, a traitor AND a terrorist.

Standouts

General Armitage Hux.

Though the film’s official title is The Last Jedi, a equally accurate name might have been, Hux, Hero of the First Order. The reason why this would be accurate is that, throughout both The Force Awakens and Last Jedi, Hux has been the real, driving force behind nearly all of The Resistance’s defeats. Every major victory which was won for The First Order was won, not by Kylo Ren or Snoke, but by the perennially under-appreciated General Hux.

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Consider the fact that General Hux:

  • Is responsible for the creation of the First Order Stormtrooper units which are far more powerful than those utilized by the Galactic Empire.
  • Annihilates the New Republic in The Force Awakens.
  • Devises a method for tracking the rebel fleet through hyperspace which had previously been considered impossible.
  • Deploys the TIE fighter squadron which kills Admirable Ackbar.
  • Re-organizing the First Order after the death of Supreme Leader Snoke (as Kylo, due his mental instability, is clearly a incompetent, reckless leader).
  • Destroys nearly all Resistance star-fleet escapees in orbit and surrounds the last base-planet of the terrorist alliance & obliterates them, effectively stamping out the rebellion entirely (save for the main protagonists who, because they need to make more of these, escape).

Given that all of Hux’s plans were his own and were not contingent upon Kylo Ren or Snoke, he really should be considered the main antagonist of the series since he is the one who does all of the “heavy-lifting” as it were as well as the most competent given that Ren is off his gourd and Snoke largely just sits about and shouts at people and is also quite easily force-duped by his own apprentice. Given the fact that the First Order seems to be bringing more good (order, stability, production, direction and purpose) to the galaxy than the rebels, it is difficult to view them negatively, especially after the cartoonish, Snoke, is dethroned. For instance, in The Last Jedi the most “villainous” thing they do is kill members of the Resistance who are terrorists. Indeed, a perceptive viewer, sympathetic to the politically stabilizing effects of The First Order might well view General Hux as a hero rather than a villain. He fought for his people, honorably, never betrayed them and, indeed, succeeded. Honestly…

#huxdidnothingwrong

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