Ashley Laurence - Kirsty Cotton
Clare Higgins - Julia Cotton
Kenneth Cranham - Dr. Channard
Imogen Boorman - Tiffany
William Hope - Kyle Macrae
Doug Bradley - Pinhead
Nicholas Vince - Chatterer
Simon Banford - Butterball
Barbie Wilde - Female Cenobite
Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Demons
Running Time - 97 Minutes
In 1987, a horror film was released that rejuvenated the genre as the slasher genre was waning a bit. Based on his story, The Hellbound Heart, Clive Barker's HELLRAISER was quite the eye-opener for fans who started to become too accustomed to the antics of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. HELLRAISER prided itself by being dark, grim, gory, and sexual. HELLRAISER, made with a very small budget, did well at the box office. Obviously this meant that a sequel would be made - eventually turning the demonic Cenobites, especially Pinhead, into horror icons.
Just a year after HELLRAISER, its sequel, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, was released during the Christmas season [what balls!]. The budget was slightly bigger. The story became a bit more epic. And while Hell was barely shown in the first one, it's pretty much the location of the film's second half. Clive Barker decided to step away from directing the sequel, becoming a producer instead. He hired Tony Randel, who worked with Barker on the first film, to direct the sequel. He also hired Peter Atkins to write a screenplay based on his story. Several of the actors from the first film had no problem returning [although Andrew "Larry Cotton" Robinson declined] and much of the same crew was involved.
HELLBOUND made about a million less than the first film at the box office, but was still considered a success, especially once the home video market sales kicked in. While criticized at the time, critics and fans today praise the sequel as it's the closest to the original in terms of quality, tone, and plot. Some today even claim HELLBOUND is their personal favorite. I, too, am in the crowd that enjoys HELLBOUND more than HELLRAISER. But after watching it again after so long, I feel HELLRAISER is a better film in terms of story. Still, there's a ton to like about this very good follow up.
Taking place right after the events of HELLRAISER, Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) has been institutionalized over the trauma of her father being murdered and seeing her Uncle Frank (Sean Chapman) and stepmother Julia (Clare Higgins) sucked into Hell. Nobody buys her story about the demonic Cenobites or the Lament Configuration [the puzzle box], thinking Kirsty was driven mad by the murder of her family. Even though Dr. Kyle Macrae (William Hope) is skeptical, yet wanting to help, Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham) is completely interested in Kirsty's story and seems to know more than he lets on.
It seems that Channard knows all about the Lament Configuration, as he's been studying it for years. He also knows about the Cenobites and how to summon them from Hell. He's even kept a mute female patient named Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) around, since she knows how to make and solve puzzles just in case the time comes. Channard decides to test Kirsty's story by taking the bed that Julia died on, bringing in a mentally ill patient to sit on it, cut himself, and feed the bed his blood. This summons a skinless Julia out of the bed, who persuades Channard into solving the Lament Configuration to grant him the knowledge he searches for within the depths of hell. Scared of history repeating itself, Kirsty decides to enter Hell to stop Julia and Channard, as well as save her father.
HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II is one of those rare horror sequels that expands upon the story started in the first film without it looking like a rehash of what was seen and done before. It gives more info on the Cenobites, the idea of Hell, and shows the change in both the Kirsty and Julia characters as they have become stronger after the events of the first film for different reasons. While the sequel isn't perfect and definitely has its issues, especially when it comes to the plot, HELLBOUND is still a fun ride from beginning to end.
The screenplay by Peter Atkins [based on a story by Clive Barker] is a natural progression from what was told in HELLRAISER. The narrative begins with a human soldier who solves the Lament Configuration, being sent to Hell, and tortured and disfigured until he becomes the Cenobite known as Pinhead. This becomes a recurring theme in HELLBOUND, as Dr. Channard wants to understand how the puzzle box works and know more about Hell itself. This eventually leads into Channard becoming a wicked Cenobite himself, but one who's power hungry and corrupt with ruling Hell all by himself - something that Pinhead and his other Cenobites seem less subtle about, if not at all. Pinhead does what needs to be done. Channard wants to control it all, which leads to an eventually struggle.
On the opposite front, we have Julia returning from Hell to become human again, yet still craving the power and knowledge she's received in Hell. We also have Frank, who wants to feel human again by wanting to keep Kirsty down with him so he can have his way physically with her. Human or not, characters seem to be in their own personal Hell throughout HELLBOUND.
