Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Director: Tony Randel
Notable Cast: Ashley Laurence, Claire Higgins, Kenneth Cranham, Imogen Boorman, Doug Bradley, Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Barbie Wilde, Sean Chapman, Oliver Smith, William Hope

"We have such sights to show you." This time Pinhead's threat from the first film Hellraiser isn't an idle comment. This time we are actually shown some of the sights that the Cenobites have concocted up. Honestly, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a good companion piece to the first film that really builds on the mythos of the entire "puzzle box from hell" with a slew of new characters and a twisty second half that will have you guessing to the end. Hellbound is not perfect, but it works and it even grows on the viewer with repeated viewings.

Returning from the first film is Kirsty, our fairly unlovable heroine, and this time she's stuck in a mental institution while the police and everyone else tries to figure out what the fuck actually happened to her family. Of course, she tells them her demonic fairy tale but no one believes her except soon to be villain and head of the wacko-basket, the devious Doctor Channard.



I won't give too much of the story away right now as it's hardly the best part about the film, but where Hellraiser brought hell to the household, this one has our household heroes going straight into hell. And although as promising as the premise sounds, the scattershot script and sometimes cheesy moments bog this baby down a bit much and it undermines some of the great character relationships and tension that made the first film work on so many levels. For every sequence that does work, there seems to be a sequence where it feels a tad forced and uneven. The concepts are there, but sometimes the writing seems to navigate at the will of the visuals or themes rather than crafting a competent narrative as it goes and that is where it falters here.

However, I think that Hellbound does work on some levels. Bringing back a lot of elements from the first film helps (Kirsty's wicked stepmother, good ole boy Frank, and of course the Cenobites) and there are some great story structuring parts and horrific scenes including the rebirth of the wicked Stepmother in an odd burst of gore and constant screaming. The ending also contains a nice moment with the reoccurring line "What's your pleasure" - which is obviously answered by: 'more sequels'. But alas, these moments tend to be fleeting and are left in a somewhat confusing and oddly developed script.

This is where Hellbound falls prey to its own devices. The continuity for the first film to this one is either dead on or completely off. Like why is the stepmother just get her own skin when Frank had to wear someone else's in the first? Or how come they had to find a girl who is a savant at putting together puzzles to figure one out that Kirsty can do in moments? Things like this irked me a little as a fan of the first one. Then again, making sense wasn't necessarily what the writers had in mind, particularly in regard to the transversing hell ending. We are told at one point that each person's hell is personal and yet Kirsty stumbles into Frank and Tiffany stumbles into Kirsty's hell. Yet her dad is nowhere to be found? Damn that luck! Or the odd idea that one puzzle is solved by turning it into another puzzle. If that makes sense to you then awesome. Otherwise I'm stumped. There are definitely some very cool visuals that come out of the labyrinth of hell, but the sense of logic and continuity aren't welcome there. I'm still not sure when they entered or exited hell by the end of the film (I'm pretty sure somehow all the residents of the nut bin ended up dead...I think, cause all of them were able to solve puzzle boxes...oh fuck it I'm done thinking about it) and this aspect of the movie is just frustrating at times. It lends itself to some phenomenal visuals and spectacular special effects to get to the meat and potatoes of the film, but again...those moments of hellish wonderland fueled by late 80s practical effects can only drive the film so far.

On the plus side, having the Doctor as a villain is pretty badass. His design and ideology is pretty scary and ultimately fucking awesome. Too bad his character prior was pretty poorly developed as was his assistant and poor co-heroine Tiffany whom we get glimpses of but nothing that gives us depth per say. Again, the concepts of the characters come first before any kind of realistic writing. A blessing and a flaw.

Conceptually, I love Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Visually I love it too. The directing and ideas behind it are sound and scary, but its poor scripting and off the wall continuity make this sucker somewhat of a burden to watch. Had they added about 45 minutes worth of back story for new characters and allowed the film to build to its climactic ending this could have been a lot better. Unfortunately, this would be the last of the decent Hellraiser films for a while (and considering the next two this is Oscar worthy shit) so enjoy the first two films as they are. This one is a visual treat, but lacks sound foundations to build itself on.

THE SCARLET BOX UPDATE:

Firstly, I feel I should indicate that with each additional watch that I tend to enjoy Hellbound more and more as a film. It is most certainly a flawed film as I mentioned earlier in my review (what was published damn near 7 years ago at this point) with its writing and foundational narrative flow, but I'll be damned if the visuals and thematic points don't really make an impact after the fact. The broad-stroke characters and structure of the film give it more of a fairy tale like tone instead of the realistic familial drama that drives the original and once I succumbed to the looking at the film as a a horrific Alice In Wonderland vibe I tend to enjoy it a lot more. I wouldn't change the rating overall, but keep it in mind that when it's viewed through the lens of a fairy tale that it works much better. The version available in this Scarlet Box is definitely the best one that I've seen thus far, the 2K restoration for it really adds and cleans up the visuals showcasing just how ridiculously good the effects of the film are, and once again the special features tend to highlight the film. Another two hour piece of Leviathan, a documentary about the Hellraiser films, is packed with two tons of great behind the scenes and insight about the making of Hellbound and the rest of the features only add on to that. As before, the list of the features is added below. If you're a Hellraiser fan though, you might as well just cave in and purchase this set because I've only worked through the first two discs and both are worth the purchase alone. "We have such sights to show you." Indeed, Arrow Video does.

ARROW VIDEO FEATURES:
  • Brand new 2K restoration approved by director of photography Robin Vidgeon
  • Audio Commentary with director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins
  • Audio Commentary with Randel, Atkins and actress Ashley Laurence
  • Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II – brand new version of the definitive documentary on the making of Hellbound, featuring interviews with key cast and crew members
  • Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellbound – actor Sean Chapman talks about reprising the role of Frank Cotton in the first Hellraiser sequel
  • Surgeon Scene – the home video world premiere of this legendary, never before-seen excised sequence from Hellbound, sourced from a VHS workprint
  • Lost in the Labyrinth – vintage featurette including interviews with Barker, Randel, Keen, Atkins and others
  • Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellbound: Hellraiser II
  • On-set interview with Clive Barker
  • On-set interviews with cast and crew
  • Behind-the-Scenes Footage
  • Rare and unseen storyboards
  • Draft Screenplay [BD-ROM content]
  • Trailers and TV Spots
  • Image Gallery

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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