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Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

It is rare for a movie sequel to equal or exceed the original film.  In the realm of horror, there’s always that formulaic trap, but for a film so brilliantly original and powerful as Hellraiser, it becomes a challenge of artistic ambition and macabre thematic imagination.  Hellbound: Hellraiser II is that sequel which takes what the first film unleashed upon us, and built upon it for a fully enveloping vision of masterful horror.  Before, you were only teased at the temptations and horrors of Leviathan’s realm.  Now, you are plunged fully into this experience which will tear your soul apart.  Welcome to Hell, and the 100th review posted to Forever Cinematic.

Picking up just about where the previous film ended, Larry, Frank, and Julia are all dead.  Meanwhile, Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) is being held within the Channard Institute of Mental Health for observation.  She speaks of the Cenobites, the dead returning to life, the opening of a gateway to hell.  Of course, people believe she is psychologically traumatized by the death of her father.  Although, one thing gains the attention of Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham).  Kirsty mentions that they must destroy the mattress that Julia died on for she can return just as Frank did.  Channard put his hands on the bloodstained mattress where her stepmother Julia (Clare Higgins) died, Channard decides to resurrect her, killing his patients and offering them to Julia to quicken her regeneration.  The twisted doctor is shown to have much research into a familiar puzzle box, properly called the Lament Configuration, and via the puzzle-solving talents of one of his patients, Tina (Imogen Boorman), a speechless young girl, the Cenobites are summoned once again.  Soon, all of our main characters venture into hell, Channard and Julia to explore it, Kirsty and Tina to stop the aforementioned duo.

If you haven’t seen the first Hellraiser, this sequel smartly brings you up-to-speed with a few carefully placed flashbacks and expositional sequences.  Still, there’s no excuse these days not to watch that amazing film.  However, back then, it took about a year for a movie to go from theatrical release to home video.  So, audiences needed a little refresher in 1988, and it’s done very smoothly here.

This film treats the Cenobites with the respect they earned in Clive Barker’s original movie.  Flashbacks aside, they don’t make their first appearance until fifty minutes into the picture, but when they do, we get an introduction of majesty.  Pinhead is given a truly iconic moment stepping out from the blinding white light alone, and the music is at its operatic best here.  The Cenobites are still generally background characters, but are given the opportunity to step forward into a more fascinating and revealing role.  It’s one of the many ways this film builds upon the ideas and mystique of the first Hellraiser.  It knows you’re intrigued by all of this boundless imagination, and it reels you in further with enticing insights that do not disappoint.

Dr. Channard is a fascinating new character that pushes the film beyond its smaller, more intimate beginnings.  He is a man of no conscience, and is driven towards exploring the twisted, despicable, dark depths of the human mind.  Where Frank was a sexually charged character, Channard is more cerebral.  He’s psychologically stimulated by the gruesome horrors that he witnesses and even inflicts upon others.  He’s a sociopath, sadist, and psychopath, which is exactly what Leviathan craves.  Channard is in amazement and wonder at the sight of Hell, as if it is his Promised Land.  What he gets from it is more than he ever anticipated, but ultimately, does not regret it.  Actor Kenneth Cranham does a fantastic job with this character, and he restrains nothing when Hell finally gets its way with the Doctor.  It takes a lot to rival Pinhead in the eyes of the fans, but many have long taken a strong liking to Channard.  That’s all due to Cranham’s excellent performance.

Hellbound is absolutely grotesque.  There’s not a drop of blood spared at any moment in this unrated cut.  The violence is as gritty and graphic as you could imagine and then some.  What you witnessed in Clive Barker’s film is multiplied in Tony Randel’s sequel.  The most disgusting and horrific sights come from the Channard Cenobite, who is Leviathan’s most powerful creation.  Channard’s twisted, sickening psyche combined with Leviathan’s power and domination give birth to a frightening monstrosity that ups the stakes in the final act.  This is not a film for the weak of stomach.  This is a heavyweight horror film loaded with terrifying, disturbing imagery, and gore in abundance.  There is nothing held back from the dark, macabre imagination of Clive Barker, screenwriter Peter Atkins, or the magnificent direction of Tony Randel.  The special make-up and creature effects do not fall off one bit from the first film, and are possibly more refined in some places.  It’s more of that signature Clive Barker repulsive beauty that is brought to glorious life.  His imagination delves into places that are far too forbidden for others, but it is where he thrives, creatively.  Barker finds an attraction and an elegant artistry in these dark corners of the human psyche, and the creative forces on these first two Hellraiser films were able to embrace and realize that so marvelously.  The special make-up effects artists employed for both films were clearly masters of their craft bringing gritty, ghastly realism to everything they did.

