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