There are also great moments in HELLBOUND, especially during the first half of the film - which feels closest to the first film than the second, more ambitious, half does. We have the skinless figure return from the original, who Kirsty assumes is her father, sitting below a message written in blood that says "I am in Hell. Help me." It's a pretty tense scene. Another, more disturbing, scene is the one where Julia returns from Hell through the mattress. Watching a mentally ill man, who believes has bugs crawling all over him, cutting himself with a razor to give Julia life again, is pretty messed up. But then again, it wouldn't be a HELLRAISER film if it weren't.
The second half of the film begins to lose its focus, but it's still a bit interesting as a narrative. This entire half takes place within the labyrinth of Hell, taking away the claustrophobic atmosphere of the original [which took place primarily within The Cotton house] and being replaced by a more epic and dramatic atmosphere that overwhelms the viewer due to its vast space and volume. There was also too much walking and running through hallways that just led to a longer running time. Less running and more filling plot holes would have helped deepen the thin narrative. I will say that this half is a lot more ambitious than anything Clive Barker had instilled in the first film, making HELLBOUND feel and look more surreal and nightmarish. We learn that each person in Hell has to live through their own personal nightmares on a constant basis, being tortured for eternity. Those with the greatest desire to learn more about the Hell they have unleashed on themselves by solving the Lament Configuration become Cenobites and punish others beneath them in purgatory. The ideas presented here are very interesting and expand the mythologies quite well.
The problem is that the two halves don't really go as well together as they should due to the sudden shift in tone and ideas. The first half genuinely feels like an extension of HELLRAISER, while the second half feels like it could be its own movie - which would have probably been a great idea so it could have been presented in a much deeper way. Luckily, both halves are very entertaining and fun to watch on a visual level, but they do have issues story wise.
For one, if this is a direct continuation after HELLRAISER, what happened to Kirsty's boyfriend? Not that I care about that doofus anyway, but it's a glaring plothole if I ever saw one. Sure, a police detective tells Kirsty that he went home after the events of the first film, but he's never mentioned or seen again! Did he dump Kirsty? Did he go mad? Is he in Hell and hopefully there for eternity? It would have been nice to know, especially when HELLBOUND attempts something between Dr. Kyle and Kirsty - which in itself doesn't go anywhere because Kyle pretty much exits after that. It just seemed odd that Kirsty's boyfriend is ignored and never mentioned again.
Also, why does Kirsty taste the blood that her supposed skinless father leaves on the wall? Ew...gross? Has this chick not hear about blood diseases? Also, why does Julia come back in her own skin and everything? Frank couldn't do that in the first film, so he had to resort in stealing Larry's skin and wearing it. But Julia comes back and looks like more of a glamorous version of her old self, make up and all. Cover Girl really upped their game back in 1988! And why would Channard and Julia need Tiffany to open the box when Frank and Kirsty opened it pretty easily? Just odd.
I also had issues with the idea of Hell being the personal nightmare for each person. I love the idea in theory, but it's not executed all that well. For example, why was Kirsty in Frank's Hell? I could understand if it were her Hell, but Frank wants Kirsty in a sexual way so it's a good thing for her to be there. Also, Kirsty and Tiffany were able to experience each other's Hell. I like the idea of Hell being personal for everyone and the visuals for each one were great. But it was confusing plot wise.
I also didn't dig the Cenobite change of heart at the end when Kirsty reminded them of their human past. If it led to something, I would have been okay with it. But it's brought up, made to feel substantial, and then done away with really quickly. Obviously if you've seen the later sequels, you'd know that the human subplot leads into the next couple of films. But it doesn't quite hold up well on its own here. I like that it's brought up. I just wanted it explored more than it was, instead of it being used as a throwaway plot device.
The thing HELLBOUND has over the first film are the special effects and gore. We have the usual skinless people. We have the Cenobites, who look the same. I thought Channard as a Cenobite looked wicked cool, with some nice stop-motion stuff for his weapons growing out of his body. We have the hooks coming out of the Lament Configuration. We get people getting impaled, throats slit, people getting burnt, and so on.
But things change once we enter the labyrinth of Hell. It's visually impressive, as the maze is structured like the outside design of the Lament Configuration, fall of hallways, Cenobite machines, and Leviathan. Some things look really dated, like the final scene where the pillar from Hell raises out of Julia's mattress, with bad mapping and masking [looks really terrible to be honest but A for effort], but I found it kind of funny. At least the film tried to match the story's ambition visually, even if it doesn't totally succeed. But it is a visually stunning film for its time and for a limited budget, so you got to give credit where it's due.
