-Written by Greg B
The original Hellraiser is still quite a creepy little film. Its juxtapositioning of soap opera style melodrama with visceral horror works surprisingy well and the films surreal, gory effects still hold up today (well except for that bandy looking skeleton dragon thing that crops up at the end of the film, a scene Clive Barker said he animated over a drunken weekend with a ‘Greek guy’. The success of the one million dollar film, sort of guaranteed that not only was the iconic puzzle box going to see the light of day again, but some intrepid pervert was going to carry on Frank’s quest for the ultimate physical experience, thereby unleashing those belligerent cenobites once again. And in 1989, this is exactly what happened as the world saw the release of the downright nightmarish sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser 2. Ths time around, Barker left the directors chair, handing the reigns to Tony Randell while he focused on the script writing duties. Claire Higgins and Ashley Laurence reprise their roles of Julia and Kirsty respectively. Kirsty finds a sidekick of sorts in the mute but brave Ashley (Imogen Boorman), who also just happens to be an expert at solving puzzles.
Like Halloween II before it, the events of this sequel start right from where the original story left off. The opening shot of the film shows us Larry with hooks all over the shop uttering those eponymous words that have been sampled by dozens of metal bands the world over: ‘Jesus wept’. Ashley wakes up in what looks to be a hospital bed, which we soon learn is actually a psyche ward within the ominous ‘Channard Institute’. The first time we see this Channard character he is taking part in some dubious surgery. He waxes lyrical about the labyrinth of the brain and consciousness before putting a drill to a patients exposed brain, only for a loudspeaker to loudly declare that ‘the new arrival appears awake and very distressed’. Hopefully they don’t suddenly declare that lunch has arrived right in the middle of some tricky eyeball surgery. Anyways, once back in the land of the living, Kirsty soon begins seeing visions of her skinless father scraping a bloody message on her bedroom wall with his nail. He’s in hell and needs help, apparently. As if that werent enough and if it wasn’t obvious already, Dr Channard is somewhat of an unethical doctor.
After hearing Kirsty’s outlandish story, he manages to reanimate the skinless body of Julia, the hammer wielding minx from the original flick using the bloody mattress that she was killed on toward the climax of the first film. Once Julia climbs into some new skin, she helps the doctor activate the puzzle box and from there, Julia and Channard stroll into hell while Kirsty and Ashley follow in close pursuit.
The opening act of Hellbound has a kind of giddy grand guignol luridness that actually works very well. Julia is a lot more outright bitchy in this film and Claire Higgins revels in it, delivering all of her campy dialogue with venomous gusto. Christopher young’s bombastic score sounds quite Danny Elfmanesque and adds to the overall melodramatic gothic feel of the films action.
Hellbound is an interesting sequel that plays with a lot of ideas and BOY is it a lot more gory than its predecessor. Every second character has a sheen from all the viscous karo syrup fake blood that their exposed musle tissue is drenched in. I’m not the biggest fan of gore, sure it can be effective and even downright fun when taken to extremes (Braindead and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn spring to mind), but I think it works most effectively as a buffer to suspense, a payoff after a buildup (think of Carpenter’s version of The Thing). However, while Hellbound contains a plethora of imaginative gore effects, they are very well executed despite the films moderately low budget and actually work to add to the films lurid flesh obsessed tone Skin is ripped off and a meth bug addled loony takes a straight razor to himself and this doesn’t even count for a portion of the tonnes of gooey skin torn assunder like soggy tofu steaks by airborn hooks in close up (the eerie panning shot in Channard’s house where Julia’s many emaciated victims are revealed is particulary chilling). Barker explains that in order to make an omelet one must crack a few eggs and so, in order to make a horror flick, one must crack a few heads. His script (co-written with Peter Atkins) fufills this dictum to the fullest as the film contains enough evisceration to make Lucio Fulci cringe.
Cinematographically the film looks quite like the first but on a much bigger scale and canvas this time around. Robert Vidgeon returns as DP and his shadowy, claustrophobic style complements Barkers writing perfectly. The dark and slimy underground lair of the Channard institute reminded me of Freddy’s boiler room from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the labyrinthine, abyss-strewn hell sets and matte paintings are not always convincing, but do add a sort of inescapable-fairground- from-hell menace to the proceedings. In fact the nightmarish quality of the film really comes to life once the characters venture forth into the cenobites cavernous underworld habitat. Characters appear and dissappear, time and space seems to fold in on itself and nothing is quite what it seems (when the cenobites first make their entrance, in Channards study, I must admit I couldn’t help but be reminded of The Undertakers ring entrance form WWE). All in all Hellbound is a worthy horror sequel, it won’t be to everyones taste but then neither was the original. But hey, if you’re a gorehound, this flick is like four walking tours of an abattoir wrapped into one. Jesus Wept indeed!