Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a miserable experience. I doubt any other film I watch this Shocktober will come close to the unpleasantness of this confused, sadomasochist clip show. Not to mention how disappointed I was considering I was interested in watching this film. I enjoyed the first Hellraiser. Written and directed by Clive Barker, based on his own novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser was a film with a disturbing yet unique mythology and amazing practical effects. The film was no doubt cheesy with dopey speeches and melodramatic characters, but it was original–think Nightmare on Elm Street by way of H.R. Giger.
“What went wrong with Hellbound?” Before I get into it let me recap the first film, something Hellbound does often in flashbacks. All of the Hellraiser films are based around a cursed 18th-century puzzle box known as “Lemarchand’s Box.” The idea is once a person grows bored of every pleasure Earth has to offer they can solve the box and unleash a portal to Hell aka “The Labyrinth” and experience endless pain and suffering for eternity. I’ve never been sure how someone goes from “I like having kinky sex,” to “You know I’d really like to know what it feels like to have nails pounded into my head.”
Hell aka The Labyrinth is populated by “The Cenobites” a race of hedonistic demons, who were once humans before solving the box. Their leader is Pinhead (Doug Bradley), who you know from t-shirts worn by big dudes with long hair and tattoos. We learn Pinhead’s origin in Hellbound, as a former British soldier who grew tired of his devious lifestyle and solved the box to become a Cenobite.
In the first film, we are introduced to a man named Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman), a thrill seeker who solves Lemarchand’s Box in his attic, opens a hell portal and is ripped apart by hooked chains in a big bloody mess. Later, Frank’s brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) moves into the house with his daughter Kristy (Ashley Laurence) and wife Julia (Claire Higgins) who once had an affair with Frank. Larry cuts himself and spills blood in the attic which resurrects Frank in a spectacular effects sequence.
Julia discovers Frank is alive and lures men to the attic so he can become whole again. Meanwhile, Kristy solves the puzzle box and meets the Cenobites who agree to spare her if she returns Frank to Hell. It’s kind of interesting. The Cenobites don’t directly come after people. It’s the people who solve the box that summon them, the Cenobites are just following orders. Those guys are alright.
Blah, blah, blood, guts, Frank and Julia are sent to Hell. Let’s move on to Hellbound. Except I just gave you the first five minutes of Hellbound. What I mean is Hellbound opens with a series of clips from the previous film. The filmmakers justify this by saying these are Kristy’s nightmares as she is now a patient in an institution. Don’t think they don’t use it again later to pan out the runtime because they do. Those hedonistic bastards.
In the institution, Kristy is interviewed by Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham), who obsesses over the legend of Lemarchand’s Box. Kristy tells Channard about Frank’s resurrection via blood and Channard acquires the mattress of Kristy’s murderous stepmother Julia. His train of thought is if he can pour blood on the mattress he can resurrect Julia. Channard convinces a suicidal mental patient to cut himself on the mattress and Julia is reborn as a bloody, fleshless sex demon.
Kristy is visited by what she believes to be the corpse of her dead father telling her he is trapped in Hell. Kristy decides she must find a way back into Hell. So she sneaks out with a mute girl named Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) and heads back to her house. There, Tiffany solves the puzzle and the characters enter Hell.
Kristy and Tiffany see visions of people torturing themselves in Hell and run into who else but Frank. We learn Frank disguised himself as Kristy’s father to find a way out of Hell. Julia arrives and things aren’t looking good. Also, Channard is turned into a Cenobite with a tentacle on his head. It’s cool looking but I’m not sure what the design is supposed to represent. Kristy begs the Cenobites for help using the argument they were once human. The Cenobites agree to stop Frank, Julia, and Channard and there are buckets of blood and guts.
Kristy and Tiffany return to their dimension and everybody is fine, right? Not quite. There’s another scene with a pair of movers inside Channard’s home where they encounter a spinning pillar that comes out of the ground with faces. Then someone says: “What’s your pleasure, sir?” For a cheap scare.
What’s crazy is I had to read numerous reviews and watch videos to comprehend the film. The story is a garbled mess of avant-garde gore and hallucinations. The practical effects are great, but they are style without substance. I would have preferred the story gravitate away from Frank and Julia. You could have easily made this a film about Channard. Instead, we have him as a villain, Frank, and Julia as villains and the Cenobites (half the time) as villains.
I hate to say it, but all of these characters with the exception of Frank are terrible. Kristy is annoying, the mute girl is annoying despite never uttering a word, Julia acts like a cartoon character, and the Cenobites never do anything interesting. I admire the theatricality of Pinhead’s speeches, but they are always so solemn and boring. Also, I hate the effects they pile on his voice. Doug Bradley is a good actor, let him use his actual voice.
Channard is okay, and his transformation is scary, but he’s thrown to the side in favor of more scenes with Julia. Apparently, the filmmakers were planning on setting her up as the new antagonist of the series. Thank god they changed their mind because she’s terrible. Not like I’d watch another Hellraiser anyways.
My biggest problem with Hellbound is it’s zero fun. There is no humor or likable characters. It’s nothing but serious jerks getting chopped up into pieces and reciting Shakespeare. It blows my mind there is currently NINE Hellraiser movies. God, if it’s this bad already where does it go? Straight to hell. Jesus wept indeed.
To lighten things up a bit, here is Siskel and Ebert’s review of the film from a 1988 episode of At the Movies.