While the visual effects are still rather low budget using strictly grainy optical techniques, stop motion photography, and animation, they are very ambitious.  They really push the boundaries of anything you’d expect from a generally low budget horror film of this time.  The filmmakers had a bold vision to realize, and they were going to commit every bit of it to film.  For a modern audience, yes, these effects come off as primitive, but it’s something these filmmakers had to work hard to accomplish.  It took a wide imagination, and a commitment to a rigorous process to put them up on screen.  For that alone, I respect these visual effects immensely.

This is truly an exceptionally well shot film creating a masterpiece of horror.  Tony Randel allows this sequel to seamlessly blend with the first Hellraiser.  While that film is incontrovertibly iconic in so many ways, Hellbound simply goes more ambitious with its visuals along with the story.  Once inside Hell, we are treated to powerful, nightmarish images of blood, fire, sexual desires, and epic scope.  Leviathan’s realm is a vast labyrinth of torture and pleasure indivisibly merged as one.  Delving into Frank Cotton’s personal hell shows him tormented by temptation unable to satisfy his desires.  This scene is ultimately a great moment that ties up a little bit of loose ends from the previous film.  Seeing Frank, Kirsty, and Julia confronting one another again is an awesome moment with plenty of pay-off.

Above anything else is Christopher Young’s bold, more expansive score.  The first film was more intimate with a smaller scope, and Young punctuated that tone and atmosphere beautifully.  Here, it’s verbose and operatic.  It’s grand and sweeping matching the film’s broader, more ominous scope.  Hearing the powerful gothic theme crash into the film following the opening flashback just gets my blood pumping.  It makes an immediate statement that Hellbound: Hellraiser II is bigger and bolder.  It sends chills up and down me.  This music is frightening, dark, and gorgeous.  It’s a masterpiece all on its own, but coupled with the film, it’s indelibly iconic.  It’s possibly the best and most beautiful horror movie score I’ve ever heard.  This film in particular is why the name Christopher Young holds so much eternal respect with me.  What he achieved here became inevitably influential in various gothic styled scores in the years following this film such as Batman and The Crow.

Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II are so seamlessly blended together and the latter builds so perfectly on the ideas and aspects of the former, that they can feel like two halves of a single whole story.  This sequel takes the logical progression of plot forward, and expands on everything  While they do both powerfully exist apart from one another, they are immensely stronger as a single entity.  You get a fuller story with wider scope and deeper insights into the themes presents in these stories and characters.  It is an absolutely brilliant piece of work that demonstrates exactly what a great sequel is meant to do.

The returning cast members also push themselves further.  Julia has definitely changed having gone to Hell and back.  She is still a conniving and devilish woman, but now, her motives are far more insidious and grand.  She is no longer than one being manipulated.  Julia is now the one leading the mesmerized Channard towards a dreadful fate.  Clare Higgins takes that strength to a much more imposing and dangerous level.  Doug Bradley is given a great opportunity here as both Pinhead, and his human alter ego British Army Captain Elliott Spenser.  The film offers up a stunning revelation about the Cenobites, and we see who Pinhead was before he was tortured and twisted by Hell.  With only a few moments of screentime in his human form, Bradley gives us a strong sense of humanity and compassion which sets up for a better story than what he got with the next sequel.  His opening scene is shockingly powerful showing the creation of Pinhead himself with each nail being hammered into his skull, and him screaming in agony.

Ashley Laurence evolves with the role of Kirsty.  She’s more aggressive and assertive now.  No longer is Kirsty cowering in fear, trembling at the carnage she sees.  She is motivated forward with a new found courage as she charges straight into Hell on a search to find her father, and does not let her encounters with the Cenobites, Frank, or Julia deter her from attempting this.  Kirsty has become a far stronger person now, and becomes an even more confident hero for the audience.  Yet, there’s still that solid core of warmth and heart that made her so relatable and endearing to begin with.  She has done a remarkable, standout job in this role, and it is thankful that she would get the chance to reprise it once more in Hellraiser: Hellseeker.

There is just no weak link anywhere in this film.  It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the first film as a bonafide horror classic.  I really do love what Clive Barker has brought us in the medium of film.  His imagination seems boundless and always fascinating.  While he believes, same as with his own written and directed Hellraiser, that this is an uneven film, there is nothing I can ever take away from it.  Any technical aspects that haven’t stood the test of time still display an amazing depth of vision that startle the senses.  Tony Randel did a stunning job as director of this picture.  He has said that the film reflects the dark mindset he was in at the time, and while that might not have been favorable for him, it benefitted this film immensely.  This is a dark, intriguing, and revealing journey into an expansive, macabre world that would not have been easy to achieve without that mindset.  Every talent involved was clearly committed wholeheartedly towards this challenging vision, and it resulted in an undeniable masterpiece of horror.  Hellbound: Hellraiser II is one of the best horror films ever made, and many consider it superior to the first film.  Both are different enough in their stories and scopes to offer you something distinct while also complimenting one another beautifully.  With this film, the Hellraiser franchise seemed as if it could have limitless potential for original, innovative stories with the right minds behind it.  Unfortunately, subsequent sequels would be a severely mixed bag with more bad than good in the hands of Dimension Films who would ultimately run it into the ground.

