The follow-up to the directorial debut of one of England’s best known contemporary horror writers literally ends up being nothing more than a bloody mess. Mark Fraser revisits a movie which eschews originality by relying too heavily on its predecessor.
It’s a sad state of affairs when a film’s sequel has to provide a truncated summary of its first chapter in order to make any meaningful sense. Unfortunately Tony Randel’s 1988 horror opus Hellbound: Hellraiser II suffers from this peculiar affliction. The movie – which came out hot on the heels of Clive Barker’s much more interesting Hellraiser – is contaminated with what one could call the More-of-the-Same Syndrome, a kind of cinematic lethargy in which plot twists aren’t so much original as they are ludicrously derivative.
This is somewhat disappointing as the film’s brief piece of post-opening credits exposition – during which it is explained how British army captain Elliot Spencer (Doug Bradley) became the Cenobite leader Pinhead – shows a hint of promise. After all this is a reasonably significant development, and one that arguably deserves a little further extrapolation, given it is not only a moment when pure evil is born, but is also an attempt to explain how one of modern horror cinema’s most iconic figures emerged from the depths of Hades to wreak violent havoc on those foolish souls whose quest to experience the extremes in pleasure and pain leads to a world where gruesome flesh-piercing torture with hooks and chains is just the beginning.
Instead of pushing this idea, however, Randel (who edited the original) and his screenwriter Peter Atkins decided to further follow the plight of Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence), the heroine from the first film who – while recuperating in a psychiatric ward following her harrowing ordeal in Hellraiser – decides to re-enter the Underworld and rescue her dead father Larry (an absent Andrew Robinson) after his murder by her two-timing stepmother Julia (Clare Higgins) and his resurrected brother Frank (Sean Chapman) during part one.
For those who aren’t familiar with the original movie, here’s a brief rundown: Frank gets brutally tortured and ripped about by the Cenobites when he opens the Lament Configuration puzzle box, a contraption that effectively opens the gateway to Hell. Following the stashing of his remains under the floorboards of his attic by the evil beasties, he is inadvertently brought back to life by the dripping blood from one of Larry’s house-moving wounds and demands his erstwhile squeeze (Julia) to round up some victims so he can complete the rejuvenation process by drinking their blood. Frank eventually kills – and takes on the appearance of – his brother in an attempt to lure his niece into their demented lair. Unbeknown to the murderous bastard, however, the Cenobites have also become aware of his resurrection and are hell-bent on putting him back in his place. All of these details are provided in a brief flashback montage that jumpstarts the second movie.
The stage is set for further mayhem early in the sequel when Kirsty stumbles across another problem – the hospital’s chief brain expert Dr Philip Channard (Kenneth Cranham) also wants to enter the world of the Cenobites to experience the delights of the unknown and, in an effort to achieve this goal, violently resurrects Julia. As with the Barker film, this mad doctor then supplies his new love with live human bodies so she can regain her full state of fleshiness.
What ensues is the kind of vile gimmickry that permeated the original Hellraiser, albeit with more elaborate special effects and an expanded set design. The demonic Julia leads Channard to a transformation chamber – where he is torturously converted into a Cenobite – before turning her attention to capturing Kirsty, who has befriended a silent puzzle-solving hospital inmate (Imogen Boorman) and is now on the run after discovering she was tricked into thinking her father needed rescuing by her skinless uncle Frank (this time played by Oliver Smith).
If anything Hellbound: Hellraiser II refers to its predecessor in such a way that it undermines the film’s ability to stand on its own two feet. There’s nothing particularly original about this movie; nor is it very entertaining – it is merely an adjunct to an original work that was quite unpleasant to begin with. This sequel is, however, more gruesomely violent – so much so that a case could be made for it being one of the true pioneers of torture porn. Whether this is something to brag about, though, is another question given the bogus legitimacy of this hideous genre.
Of course it’s easy for the pious to get on the bandwagon and berate gratuitous films like this which presumably lower society’s standards by upping the screen violence bar. Nevertheless, one can’t help asking oneself after sitting through Hellbound: Hellraiser II what its redeeming values actually are.
Putting aside the agonising cruelty and bloodletting, this film contains no original plot twists, no sense of humour (except when the usually silent Tiffany [Boorman] utters her first words) and boasts the absence of any truly appealing characters. In effect it is a bloated spectacle based on an idea that requires too much explanation to be considered a legitimate story in its own right.
All good sequels manage, in some way, to stand alone. Francis Coppola’s 1974 The Godfather Part II, for example, didn’t require the presence of Marlon Brando to succeed, while the crazily nihilistic outlook of George Miller’s 1981 follow-up to his 1979 apocalyptic chase movie Mad Max – Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) – was so delirious that it could be enjoyed without any intimate knowledge of its predecessor. Even James Cameron’s landmark 1991 adventure Terminator 2: Judgement Day, which carried on from his 1984 cult hit The Terminator, falls into this camp.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II, however, is in another league. Rather than looking for a way to uniquely differentiate itself from the original Barker movie, Randel and Atkins just extended it via the lazy dramatic process of blotation. Instead of assuming that bigger is better (which, in this instance, definitely didn’t turn out to be the case) maybe the director and writer should have asked the original’s author (who acted as an executive producer on this one) to throw in a few extra ideas to help beef the narrative up a bit. While this may not have had any significant impact on the eventual outcome, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
Words by Mark Fraser
Directed by: Tony Randel
Written by: Peter Atkins
Starring: Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham
Released: 1988 / Genre: Horror / Country: USA/UK / IMDB / More reviews: Latest | Archive
Arrow Video’s limited edition Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box featuring Clive Barker’s iconic and seminal horror classic Hellraiser and two sequels is available now
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