Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Title: Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Director: Tony Randel

Cast: Doug Bradley


Hellbound: Hellraiser II is the first sequel to Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987). It was made immediately after the first one became a huge hit in theaters, I'm guessing producers where in a "strike now while the iron is hot!" type of mentality. The success of these films depended a lot on Clive Barker’s personal involvement in them, the less he was involved, the worse the sequel. Still, it's always cool to see other directors play with the concept created by another. For example, on this one we have director Tony Randel playing with the idea that if you dug deep enough, and read the right books, you could end up with something like the Lament Configuration in your hands. That if you wanted it bad enough, maybe, just maybe, you could find the gates to hell itself. Intriguing stuff in deed! So these other directors that tackled the series had a good solid foundation to work with, Clive Barkers imagination is a vast, dark place. He created the basis for a whole universe. I enjoy these first few Hellraiser movies because they are fantasy/horror films for adults; dark, gory, yet retaining a feeling of fantasy to them, that feeling of the impossible, the unreal, the fantastic. The only problem for me with these movies is that its ideas are sometimes bigger than their budgets.

 Welcome to hell!

The concept of a device that opens the gates of hell isn’t all that new, Lucio Fulci himself tackled this premise in The Beyond (1981), Fulci’s best movie in my humble opinion. But, while in Fulci’s The Beyond opening the doors of hell brought forth hordes of flesh eating, maggot spewing zombies, on the Hellraiser films , solving The Lament Configuration means bringing forth The Cenobytes. Beings who enjoy bringing pain into your life, if you desire it badly enough. The Hellraiser films play with the idea that pain and pleasure aren’t really that far apart. That if you have one, the other is not too far behind. It’s a story filled with lust, revenge and betrayal, a story about people willing to kill for their passions.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II starts out with a recap of what happened in the first film. Kristy Cotton, the female protagonist from the first film who ends up sending the Cenobytes back to hell is in a psychiatric institution. She is pretty shaken up by the events she witnessed in the first film. Problem is that nobody believes her stories about demons from another dimension; everybody thinks she has pretty much lost it. Everybody except Dr. Channard that is, a psychiatrist who just so happens to work in the same psychiatric institution that Kristy is staying in. And it just so happens that Dr. Channard is an expert on The Lament Configuration! He is eagerly awaiting his chance to go to hell himself! At the same time, Kristy is set on going back to hell herself so she can rescue her father. Will Kristy ever rescue her father? Will Dr. Channard ever get to experience the dark delights that hell has to offer?

The problem with this sequel is that its story is a muddled mess. This was something that never happened with the original. No matter how crazy things got in the original film, the story always made sense, everything eventually falls into place with the first Hellraiser film. Not so with this sequel. The films main premise is that Kristy is willing to go back to hell to rescue her father from the clutches of the Cenobytes, but unfortunately, the film never really follows that idea to its completion and it disintegrates into something else entirely. Suddenly the film is about Dr. Channards desires to go to hell and become a powerful Cenobyte himself. Suddenly, the film is a stand off between Dr. Channard and Pinhead, battling over who gets to “take over this operation”. So in the beginning, apparently the film is about Kristy rescuing her dad, and then in its second half, it turns into something else entirely, a surreal, nightmarish trip where we get to meet the god of hell, is it Satan? Is it some other dark entity? We never know, the film leaves us in the dark with a lot of its concepts, which is kind of cool, same as in the Phantasm franchise, the uncertainty of not knowing everything keeps things frightening.

Not that I didn’t like the fact that Pinhead is suddenly faced with a little competition. I thought it was cool to have someone challenge Pinhead, and that this challenger is actually a worthy opponent. And the battle does turn into a display of gruesome carnage which any fan of gory horror films should enjoy, but what happened to rescuing dad from hell? This storyline was practically completely dropped from the film, as if half way through somebody suddenly decided to change the story. Apparently, that is exactly what happened. The actor who played Kristy’s dad (Andrew Robinson) didn’t want to return to for this sequel because New World Pictures didn’t want to pay him enough for his services. So he said bye bye to the franchise. As a result of Andrew Robinsons departure, last minute re-writes turned Hellraiser II’s script into the mess that it is. It feels unfocused and all over the place.

