In the case of Hellraiser: Judgment v Sequelitis, there are no winners.
The Hellraiser movies have long espoused the ethos that pain and pleasure are indivisible, which probably explains why all the straight-to-video sequels are pretty hard to watch. Maybe it’s all very meta, and we’re supposed to enjoy not liking them.
Hellraiser started out as a slimy saga of supernatural sadomasochism and it quickly developed a complex mythology over the four theatrical releases. But from the fifth film onward all the selling points of Hellraiser – the monstrous Cenobites and the blurred lines between eroticism and agony – fell by the wayside. The majority of the straight-to-video installments have played like completely unrelated screenplays which had little bits and pieces of Hellraiser iconography clumsily grafted on after the fact. And none of those screenplays were particularly interesting. (Heck, two of them have the exact same twist ending.)
Hellraiser: Judgment is, sadly, no exception. The tenth film in the series features the Cenobites in only three of four scenes and spends most of its running time doing a low-budget riff on Se7en. A serial killer called “The Preceptor” is performing gruesome and elaborate murders based on the Ten Commandments, and three detectives are on the case: Det. Sean Carter (Damon Carney), Det. David Carter (Randy Wayne) and Det. Christine Egerton (Alexanda Harris). But the job is really getting to them, and Det. Sean Carter is so close to the edge that his partners no longer trust him.
Making their job harder is the fact that they’re literally the only people working on this high-profile serial killer case. Seriously, they’re the only three people who ever show up to the crime scenes. No photography, no police tape, and no forensics… which is a shame because if forensics had shown up they probably would have told the detectives not to touch every single piece of evidence with their bare hands and move it around willy-nilly. Which they do. Every time.
The serial killer storyline may be derivative and familiar, but what we’re really here to see are the Cenobites, and although they’re only in a few scenes we do get to learn more about them. Specifically, we learn that they’re part of Hell’s complex bureaucracy, in which every sinner is audited by a nerdy Cenobite, assessed by a gluttonous Cenobite, and then judged by three topless ladies with no face before getting licked clean by other fully naked ladies and flayed by some kind of otherworldly Master Blaster.
Kudos to director Gary J. Tunnicliffe for going the whole nine yards with all the creepy imagery, but turning Pinhead into middle-management – complete with pages and pages of paperwork – feels more like a satirical gag than a horrifying addition to the series. Ever since the straight-to-video Hellraiser sequels starting tying the Cenobites into old school Catholic mythology they’ve been losing a lot of their mystique, and Hellraiser: Judgment is probably the final nail in that coffin. We’ve got Pinhead arguing with his boss about company policy now. That’s just Monsters Inc. with ultraviolence.
Hellraiser: Judgment is now available on Blu-ray (plus Digital), DVD, Digital, and On Demand.