Hellbound: Hellraiser II


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Hellbound: Hellraiser II
"A classic example of how not to approach making a sequel."

Saying that Hellbound: Hellraiser II should be on the must-see list of any film student is likely to raise a few eyebrows, but it is often from mistakes that we are able to learn the most. Though there's some good work here, it's a classic example of how not to approach making a sequel. When everything is turned up one notch louder, it's hard to make out anything clearly at all.

The film begins with flashbacks to the original; it's best not to watch the two too close together if you want to avoid being annoyed by the revisionism here or the clumsy exposition introduced to try to make sense of it. Heroine Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) is now in a psychiatric institution which just happens to be run by a cultist. Dr Channard (played with gusto by Kenneth Cranham) is fascinated by the idea of entering the cenobite Hell, and has amassed a large collection of puzzle boxes which he has set his patients to trying to solve. When he also acquires the mattress upon which Kirsty's stepmother Julia died, he is ready to make the journey he has longed for.

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Bringing back Julia was always going to be essential. It was Clare Higgins' performance that dominated the first film, and she lives up to it here, but she has a lot less to work with. Having originally been presented to us as submissive, Julia has now acquired a desire to dominate and to see others come to harm, so Higgins has to try and make her a consistent character when much of the time she's doing the opposite of what she did before. She has fun with the role, however, and her charismatic turn provides welcome relief from the vapidity of Kirsty, who is now determined to enter Hell in search of her murdered father, but who spends most of her time whimpering and running round the corridors.

Alongside these characters is mute puzzle expert Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) who, like 80 per cent of disabled people in genre films, is surprisingly cured by the end. Sean Chapman briefly returns as Kirsty's sinister uncle Frank - a man who, wooden as he is, should take more care around candles - and we see the return of several of the original cenobites, with Doug Bradley getting more opportunity to act but making less of an impact as an attempt is made to humanise Pinhead. One is left wondering if this vicious flesh-hooking demon also had a difficult childhood and was bullied at school.

Overexplaining is one of the film's greatest weaknesses. We know what the puzzle box does, what Pinhead wants, and how people pass between dimensions. We don't need to waste time finding out why, whilst plot strands are underdeveloped or simply fizzle out. The various attempts at filling in background pull the story in too many different directions, and although they make a valiant effort, Higgins and Cranham can't hold it together. The latter, however, does manage to give us a sense of the pleasure associated with pain that we were often told about but rarely saw in the first film.

Another saving grace here is the set design. Channard's occult lair is beautifully put together, even if the result is that one worries about how much blood a skinless Julia is leaving on the Afghan rug. The MC Escher stylings were done better in Labyrinth two years earlier, but the asylum environment is well used. The only problem here is that there isn't much the cenobites seem to be offering that competes with the horror of how Channard treats his patients, inevitably more powerful because it reflects abuses thattake place in real life.

If the original went a bit Tron at the end, the final sequence of this film is the visual equivalent of a synthesiser track with extra vibrophone. The bluescreened background which even in its time was questionable now looks ridiculous and completely overshadows the drama. Wind effects and dry ice make it look like a music video and one expects Meatloaf to appear at any moment. For viewers on a nostalgia trip, it really delivers. If you're looking for horror, you'll find a few nice gore effects scattered through the film but not much that gets under your skin.

Reviewed on: 08 Apr 2017
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A young woman trying to warn people about the cenobites is sent to an institution whose head has been searching for the gateway to Hell.
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Director: Tony Randel

Writer: Peter Atkins, Clive Barker

Starring: Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence, Clare Higgins, Doug Bradley, Imogen Boorman

Year: 1988

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: UK, US


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