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Hellraiser (1987)

Reviewing this film is quite a pleasure.  Of all the masters of horror to come around in the last couple decades, Clive Barker seems to be the one you can always count on.  Even The Midnight Meat Train, while not directed by Barker, is a great film that I enjoyed quite thoroughly.  The man takes a lot of care and heart with his work, both written and on film.  He doesn’t rush every new novel or short story into a film adaptation like Stephen King.  While there were some missteps with Barker’s earlier film adaptations, it wasn’t directly his fault.  Still, you ask Clive questions about this movie, he’ll probably turn you down.  He’s sick of discussing it, and feels it is firmly settled in his past.  But never minding that, Hellraiser still stands as a horror classic.  It was a serious injection of true horror when the rest of the genre was turning campy and being drained of anything resembling a scary movie.  Written & directed by Barker, based on his short story, “The Hellbound Heart” this is possibly, the most gritty horror film since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but far gorier.  The gore quality is damn near off-the-chart.  I still find myself cringing at how gruesome Hellraiser is.  This film is truly an original piece of classic horror cinema.  As stated by Stephen King himself, “I have seen the future of horror fiction, and his name is Clive Barker.”

This film’s premise is certainly original in all aspects.  It starts out with a small puzzle box, seemingly harmless, but is said to unlock an experience where pain and pleasure are indivisible.  The man who seeks it is named Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman).  He thought he’d been to the limits of human pleasures, but his fate is unimaginable.  He solves the puzzle box, and what it invites is hell itself, in the form of the Cenobites.  He dies in the third floor room of this house that is soon inhabited by his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) along with Larry’s wife Julia (Clare Higgins) and daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence).  After cutting himself trying to haul the mattress upstairs, Larry’s blood spills upon the floor that Frank died on.  Unknowingly to them all, that small amount of blood is enough to regenerate some amount of Frank’s living body.  He has escaped from hell, and hell doesn’t like that.  We learn of a past sexual relationship between Julia and Frank, and Frank uses her devotion to him to regain his full form through unsuspecting men.  Kirsty gets caught in the midst of this horrific conspiracy, and things rise to another level when the Cenobites come looking for more victims.

This is a dark, gory, and unbound vision of horror by Clive Barker.  In retrospect, it is easy for one’s focus to shift towards Doug Bradley and the other Cenobites as the star attraction.  For me, it is the performances of the human characters that are the real jewels here.  The emotional and psychological depth the actors bring to their roles are rich and real.  Clare Higgins is devilishly seductive, but also, presents an honest vulnerability and apprehension.  She is captivating and fascinating.   She shows a nice wide range in how Frank took a generally decent young woman and ensnared her into becoming the more deceptive and corrupted woman she is now.  Andrew Robinson is also a marvel.  While his portrayal of Larry Cotton is certainly what it should be, and doesn’t seem like much of a standout, he portrays it with a lot of heart.  It’s sincere and honest.  Although, it is his turn at the end of the film which really gets the juices flowing.  He becomes deliciously sadistic and sinister.  He really chews it up, and lets nothing stand in his way of delivering an insidious, lustful villain.  Robinson has repeatedly impressed me with his amazingly diverse and substantive performances, especially in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Our female lead, Ashley Laurence, really draws in an audience, firstly, with her fresh-faced beauty, but quickly becomes an immensely likable protagonist.  Where Kirsty is surrounded by people who are either morally corrupt or faced with emotional conflicts, she shines through as the most innocent.  She maintains strength of character with conviction, and remains an excellent conduit for the audience to experience the horrific fantasy that unfolds before them.  She is the moral center of the story, caught in the eye of the storm which she weathers greatly.  She loves her father deeply, and that motivates her actions throughout the latter half of the film.  Despite the disturbing and horrific things befalling her, she holds onto that love to carry her through in order to keep her dad safe.  Kirsty is an excellent heroine that an audience can really get behind, and feel true sympathy for.

