Film critic Roger Ebert (who is resembling a Cenobite more and more each day (sorry Rog)) summed up the plot of Hellbound: Hellraiser II perfectly by saying, “This movie has no plot in a conventional sense; it is simply a series of ugly and bloody episodes strung together one after another like a demo tape by a perverted special-effects man.” Ebert continues by claiming Hellraiser II, “is like some kind of avant-garde film strip in which there is no beginning, no middle, no end, but simply a series of gruesome images that can be watched in any order.” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Ebert’s critique does bring up two integral aspects of the film: its plot is almost non-existent and the violent special effects are very interesting, potentially enjoyable. While Hellbound does continue the story from the first film, including and elaborating on most of Hellraiser’s characters, its trajectory is, for the most part, asinine. The characters motivations are understandable, considering the events in Hellraiser, but these aren’t sufficiently explored, leaving Hellbound: Hellraiser II a mediocre story with mesmerizing visuals. Unfortunately, striking visuals without any coherency aren’t enough.
The film picks up a few hours after those in Hellraiser, with Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) in a mental hospital. However, she receives no reprieve, as the asylum is headed by the sinister Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham), a man obsessed with hell and everything Cenobite. His home even contains a room filled with Cenobite artifacts, multiple puzzle boxes, and so forth. Channard’s assistant, Dr. MacRae (William Hope) soon witnesses his mentor’s twisted activities when Channard brings a schizophrenic into his home with the intentions of bringing a Cenobite victim back from hell. Using the mattress Julia (Clare Higgins) dies on in the first film, Channard’s patient, who believes he’s covered with maggots, cuts himself with a straight razor, giving Julia the blood necessary for her resurrection. Just like in the first film the more blood the escapee consumes, the closer to the living they become; Channard supplies Julia with victims and eventually she goes from a skinless corpse to a complete human. The two partners in crime then volunteer the puzzle solving abilities of Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) to open the gates of hell without falling prey to the Cenobites’ sadism – a plan which leads all the principle characters into an underworld labyrinth. From this point the film delves into the absurd and the plot disappears. Like Ebert said earlier, the film from this point becomes a mosaic of violence and eerie visuals which don’t further the story set up in the first act.
Kirsty’s main objective in the film is saving her dad from hell (a feat not possible since Larry Robinson opted out of the sequel) and her jaunts through the corridors of hell don’t reveal anything. In fact, aside from their atmospheric, spooky visuals, these scenes offer nothing of substance. It really seems like the film falls apart during the second half, relying on violence and disturbing images for its content. I know it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse by saying over and over again that Hellbound: Hellraiser II is an enjoyable visual and aural feast but I really believe it’s the only portion of the film which excels; everything else is there for the sake of the senses and devoid of content.
That said, Hellbound does elaborate on the characters introduced in Hellraiser, creating an imaginative world and a clever mythology for it. The Cenobites receive a back story (at least Pinhead does, where he’s a British armed service officer during the 1920s or ‘30s) and hell itself is depicted in great detail as an endless maze of torments featuring the puzzle box suspended in the sky at the center of the underworld. The process of creating a Cenobite is also shown in great deal with Dr. Channard and Pinhead (featured with violent detail) and the special effects implemented for these scenes surpasses those of the first Hellraiser. The budget for the film, $6 million, surpasses that of the first (only $1 million) and it shows with the extended special effects. However, this retreat into the realm of striking and violent images doesn’t make up for the shoddy plot. It’s a shame too since the universe elaborated on for Hellbound is quite interesting and the film itself could’ve been extraordinary.
Normally at this point I discuss a film’s subtext or something along those lines but with Hellbound I don’t feel there is anything to say; it’s a very one dimensional film. Writer Peter Atkins (who crafted the screenplay based on a story by Clive Barker) really didn’t make anything spectacular. Where Barker’s Hellraiser is an investigation of desire, the similarities and differences between pleasure and pain, and violence, Hellbound is just a pastiche of bullshit–a special effects feast with very little substance. Instead of offering a genuine exploration of the human condition it’s like a children’s comic book but with a focus on gore and sadism. The universe Barker and Atkins construct gives the characters from the first film more depth but only regarding the mythology and history. With the exception of Pinhead, who at one point confronts memories of his former life before becoming an advocate of brutality, everything revealed about the returning protagonists and antagonists is basic, almost insulting.
After all my disdain for this sequel I still enjoyed watching it. It’s possible it’s because I enjoyed the first film (regardless of my belief the film’s last act falls flat, reducing it into mediocrity) and wanted a continuation of Barker’s first story. Unfortunately what I received was a bland story with intriguing characters and events, but missing anything of substance. Like I said before, Hellbound is like an extremely violent comic book, lacking a substantial plot but delivering anyways. Maybe it’s possible I can’t figure out why I enjoyed watching Hellbound – maybe it’s because I really liked it years ago; maybe it’s because I’m mesmerized by Barker’s creations (although I’m not too familiar with anything else he’s done aside from Candyman and Lord of Illusions). I really don’t know.
An interesting tidbit I found online about Hellbound deals with the film’s score (composed by Christopher Young), where Young incorporates a horn blaring “the Morse Code for God.” This attention to detail, at least in the film’s score, is commendable. Unfortunately, there are many instances in the film where the set’s construction reveals itself as cheap, with the trimmings on the walls shakes or moves when a character interacts with it, dissipating the film’s credibility and shaking the viewer out of their engagement with the work. This happens in Ed Wood’s films and he’s considered one of the worst directors of all time. I’m not saying Hellbound or director Tony Randel are on par with Wood but this inattention to detail discredits the film’s flow; it’s actually jarring at times, almost comical, and disrupts the trance one enters when watching a film they’re enjoying. Obviously there are countless instances where a film’s imperfections shine (like when the Stormtrooper hits his head in Star Wars) but it’s forgivable when the piece’s overall impression is excellent; it’s cacophonous when the film is mediocre. Like Norman Bates says in Hitchcock’s Psycho: “People always mean well; they cluck their thick tongues and shake their heads and suggest oh so very delicately,” without thinking through their decisions. In short, Bates’ statement reflects the truth about Hellbound: it’s a film made with good intentions, which is enjoyable (regardless of how base it really is) but ultimately doesn’t contribute anything worthwhile to the cinematic canon and injures it chances of being a quality sequel.
Here’s the trailer