Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

So Hellraiser was pretty dope and I knowing myself as well as I do, I think I’ve resigned to watching all the Hellraiser movies now. It’s honestly the last big horror franchise I have to burn through, and then I’ll have the Big Four series of ’80s horror icons under my belt: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Hellraiser. These are mammoth titles, sprawling between nine and twelve films. Not many modern horror franchises have managed to get up there in numbers yet. I’m sure they will, given enough time, but even a series as popular as Paranormal Activity only has six films. It’s been six films over six years mind you, so I don’t know how saturated audiences will get with Paranormal Activity, and when they’ll have had enough. A long running franchise is not necessarily a mark of quality, either. Look at Halloween, or A Nightmare on Elm Street. Those series both have more shitty movies than good ones in them. Point is that Hellraiser is a staple horror franchise that I feel like I need to fully experience, warts and all to really call myself a horror fan.

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Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) is admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she’s trying to convince the staff and the investigating police that her story about the Cenobites, her zombie uncle Frank, and Hell is true. Meanwhile, the head of the hospital is obsessed with the puzzle box and the mysticism surrounding it, and attempts to learn as much as he can about the afterlife. Unbeknownst to him, exposing himself to such knowledge brings with it rather devilish consequences. Once Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his gang of Cenobites show up, Kirsty and fellow patient Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) delve into and navigate through Hell itself to try and bring Kirsty’s dead father back.

Again, this is a tough movie to describe in few words. Where Hellraiser raised questions, Hellbound barely answered them and raised even more. This isn’t Lost, though. Once you’re done with Hellraiser II, you won’t feel cheated or jerked around from lack of information. It blows the Cenobite mythos wide open with the audience actually seeing Hell, the plane of existence the puzzle box leads those who solve it. There are still tons of questions about how the Cenobites operate and their relation to Hell, about the origins of the puzzle box, and even more questions about Leviathan, the deity-like being seen just chilling in Hell. What are all these things? I’m not sure. How do they all relate? I don’t know. Does it even matter? No. Hellbound just made me more curious about the lore that the Hellraiser franchise (or at least the first two films) is steeped in. I think things got a little too muddled near the end, with lots of decisions made that felt like the director saying “oh, y’know what would be cool… And wouldn’t it be sweet if we did… And then… But then, suddenly… And then it would be super sick if… The end gets kind of bloated, confusing and nonsensical, but I mostly let it slide because they clearly just followed one of the golden rules of storytelling: the Rule of Cool.

The effects in Hellraiser II are mostly great with tons of cool miniatures, sets, composite shots, mat paintings, and practical effects. While nothing here holds a candle to Frank’s resurrection scene, it doesn’t have to. Hellraiser II is pretty tonally different from the original that Frank’s resurrection would have looked almost out of place. This film is much more schlocky and goofy, feeling more like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors than 1987’s Hellraiser. The main villain, Dr. Channard is hammy at the beginning of the film and by the end when he’s in his final form, he’s cracking dumb one liners and puns while some amazingly done but still hilariously absurd animatronics and stop motion animation whip around on screen. Early in the film we get to see a slightly updated version of Frank’s skinless costume, being worn by Claire Higgins, playing a resurrected Julia from the first Hellraiser.

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Julia is brought back to life similar to how Frank was in the original, except her resurrection is handled much differently. While the re-composing body in Hellraiser was one of the best scenes ever, Julia’s return to the material plane is almost more disturbing. Dr. Channard brings a psychotic, self-harming mental patient to the mattress Julia was flayed on at the end of the last movie, hands him a straight razor and lets him go wild. It’s pretty disturbing to see someone mutilate themselves so explicitly on screen for so long, and then to see their disfigured body crawl away from the skinless Julia who is scraping across the floor after him. Their bodies tie and untie themselves like a pair of fleshy snakes under a blanket of blood and gore for such an extended time it becomes hard to watch.

While being the center of attention on the poster and box art, Pinhead is barely in the movie, and that’s okay. This really feels like a sequel and a companion piece to Hellraiser that explores more of the fantasy backstory brought up in the first film rather than a cheap sequel that capitalized on the popularity of a new horror icon. The Cenobites pop up here and there and have a surprising stake in the final confrontation of the movie, but I think that Pinhead was used correctly again here. Less is more when it comes to a character as interesting and mysterious as Pinhead, and I’m glad they didn’t oversaturate the film with him.

Overall, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a proper sequel to the original classic. It builds on the great fantasy-horror lore that Barker built up, but leaves the audience wondering more about it. I feel like I need to reiterate how different Hellraiser II is from Hellraiser, with the serious, grimy-yet-sexy tone of the first film almost totally replaced with a more schocky and over the top adventure one. This is’t Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, though. This isn’t a horror comedy by any stretch of the imagination. When I first saw Hellbound, I really wasn’t sure how I felt about it but the longer I let it stew in my brain, the more and more I think I like it. The first will forever outclass and outrank this film, but that’s okay. Not every movie needs to flip a genre on it’s head. Sometimes you can just play around in the tropes and clichés that exist, and make a kind-of-dopey-kind-of-awesome adventure horror flick. Definitely check this one out if you liked the first Hellraiser. It’s unapologetically different, but it’s still a fun way to spend an evening.

-David

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