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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Gary J. Tunnicliffe Details the ‘Hellraiser: Judgment’ Sequel That Would’ve Introduced a New Hell Priest [Phantom Limbs]

phantom limb /ˈfan(t)əm’lim/ n. an often painful sensation of the presence of a limb that has been amputated.

Welcome to Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which will take a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we will be chatting with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.

For this installment, we’ll be looking at the sadly unrealized sequel to 2018’s Hellraiser: Judgment, the tenth film in the long-running franchise which introduced some fascinating new facets to the mythology of the Cenobites and the franchise’s unique vision of Hell. Joining us for this chat is Judgment’s writer/director (and longtime Hellraiser makeup FX guru) Gary J. Tunnicliffe. Throughout the course of our chat, Mr. Tunnicliffe described what his vision for a Judgment follow-up would have been, whether or not we may ever get to see a return to the characters and mythology that he created specifically for his sequel, and his thoughts on the various Hellraiser projects currently in development.

For those who haven’t yet seen Hellraiser: Judgment, a quick recap: growing concerned with his ability to entice and capture souls in an ever more modern world where technology has begun to render the Cenobites’ simple puzzle box irrelevant and obsolete, Pinhead (Paul T. Taylor, replacing series mainstay Doug Bradley) strikes up a partnership with “the Auditor”, the head of another faction in Hell known as “The Stygian Inquisition”, which draws sinners into nondescript homes on earth and then runs them through a ghoulish process which assesses their sins and punishes them accordingly. In a separate subplot, three detectives trail after a religious serial killer known as “the Preceptor”, whose murders reflect each of the Ten Commandments. It is eventually revealed that the Preceptor is one of the detectives, who receives protection from Jophiel, an angel attempting to use the Preceptor’s crimes to strike fear into the hearts of sinners. The two story threads eventually converge in the final act, which sees Pinhead defying Jophiel by arranging the Preceptor’s death, just before he destroys the angel in grand, gory fashion. For this crime against Heaven, Pinhead is stripped of both his pins and title, and deposited on Earth to live out his days as a powerless human.

The Auditor (Gary J. Tunnicliffe) in ‘Hellraiser: Judgment’ (2018)

With its open ending, and the fact that it was relatively well received in the horror community when it came out, it seemed like a sequel to Hellraiser: Judgment was a bit of a no-brainer. Was a follow-up discussed, or in development at any point? “There was no development at all! There was none. You have to remember, what happened was, [when] I made Judgment … I got a call from Bob Weinstein – which is really, really surprising – Bob called me to personally thank me and say what a great movie it was. He loved it. He was talking about showing it to Quentin Tarantino and stuff like this, and I was like ‘Oh my god, this is finally gonna happen for me.’ You know what I mean? I was like, ‘Y’know, finally after all these years I might get a crack at it.’ I said to Bob, ‘Maybe you should’ve given me a chance years ago!’ I pitched a Hellraiser movie after [1996’s] Bloodline called Holy War, and they put the kibosh on that when Scream came out. And he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Well, let’s see how this does.’ The film was finished, and I talked to Matt Stein over at Dimension, and he said, ‘Obviously, yeah, if this does well we’ll definitely be talking about a sequel.’ So I mulled over some ideas, but then we had the entire Weinstein debacle … and the company just imploded. Every exec that I’d had preying on me during the development of the film disappeared, and even the main executive who’d kind of shepherded [the project along] was off the case. Suddenly the company was in freefall…”

Though the project never reached the development stage, Tunnicliffe did develop an idea for what his Judgment follow-up’s story would have entailed. “So really, the idea I rolled around in my head – and this isn’t fully fleshed out – but I’d come up with an idea of a movie that was almost like the beginning of Pet Sematary. It’s a family moving across state, and moving to a town … called ‘Judgment’. It’s like a town in the South. It’s a doctor and his family moving to this town, and you start to realize that the husband and wife have had some marital problems, and it’s all about ‘Maybe now, with this new change, it’ll be better for us … Things will be different for us in this new town.’ They’ve got a teenage daughter, and she starts hanging around with some people in town. You realize that the town is run by a sheriff and a judge, and it’s kind of like a throwback to Nothing But Trouble, that movie with Dan Aykroyd. That crazy kind of judge character. I’d got this idea for this crazy judge character who’d wear glasses, but one of the glasses is painted black over one eye. And it’s all very kind of religious, and overbearing. Like Footloose, nobody can do anything. There’s no celebration [in this town].