The highlight of any Hellraiser film is of course when characters go into hell. And we get quite a lot of that in this movie, half of the film takes place within the labyrinthine hallways of hell. In the Hellraiser films, hell is a series of dark hallways inside of a gigantic labyrinth. Its also composed of a series of crumbled buildings, with many hallways and stairways to get lost in. That’s fine and dandy, and spooky, but what the hell is that floating diamond called The Leviathan? One of the characters explains that The Leviathan is “her god” and that she worships it, but just what the hell is it? This is just one of the many things that don’t make much sense on this film. While watching it you might get the feeling that at some point you are going to get the answers to everything, and that if you simply accept what is happening at some point it will be explained. But that never happens, in fact, nothing of what we see on this sequel is ever explained on any of the sequels. At one point I simply gave up trying to figure things out and simply went with the crazy visuals. On this level, there is some enjoyment to be had with this film. The crazy gory, horror fantasy visuals always entertain and never bore. As you can see, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is an uneven film with many flaws going for it, thankfully, it also has its moments. The story might be a mess, but I personally find the whole Hellraiser mythology interesting. I think this is definitely a series of films that could benefit from a remake. A new take on this universe could try and develop a story that plays with the same mythology but in a more comprehensible manner. But things aren’t all bad with Hellraiser II, it does have its show stopping moments, like the scene where a psychiatric patient cuts himself up with a blade, and the whole sequence where Julia finally escapes from hell, in all her gooey slimy glory. Those scenes with characters coming back from hell without any skin on make me rank this film and the original one as two of the goriest movies of all time. We get to see a little bit of Pinhead's past and who he used to be before he became a Cenobyte, so if anything else makes this sequel special, its because we actually get Pinheads origin story. So while Hellbound: Hellraiser II is not better than the original, it does have quite quite a few sequences that stand out and are adequately surreal and incomprehensible. This film ain't perfect, but it's worth a watch and far superior then the sequels that followed it, which sadly kept getting worse and worse as the series progressed. 

Rating: 3 out of 5


Unknown said...

"they are dark, gory, yet retain that feeling of fantasy to them, that feeling of the impossible, the unreal, the fantastic."

What a great observation about what makes the HELLRAISER films so good... well, at least the first two films... after that, I checked out. I didn't know about the whole Andrew Robinson thing, which does explain why that subplot kinda disappears. I dunno, it really doesn't bother me all that much. As you say, at some point, you eventually surrender to the pretty visually arresting images that parade across the screen. I still think that this is the best of all the HELLRAISER sequels.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree with you on that J.D., this is definetly the best of the sequels. From part III onward the series went downhill, yet part III is still watchable to me.

I enjoyed how nuts things get at one point, for example, that scene when Dr. Channard turns into a Cenobite himself, and those tentacles that emerge from his hands, pretty freaky stuff.

Im going to try and review the first four films during this year. After part four, I just didnt care anymore for the films, I might be missing out on some good horror films, but something tells me I aint.

Mr. Fiendish said...

I might be on the minority on this, but I really like part 5, it's an interesting kind of detective-noir with cenobites and hell all over it, even if Pinhead basically just makes a cameo in it. Still, better than part 4.

As for this... I like both movies but I will have to agree with you on the possibility of remaking it to make it better, although who knows if they'll get someone with a voice as cool as Doug Bradley. I will say however I prefer the idea of the giant diamond not being explained. More horror movies could benefit from things not being spelled out to their audiences and keeping that literary approach alive a little bit.

Fred [The Wolf] said...

This is my favorite in the HELLRAISER franchise, but I've only seen the first four. I think the first three are the only ones worth watching in my opinion and from others that discuss these films. But I remember seeing HELLRAISER II at my cousin's house on VHS and being so creeped out by it. It sucks that Barker never had the bigger budget for these films because they could have been really something. But he makes due with what he has and it works really well. Great review. I need to start reviewing this franchise [I haven't even reviewed one of these, believe it or not].