The character of Frank Cotton is brilliantly brought to life by Sean Chapman, who handles the human half, and Oliver Wood, who appears as the skinless Frank.  Chapman establishes the lustful and dangerously seductive man who desires to experience the extreme limits of human pleasure.  Wood creates a man who has been beyond those limits, and is now a darker, more threatening creature.  However, he still has seductive qualities as demonstrated by the fact that he gets Julia to lure in and kill unsuspecting men so he can regenerate himself.  However, he is a man motivated by fear of the Cenobites ready to use and abuse anyone necessary to escape them.  Julia is so blinded by her overwhelming desire to be with him again that she will do anything for him.  Larry is such a lightweight man, cringing at blood, and being a generally decent person that Julia feels her life to be rather bland.  Frank offers the wild erotic excitement and danger that she craves.  Getting a woman to murder for you in order to resurrect yourself is an amazing feat, and shows how psychologically warped Frank has made Julia.  This is the true villain of the film, and demonstrates what kind of twisted evil can lurk in the human heart.

Of course, Doug Bradley does need to be addressed.  In conjunction with Barker, Bradley creates a character that is beautifully dispassionate.  He has a cold zeal regarding the transcendent experiences of Hell.  He has tasted them, reveled in their indescribable sensations, and has been tamed by them into perfect order.  Bradley sinks his teeth into what is best described as a standout supporting role.  The Cenobites are used, essentially, as a plot device, same as the puzzle box.  They are background characters here, but powerful ones.  The full contingent of the Cenobites are well played by their respective actors aided by their deeply detailed prosthetic and make-up designs.  With Bradley, you clearly can’t help but be taken aback by his appearance in this film.  Pinhead, or “Lead Cenobite,” is an instantly iconic character with a more direct and identifiable design than his fellow Cenobites, but they are all memorable to the franchise’s fans.

The look of the film is very dark and grainy, but is shot excellently despite its budgetary limitations.  There is a clear vision of artistry here born out of Clive’s own dense, dark imagination.  The film showcases how rawness and grittiness can create a certain macabre beauty.  The gore of Hellraiser is intense and in abundance.  For the weak of stomach, it could get overwhelming, but the skinless Frank is a genuine work of gruesome art.  Barker has a way to make horror beautiful, in a twisted, demented fashion. The Cenobite makeup, while in a rawer form than later on, truly adds to the texture of this film. Tortured, twisted, and mutilated to hellish perfection, they are amazingly well conceived and designed.  I rather prefer this look over later installments which got cheap in the costuming department, and sleeker in the makeup design.  By the direct-to-video entries, their appearances became more fake and soft than anything else.  In this film, all of the make-up effects work is groundbreaking, in my eyes.  They hold up amazingly well in tight close-ups as hooks dig into prosthetic skin, and lend to the realization of great overall nasty creations.  The only dated piece of effects work comes with the visual effects, which were simple rotoscoped cell animation, but it’s all kept to minimum.  It’s really apparent in the climax, but it hardly diminishes the enjoyment of the film as a whole for me.  However, for a modern audience used to more sophisticated digital effects, it might certainly come off as terribly primitive and jokey.

On the higher quality end of the things, the score by Christopher Young is wonderful and powerful.  It is highly orchestral for a horror film, but that aspect creates a far grander canvas for this film to exist upon.  I have always liked that Hellraiser was a more epic horror franchise presenting operatic visuals, themes, and characterizations with the Cenobites.  That’s where Barker’s imagination lives and thrives.  While the story is more personal in nature, the fantastical elements are always grand and sweeping.  Christopher Young’s gothic stylings really would spark off many similar scores such as Danny Elfman’s Batman themes, and Graeme Revell’s The Crow compositions.  The gothic aspects take the operatic qualities and tones them towards more haunting, atmospheric, and chilling aspects.

Now, despite Clive Barker’s belief that this is an uneven film, I do feel he did a highly admirable job.  Barker had directed a few short films before this in the 1970s, but this was his feature film directorial debut.  I believe a director can be his own harshest critic, and I wholly understand that.  Regardless, the storytelling is tight and solid.  There’s a lot of tension of varying kinds throughout the film, and Barker delivers it all quite well.  I have been a large supporter of Clive Barker as a filmmaker.  Lord of Illusions is one of my all time favorite horror films because of the brilliant genre blending work he did there.  It is unfortunate that studio conflicts and interference soured him towards continuing on as a director, but he has continued as a producer for adaptations of his written work.  I believe Hellraiser to definitely be something for him to be proud of for his first feature length directorial work.  This is a classic for a reason.  In a time where B-level slasher films were the dominant sub-genre in horror, this film came out and changed the standard for horror films.  Fortunately or unfortunately, in my eyes, nothing has yet to equal to Hellraiser, except for its first sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II.  It is an excellent mix of an intelligent, original, and ambitious story with that classic Barker macabre horror.   It has solid, powerful performances all around creating a very diverse, rich set of characters, and a great gritty beauty enhanced masterfully by the score.  This has allowed Barker’s 1987 film to standout still, to this day, as a bonafide horror classic.  You really cannot afford to pass this film up.