The direction by Tony Randel is very good here. There's a lot of style as Randel switches camera angles, uses a lot of close ups, establishing shots, and a nice blue tint and white lighting that makes the film look dark and surreal. Even though the effects are somewhat dated, Randel handled them well. I liked the pacing as well, as HELLBOUND moves pretty quickly as it's never boring. Very energetic direction that could have used more suspense and tension, however. I think the most suspenseful part of the film is really the scene where Tiffany opens the box for the first time, as the film really builds to the reintroduction of the Cenobites returning to Earth from Hell. But other than that, it's not as sense as HELLRAISER or as horrific. Randel directs it more as an action film in a way. I got A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS vibe from HELLBOUND, which isn't a bad thing. It felt more mainstream and less underground than HELLRAISER, which took a bit away from it. Still Randel was more than capable to follow Clive Barker's shoes and visualizes a memorable sequel for all the right reasons.
The acting is solid in HELLBOUND. Ashley Laurence returns as Kirsty Cotton - more confident, tougher, and hits every emotional cue perfectly. I like her more here than I do in HELLRAISER, and I like her there as well. Clare Higgins gets to have fun as Julia, sneering and being a bitch - which made her pretty hot to me. I thought Deborah Joel, who played her skinless counterpart, got to do more interesting things. But Higgins is great here and more seductive than in the first one. She was supposed to be the future villain of the franchise, but Doug Bradley's Pinhead [who is great as both the Cenobite and as the human soldier than he once was] became very popular in this installment - which led to Pinhead being the star of the franchise. Imogen Boorman is likeable as Tiffany, not speaking much until the end of the film in a funny bit. She kind of looked like a fresher faced Patricia Arquette from DREAM WARRIORS and handled her part well. William Hope, as Dr. Kyle, doesn't get to do much here besides act a bit dopey, but he's fine. Nice to see Sean Chapman return as the creepy Uncle Frank. And Kenneth Cranham steals the show as Dr. Channard. He's very convincing as the evil and sadistic doctor who seeks knowledge from the depths of Hell. And he looks great as a Cenobite, even getting to say one-liners that would make Freddy Krueger chuckle. I thought he was awesome and the British accent definitely helped.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE STILL STRUGGLING TO SOLVE MY SIMPLE RUBIK'S CUBE
- A cop found a maggot-infested corpse inside a wicker basket. It was nice knowing you, Belial. Duane's gonna be a BASKET CASE over this...
- Kirsty wanted a police detective to destroy the mattress that Julia died on, so she shouldn't return. John Edwards probably wished he had done that, but for different reasons.
- Kirsty saw a skinless man smearing a message for her in blood, in which she smudges with her fingers and puts on her lips. Screw a Rorschach test! Test this chick for HIV! Or stake her in the heart before she sparkles or something!
- Julia kissed Kyle, sucking out his lifeforce to completely rejuvenate herself. Just like a typical woman...
- Dr. Channard wanted Tiffany, who is good at solving puzzles, to open the Lament Configuration puzzle box. What? Rosie O'Donnell or Ellen DeGeneres unavailable to do the job?
- Once the puzzle was solved and the doors into the labyrinth were opened, all the major characters journeyed inside. If David Bowie isn't inside, I'll feel gypped.
- Once you enter the labyrinth, everyone inside deals with their own personal Hell. You mean the WTF? Vault comes to life to torture me for eternity? Where's the nearest exit, please?
- Kirsty was willing to sleep with Uncle Frank so he wouldn't hurt her. SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER, AND UNCUT's "Uncle Fucker" is the perfect wedding song for these two.
- Kirsty had to wear someone else's skin in order to trick Dr. Channard. Leatherface must have stroked his chainsaw in the bathroom after that scene.
THE FINAL HOWL
Even though I find HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II more fun to watch visually than HELLRAISER, the story [while ambitious] seems a bit weaker in comparison. Still, it's a solid sequel with great performances, interesting direction and dated special effects, and ideas you definitely want to learn about and see more of. With a better story and plotline, this sequel could have been a better film than the first. Still, HELLBOUND remains my favorite due to nostalgic reasons and for the fact that it's a lot easier to take in than the first HELLRAISER. Too bad I won't be as positive for next couple of sequels that are coming up. Did I solve the damn Lament Configuration and no one tell me I'm in my own personal Hell? *sigh*