Then the splinter story would be the character of whoever Pinhead is, once he’s banished. This guy, who’s coming out of a prison maybe, a la the beginning of The Blues Brothers. He’s homeless, he’s got nowhere to go, maybe he’s a drug addict, and it’s Paul T. Taylor. His hair’s grown back a little bit. He’s on a journey, trying to find his way back to wherever.

“And then, [there is a subplot] where you’re seeing the Auditor meet with his faction in Hell. There’s a new person introduced who is the new leader of [Cenobite faction] the Order of the Gash, a new Hell Priest [the role formerly occupied by Pinhead]. There are some inklings that it isn’t working. You get to see more of the Stygian Inquisition, and more of what they do. And you start to discover that more and more of these houses have been set up over the world, and that it’s going on in different places, and there are more Auditors and they all look the same, but they’re all in different places in the world.

“Then you go back to the town of Judgment. It all boils down to, in the end … the truth of the matter is that the town Judgment is one giant [Stygian Inquisition] house. It’s not a town. It’s a catchment, it’s a spider’s web. The doctor’s wife has made a deal with the Auditor to bring her husband and sell him out, because he’s a habitual cheater. He’s unfaithful to her all the time, he’s done it with her sister and everything else. There’s a family split, and that’s why they’ve moved to this town. She’s the one who’s engineered it. You don’t realize it, but she’s brought him to this Judgment town, and in a reveal at the end, you find out that the judge is in fact the Auditor. It’s a reveal where he transforms into the Auditor, and you find out that it’s not just a house anymore, it’s the whole town [that is] the catchment there, and bringing people into this town. People are just disappearing in this town, and being processed. It’s not just rooms in a house anymore. Within each house in this town is a different faction of the Stygian Inquisition. So it’s rooms of juries and rooms of surgeons, and the whole town is processing people.

“The leader of the Order of the Gash basically is having problems with the Auditor, saying [the town] isn’t running right. The third act, you’d bring in the fact that the Auditor has been leaving a breadcrumb trail, a trail of clues to bring back Paul T. Taylor’s Pinhead. To have him reborn as Pinhead and have a showdown with this [new] Hell Priest, kill the Hell Priest, take his throne, and then basically say ‘Let’s get to work’ with the Auditor and this whole town.

“That was really the kind of basic idea of the story, this kind of Children of the Corn/Footloose kind of town with this maniacal judge who turns out to be the Auditor … and then the backstory, of course, is the power struggle to usurp this old Hell Priest and bring back Pinhead and have him find his way. It was really a journey story. And I keep saying ‘Paul T. Taylor’, ‘cause it’s just easier to say that than ‘Pinhead’, but the Pinhead character would find his way back. The reason I did the ending of Judgment the way I did … a lot of people found that ending polarizing. It was done very cheaply and very quickly.

“In the old days of Dimension, what would have happened – we would have made Hellraiser: Judgment, and they would have watched it, and Bob would have gone ’This is pretty good. Here’s another $100,000. Go back, shoot a couple of days extra, and polish it up a bit.’ I would have done a longer sequence of Pinhead being banished. I would have had his robes being stripped away, his pins being pulled out of his head. He’d be screaming, blood running down his face. Then I would have probably cut to a nighttime shot of it raining … with a cop car driving down the street, the cop kind of looking out his window through the rain, maybe turn the light over, and you would see a guy laying on the ground, sheet over him, naked. He’d go over to him and … pull off the sheet and roll him over, and it would be Paul T. Taylor’s face lacerated in the grid, screaming ‘Help me! Help me!’ And I would’ve ended it there. I’d have done a more elaborate version of that [ending]. The reason I did that was quite simply … you’re trying to come up with an ending to the story … so what do I do? I was so tired of seeing people holding up a box and saying ‘Go to Hell!’, and Pinhead dies. He goes ‘Aaaah!’ in a flurry of poorly executed visual effects. I always thought, if you’re going to make someone suffer, then the best way … is to take all of their power from them. To me, it made perfect sense that he’d get thrust back onto the earth, where he was a nobody. So really, the idea for a sequel would be that he’d find his way back, that the Auditor would want him to come back. There’s no way that the Auditor wanted to take over. I think he likes Pinhead, and he wants to bring him back to the fold. So he would’ve left clues for the Taylor Pinhead to find his way back.”