Franco Macabro said...

@Fiendish: I saw part V too, thats the one with the detective dealing with his inner demons, and his house freezing over. The thing with this sequel is that though it might be watchable film, it doesnt really fully feel like a Hellraiser film, it feels more like they are telling some other story with the Hellraiser mythology thinly tagged to the film. But I agree, part five isnt that bad.

@Fred: I think they were giving Barker some cash for a remake, I think I even saw a picture of an actor in Pinhead make up, apparently they got a bit ahead with pre-production of the movie, but never actually went into production. A remake of this with a bigger budget would be awesome.

Though I doubt todays conservative theaters would play it? This kind of film isnt that popular anymore, I mean watching this movie I couldnt believe it actually hit theaters! Its pretty gory I mean.

Fred [The Wolf] said...

Yeah, theatres wouldn't allow this kind of horror play out anymore. America has grown too damn conversative for its own good. That's why I miss the 80s because you could pretty much put out anything in theaters and the audience would be there for it. Still, it would probably do great in limited release and on DVD if word of mouth is good. I would really love to see this film done with a bigger budget.

Franco Macabro said...

Thats actually a sad thing...I mean, the Saw films are gory, but the flashy editing techniques hide the gore, in a way, you could say that films like SAW are scared of what they are supposed to be, a gory movie.

I need to see the new Nightmare on Elm Street to see how it compares in gore to the original, Im anxiously awaiting that one on DVD because I never got to see it.

But even the Friday the 13th remake wasnt gory at all, and thats a series of films that is supposed to be gory! Sucks ass.

I hope gore makes a big freaking come back someday....these films are just fun to watch. MPAA is turning american horror into shit!

Fred [The Wolf] said...

I have a review for the ANOES remake on my blog. It's not gory at all. Pretty much a huge disappointment. Even die hard Freddy fans have slammed it.

Larry Taylor said...

I seemed to remember enjoying both Hellraiser 2 and 3 more than the first. The original was a major bore for me.

Didn't even realize they made a 4 and 5. Sorry for being a fake fan, haha.

Franco Macabro said...

@Fred: good to see you back in the blogosphere, you had taken a sabbatical hadnt ya? Ill check out your review for that remake, but I still got my hopes up for it.

@The Movie Snob: I'll try and review part III soon, I also enjoyed it. Not only was there a part 4 and 5, there was also a part 6 and 7!

I Like Horror Movies said...

You know, I never in all my years watching this film considered the fact that the dad storyline disappears? It has never phased my enjoyment of the film, and I have always considered HELLBOUND to be one of the strongest sequels in Horror. I love that the cynobytes have some competition here, love the dates matte paintings that give it that nolstagic 80s charm, and love the expansion of the characters. You can bet your ass I will be watching intently for the plot deviation on the next round though!

Franco Macabro said...

Besides the plot thing, I always enjoy this movie when I watch it. I love how gory it gets, and how over the top it goes! That scene with the body coming out of the matress is awesome, and I love the continuity with the first one, where uncle Frank and his lover encounter themselves again.

Ill try and review the third one this week!

Soiled Sinema said...

For some reason, I find this to be a hell of a lot better in quality than the original. Maybe it's the fact that is a lot more intimidating than Frank and perhaps more worthy of the infernal torment she is so close to receiving. The intra-dimensional labyrinth at the end of the film is wonderfully realized with archaic film making techniques. Even the sadistic doctor makes a wonderful entrance as a welcome cenobite. Hellbound is my favorite with the original it's second.


Franco Macabro said...

It certainly is an entertaining horror fantasy film! Its the best of the sequels I agree! That sequence where they turn the doctor into a cenobite is a great way to introduce us to a new cenobite!

The use of matte paintings to show us hell was interesting, it was a method often used during the 80s, before CGI was introduced into the world.


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