Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hellbound: Hellraiser II Movie Review

My memory suggested that I had seen this film and watching it again confirmed that to some extent. Much of the movie was unfamiliar to me, but some parts were very familiar which seems to mean that I only ever saw bits and pieces while flipping channels. The truth is, the Hellraiser films just don't figure that heavily in my youth. But because they were something that most people my age knew about, talked about, and had seen, I decided to include the first two films in this October series.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.

Yes, and that's about how you might feel while watching this film.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II comes across as if screenwriter Peter Atkins placed elements of Hellraiser on a board on the wall, threw darts at it while wearing a blindfold, and whatever he hit earned its place in the sequel. This film is a total mess. It is not only incoherent on its own terms, but barely meshes with its predecessor in any meaningful way. It retains the premise and the majority of the main characters, but loses any sense of plotting, cause and effect, and basic storytelling.

Clive Barker, who created the original story and directed the first picture, stayed on as producer of the sequel. He placed Tony Randel, who worked as an editor on Hellraiser, in the director’s chair. If Barker’s intention was to recapture the spirit of the film he made, then the final product is an utter failure. If, on the other hand, his only goal was to revisit the creative production design, then he succeeded because that’s all Hellbound has going for it.

The action immediately follows on from the first film. Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital following her ravings about demons from another dimension torturing and killing her father and stepmother. By remarkable coincidence, Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham), the man who runs the hospital, is something of an aficionado of this alternate dimension. You might say he has an obsession with it. His patients have all gone mad trying to solve the puzzles that unlock the gateway he seeks. He keeps memorabilia in his home, including an old photograph of the man who eventually became Pinhead (Doug Bradley), the lead cenobite.

In the first film, the cenobites were supporting players. They used the humans who entered their world as playthings, torturing them into oblivion. In the sequel they appear more often and Pinhead has more lines. Following this film, his popularity grew immensely and he became the focus of the later sequels. But for now, Julia (Clare Higgins) takes center stage just as Uncle Frank did before. I’m not even sure I could follow the plot well enough to explain how it is Julia went, in the first film, from being a somewhat reluctant participant in Frank’s twisted world, to now being like the queen bee. And when she meets Frank, with whom she had what might have been the greatest sex in the history of the sport because what else could lure a woman to bring murder victims home to her zombie boyfriend, it’s as if there exists a history of animosity and distrust between them.

Meanwhile Kirsty wants to enter the alternate dimension believing her father to be lost there. This turns out to be a complete red herring. Andrew Robinson didn’t sign on for the sequel. Tiffany (Imogen Boorman), a young girl from the hospital who happens to be adept at solving puzzles, helps Dr. Channard down the rabbit hole. She and Kirsty work together to defeat Julia, thwart the cenobites, and escape back to the real world. That’s about all I was able to gather from the film as far as plot goes. So much of it is nonsense.

As so often occurs with sequels, Hellbound had a much larger budget than the first film. Composer Christopher Young expanded on his musical score, making it a little more bombastic without adding any texture. The set design is more immense and better designed although under-utilized. The same makeup and effects team worked on creating the look of the cenobites, which remains fresh and original. They get much more screen time to show off the time and effort that much have gone into plastering the actors in makeup that makes them look demonically frightening. The design of hell as a labyrinth is well-intentioned, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. And despite some great looking effects, there are some moments that are downright goofy looking, or maybe they’re just a little dated now.

The overall effect of the movie is that it exists as an excuse to display gruesome effects and gory images. If anyone involved in the making of it, either at the story stage or in the editing room after principal photography wrapped, had wanted to make something engaging for viewers, they would have had to throw everything out and start over. Somewhere in these ideas is a decent idea for a very good horror film. Clive Barker and the team he assembled to make this massive failure did not manage it.

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