One of the most unique and criminally mistreated horror franchises ever committed to film is horror icon Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. Produced at a time when horror was all the rage in theaters, the franchise offered a grotesquely different take on the tired formula of “guys in masks chasing around buxom teenagers with knives.”
These movies were on a whole other level entirely: a rich Lovecraftian tapestry of terror that was both intimate in its plotting but grandiose in its carnal immensity. Yes, it featured a villain — several om fact — chasing around a plucky heroine desperately scrambling to save her very soul. Yes, there were knives and chains and other pointy things brought to bear on her. And of course there was a bombastic finale that saw her limping away from a narrowly averted fate that was guaranteed to haunt her in the inevitable sequel.
But Hellraiser was as much an exercise in horror as it was in mythologized worldbuilding: as much a perverted Oedipal drama as it was a hair-raising slasher. Its villains were calculating, its premise imaginative and its world rife for exploration. Each film — whatever their faults may have been — built on the bedrock of the first movie in order to deliver a series that was far greater than any individual movie. That is, they did until after Bloodlines was released, after which the franchise was relegated to straight-to-video releases.
What’s more is that the movies were no longer defensibly Hellraiser movies. In addition to the slashed budgets and shrinking pool of talent involved in them, these later movies were often based on repurposed scripts initially unrelated to the series. The studio would dust off some old script it had lying around fir a few years, do a quick rewrite to inset Pinhead and the cenobites into the existing story, change a few character names and BOOM: instant sequel. The films lacked the cutting edge that made the first few so memorable and the deep lore delves that captivated the dark imaginations of its fans for years.
For the first time in decades, however, Hellraiser is finally getting a proper sequel. Hellraisetr: Judgment, which is now available from the comfort of your own home, promises to be the kind of continuation that the franchise has desperately needed for years: an original tale set in the Hellraiser universe that further explores its Faustian depths.
In a recent interview, film director Gary Tunnicliffe — who has worked in the series over numerous instalments in various capacities — expressed his frustrations over the direction that the franchise had taken since the 90s, laying much of the blame at the feet of skittish producers who didn’t understand what was at the core of the films. He opines that:
“This series has stumbled and faltered and struggled along the way because the reality is you can’t shoehorn this franchise into a commercially successful movie without stripping away the things from it that make it what it is. And this is where [producer] Bob [Weinstein] and the guys have had a problem because Bob really isn’t a fan of sadomasochistic sexual perversity, and hooks, and flesh, and that kind of stuff.”
Furthermore, when the then-latest sequel — the scattershot Bloodlines, which took place in the past, present and future of the franchise and sought to give it a definitive, sci-fi-inspired end — failed to land with audiences, the series’ already suspicious studio heads looked elsewhere to find what was selling tickets. What they settled on, Tunnicliffe speculates, is the horror meta-comedy Scream. He shared that:
“That’s why I think in 1996 when Bloodline came, and we had the whole debacle of that. I got a call to go in and meet with Bob about a Hellraiser story I pitched called ‘Holy War,’ and I was maybe talking about directing that was that. That week Scream came out and did its business, and then Bob and the guys, rightly so, were like, ‘Oh, look, let’s try and figure out this guy with the nails in his head and this weird sexual stuff. Look, Scream, there it is. Ka-ching. It’s easy, it works. It’s a f***ing guy in a mask going around with a big knife chopping up teenagers.”
Although there are no immediate follow-up plans for Judgment, its success among horror fans could result in a theatrical return for the franchise. It all depends on whether the closest film connects with audiences in a way that its recent outings have not. Lat’s just hope that another Scream doesn’t come along to take the wind out of its sails.
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