Given the distinction here of noting Judgment’s Hell Priest as the “Paul T. Taylor Pinhead”, given the slight change in costume for Judgment’s Pinhead, and given that the BOOM! Studios Hellraiser comic book set up the notion that there could be more than one “Pinhead” filling the role as Hell Priest (what with both Kirsty Cotton and Clive Barker’s Harry D’Amour taking over the position at different times), it’s worth asking – is Paul T. Taylor’s Pinhead the same character that Doug Bradley portrayed in the franchise’s first eight films? “I’d never really thought about it. He could be [Pinhead’s human alter ego] Elliot Spencer. Had Doug played it, absolutely. There’s nothing in the script to say he isn’t. I’d written it that it’s Pinhead/Doug Bradley, therefore it’s Pinhead/Elliot Spencer. The only reason I changed the costume … when the situation occurred that Doug wasn’t going to play the character, I said ‘Well, since we’re going to have to make a new costume for Paul anyway…’ I felt it only right to make the costume his own. So if he was lucky enough to get a figure made, or he was going to do conventions, you could always tell which one was his character. He would have his own identifying costume. He deserved that, I felt. I definitely saw him as being the Pinhead, and not a Pinhead.”

Pinhead (Paul T. Taylor) in ‘Hellraiser: Judgment’ (2018)

And what of Pinhead’s successor in the film? Would the new Hell Priest have been a Pinhead of sorts? “I wouldn’t have done a Pinhead. I would have done a new Cenobite, that was the leader. I would’ve created a new character, I think. I don’t think the Hell Priest is automatically … a Pinhead. I think Pinhead is a Cenobite, and he ascended to the head of the Order. And it just so happens that it’s the coolest design amongst the bunch. So it would’ve been fun to design a new [Hell Priest]. Maybe that would’ve been the opening sequence to the new movie. The opening would have been some kind of weird, hellish coronation of a new Hell Priest. That’d be a good opening sequence, I think. A five minute, weird opening. Rows of Cenobites lined up, and some kind of weird crown that’s nailed to his head or something. Some kind of strange ceremony, with somebody sitting on a throne. And then you’d cut to a car driving with a U-Haul behind it through the fields of West Texas or wherever…”

What is the possibility that this project could still come to fruition? Where does this story’s future lie? “I dare not dream. After thirty years in Hollywood, I’ve just learned … You get used to disappointment. And the way you get used to disappointment is by not having any belief in it. My motto, working in Hollywood, is ‘Don’t believe it until you’re eating the popcorn.’ I never indulge in the dream. I became way too cynical early on. T’is what it is. I did genuinely believe, once I’d done [Judgment], in the back of my mind I was like ‘They must know this is pretty good. And clearly there’s been some fan reaction to it, so I bet the phone’s gonna ring.’ But then Harvey Weinstein got MeToo’d, and the whole thing fell apart, and the next thing you know the whole company was in complete disarray. And I was like, ‘That’s it.’ That’s the end of Hellraiser. That’s the end of Dimension. And all of my work, all my goodwill that I’d built up over the years of doing all this work, all went nowhere. I’d stacked up gold points with these people, and the final crown at the end was doing this Hellraiser movie for no money and having Bob Weinstein go ‘You did a really good job. I love this movie. We’re gonna get you something to do.’ And it all went sour. Had I done Hellraiser: Judgment five years ago, or ten years ago, I would have directed two more Hellraisers, or two more Dimension movies by now.”

