Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hell Week: 'Hellbound: Hellraiser II' (1988)

Rushed into production quickly on the heels of the success of the original Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II suffers from some narrative confusion (blamed mainly on Andrew Robinson's refusal to reprise his role as Larry Cotton), but it also has a striking visual style and some truly gruesome set pieces, and its comparatively larger budget allows for Clive Barker's twisted visions to come to life more effectively. Barker steps back here, credited only with the screen story and as executive producer, but his stamp is still all over the themes and look of the movie, albeit smoothed out a bit from the S&M-focused original. Robinson isn't back, but Ashley Laurence (as Kirsty) and Clare Higgins (as Julia) both are, despite Julia's having been killed in the last movie. That's not really a big stumbling block for this series, since the border between the afterlife and the realm of the living is pretty easily breached.

Kirsty begins the movie where so many final survivors of horror movies find themselves in sequels: in a mental institution. This particular establishment is run by the twisted and sadistic Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham), who just so happens to be obsessed with Cenobites and the puzzle box and all that stuff. He manages to resurrect Julia in much the same manner that Julia resurrected Frank in the first movie, and Kirsty breaks out of the hospital to stop them. She's also determined to rescue her father from hell, but that particular storyline just sort of disappears at some point, since Robinson decided not to appear in the movie. Instead Kirsty teams up with a fellow mental patient who's a puzzle-solving genius and follows Julia and Channard into hell itself.

Pretty much the entire second half of the movie takes place in hell, which allows director Tony Randel (an editor on the first movie) all sorts of creative license, and he puts together an impressively disorienting and nasty landscape, influenced strongly by the mind-bending artwork of M.C. Escher. Thanks to Pinhead's rising popularity, the Cenobites get a much larger role here, and the movie opens with a prologue hinting at Pinhead's origins. Julia also evolves from a whiny codependent into a deviously evil villain, and Higgins does a much better job with the role this time around. She's a more interesting antagonist than Pinhead (who's credited with that name for the first time, although never referred to that way onscreen), and her team-up with Channard is wonderfully nasty.

That pairing allows for the film's most significant dose of deviant sexuality, but it's not quite as twisted as the Julia/Frank dynamic in the original. The Cenobites are also presented more as unwitting victims who've been transformed into monsters than as pleasure/pain-seeking hedonists, and while that works for the more conventional horror-movie vibe, it loses a little of Barker's unique perspective. With its expanded scope, larger budget and more intense scares, Hellbound is a better movie overall than the original, and a more effective horror film. But Hellraiser still stands out for Barker's personal connection, which only gets more diluted as the series wears on.

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