With the fallout of the Miramax/Weinstein debacle, as well as the development of both a big budget reboot and an upcoming television series, the chances of a Judgment sequel seem to have been effectively axed. Where does this leave Tunnicliffe, who has toiled in various positions on this franchise for nearly three decades? “It’s very depressing to sit around and see what’s happening now with Hellraiser. People are going ‘Oh, there’s a TV show, and they’re really excited about doing it.’ ‘Oh, there’s going to be a reboot.’ And I get no reaching out at all. You think, ‘Wow, man. I bust my gut on that thing.’ And yeah, you could say ‘Aw, the films weren’t very good.’ My genuine fear is, they’re all going to turn out, these new people, they’re going to make this new movie, and go ‘Yeah, those guys just wrecked the movies and they destroyed the franchise, and now we’re rebuilding it…’ It’s like…I feel like I slummed it in the minor leagues, and all I wanted to do was make my team the best team it could be. Every time we did one, I put my heart and soul into it. I really did. And it was hard and depressing at times, to see where they went. When I came off Hellworld, which I hated, I was utterly depressed. ‘They’ve just ruined it.’ I’d just sat in a room where Pinhead was saying ‘How’s that for a wakeup call?’ I just felt that this franchise that I adore has lost all sense of respect, because people are just banging it out and I’m trying to do good, solid work.

HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT shot via Gary J. Tunnicliffe

Pinhead (Paul T. Taylor) and The Auditor (Gary J. Tunnicliffe)

“I was just miserable. I was like, ‘I’m never going to get to direct a Hellraiser film. It’ll never happen.’ So it is upsetting. I kinda feel like it would be nice if somebody reached out to me and said, ‘Oh, we’re going to do a TV series of Hellraiser. Do you want to direct an episode?’ Or, at least, even ‘We’d like to pick your brains a little bit.’ I mean, I kinda feel like how Kane Hodder felt when he got abandoned as Jason. It’s like, no one even picks up the phone and reaches out to you. And yet, I feel like I really put the effort in and showed that I adored it.

“Not to sound arrogant, but a film that was shot in three weeks, on a $300,000 budget, to be up there against films that had substantially larger budgets and prep time … Hellraiser fuckin’ Bloodline was what? Seven or eight million by the time we finished with it? Hellraiser: Deader was a six week shoot. Hellraiser: Hellworld was a six week shoot, y’know? Decent prep, decent money spent, big crew. We had like twenty-four people on [Judgment]. A really small crew, but a really good crew, but hardly anyone on it. I had such a great time. I mean, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I kinda wonder if I’ll ever be given the chance to direct again. I hope I do. I’ve got some projects I’m trying to get off the ground.”

Tunnicliffe, who notes that he’s currently writing a modern day take on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart (“With a very weird twist! It could almost be a prequel to Psycho.”), points out that the rights to the Stygian Inquisition characters actually lie with him. Would he be interested in continuing their story outside of the Hellraiser universe, either in film or print? “I could, yeah. Yeah, absolutely, I’d love to. Are you kidding? I toyed with the idea of doing a book. I was going to do this thing called The Diary of the Auditor. Or a novel based on a story of the Auditor. I own the character of the Auditor, so I could do a story called The Stygian Inquisition and do a book. The Stygian Inquisition are never mentioned as that in Judgment. I’d just nicknamed them. I’ve got “The Order of the Effluvium” and all these other ones as well in kind of like my dream as to what the whole process was. If I was to write Pinhead in there, yeah – you might have an issue. But if I was to do a story called The Stygian Inquisition, I don’t think there’d be any problem there at all.

“When the first film came out, I have no idea what the numbers were, but I know that it sold out on Amazon. It went up on the charts at Amazon. It was doing really, really well. So I was like, ‘Oh, this is doing quite well! Maybe I’ll get a knock on the door.’ Maybe someone’s gonna say, ‘Hey, would you be interested in doing more with that character?’ But no one ever did. I’m always like Carrie, y’know? ‘No one’s gonna wanna invite me to the prom.’ So I’m like, ‘I won’t do anything with it. No one really cares.’ So until people tell me that they really like it, or ‘We’d like to talk to you about the Auditor’ … [laughs] I’m always assuming that everybody hates me and nobody loves me!”

Very special thanks to Gary J. Tunnicliffe for his time and insights.


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