Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988)

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Doug Bradley, aka Pinhead, didn’t want to play that part in the first Hellraiser, instead asking Clive Barker if he could play the delivery guy, figuring at least his face would be on camera a bit. He drew the short straw though (and went on to a long career in other, lesser, horror movies, while the delivery guy didn’t), but I think that desire reflects itself in “Hellbound: Hellraiser 2” as the first time we see him, it’s as Captain Eliot Spencer, the WW1 soldier who opens the magic box and gets turned into a Cenobite.

 

For its first hour, I’d go so far as to say this movie is extraordinary. It’s extremely dark, with many truly horrific images, and the plot is a clever extension of what was developed in the first one. Then, the box is opened again and we get a portal to Hell, and it’s a bit…well, not quite as interesting. As Stephen King once said about great horror fiction, opening the door a crack so you get a glimpse of the monstrosity behind it allows our imaginations to run riot: just throwing the door wide open and showing you everything doesn’t. “Hellbound” is guilty of throwing the door wide open.

 

It’s in the grand tradition of horror sequels that start the minute the first instalment ends, as we see the climactic battle which leaves Uncle Frank torn into a million pieces, then Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) is taken to a psychiatric hospital. There’s Tiffany, the silent girl who sits and completes puzzles all day, as the only other patient, and two doctors – Dr Channard (Kenneth Cranham, grand old man of British TV) and Dr Macrae (William Hope, “Aliens”). The police, investigating the carnage at her Dad’s house, don’t believe Kirsty, and neither does Macrae, but Channard does.

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Channard has been a Cenobite enthusiast for some time, with a scrapbook full of stories potentially involving them, all sorts of odd sketches on the wall, and most importantly, three of the magic puzzle boxes. When Kirsty realises that the bed that her stepmother Julia died on could potentially be used to bring her back, much like Frank in the first movie, she demands it be destroyed but Channard gets it taken to his house to do experiments with it. Now, you have to buy that Julia was being taken to Cenobite Central, and not just ripped to pieces on a bed, in that scene at the end of part 1, but there are worse ways to bring back the antagonist from a previous movie I suppose.

 

We see the cellar of the hospital around now, and it’s a nightmare from the Victorian era – all archways and exposed pipes and screams. As Channard walks through this area he opens the windows to see the irredeemable patients, and their suffering seems much realer than movies normally allow. Abandoning all pretence of being a normal person, he takes the most disturbed of the lot, a man who thinks maggots are burrowing into his rotten flesh, lays him on the blood-soaked mattress and gives him a straight razor. This whole scene is among the most disturbing I’ve ever seen, it really shook me, as the view cuts from what he’s seeing to what the rest of us see. Anyway, Julia pops back out of the bed, we get the first movie’s plot in fast-forward, and then it’s on.

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I don’t want to spoil too much of it, but there’s a slightly larger role for the Cenobites and a fairly hefty final section set in Hell, as Channard brings in Tiffany to open one of the boxes, which opens a portal which everyone strolls through. We finally get an inkling of the pleasure side of the deal the Cenobites offer, and the rules established in part 1 are subtly and cleverly rewritten to allow more plot ideas going forward. This was done by Barker, who didn’t write the script but acted as producer and came up with the story.

 

I think it’s a much better film than part 1. It’s better directed, which is surprising as it’s the first credit for Tony Randel, who’d go on to make “Fist Of The North Star” and not a lot else (a lot of the original crew from part 1 do return). As much as I liked part 1, the main characters were a bit on the dull side, and it didn’t give enough screen time to Kirsty or the Cenobites – this, using that slightly rewritten rulebook, rips through the same plot basically but in about 10 minutes, and is far far creepier. I think there’s something to be said about the gender roles being flipped in this one, and it being slightly weaker for it (there aren’t tons of movies where it’s about the woman doing something way beyond the pale in order to have mindblowing sex) but other than that it’s a much more exciting story.

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If we’re looking for bigger flaws, then I still don’t get what the Cenobites are all about. The first movie established them as interdimensional extreme S&M travellers who were given their powers by…something. God and the Devil are a long way from their world, but in this one Leviathan is the thing that rules Hell. It’s not the whale from the Bible, nor is it the ancient race of beings who ruled the Earth before humanity existed (as used, approximately, in the TV shows “Dark Shadows” and “Supernatural”). It is, basically, Satan, and in much the same way as hack directors of HP Lovecraft stories just turn his cast of eldritch beings into a generic Hell / demons thing, so has something roughly the same been done here. While I like a bit of ambiguity in my villain’s backstory, I don’t think the fit between a Judeo-Christian Hell and whatever cosmology was invented for the Cenobites is a very good one. The more you explain what they are, the less power they have. So Pinhead is not some magic extra-dimensional being, but a World War 1 veteran? Eh. Fans of the movies will tell you there’s lots of wider backstory in a series of comics, but I think mythologies that need a comic tie-in to explain themselves are one of my least favourite things in all of “genre” cinema.

 

If you really think about it, there’s not much of a logical plot. If you’ve seen it, try and sum it up in a few simple sentences. Not easy, is it? Who’s the villain? How does Channard walk out of that hospital with so many people he never brings back?

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But it’s still a superb movie, and you don’t really need to ponder the backstory to have a really good time watching this. It will creep you out, if you’re anything like me, with some incredibly effective sequences, and I’m still shivering at one scene the next day. Okay, the whole Hell section is a little cheesy to my 2016 eyes, but it really tries to do something interesting. And if you’re not cheering when we meet Channard for the second time, I don’t think we could be friends.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

PS – I didn’t even mention “horror sequelitis”, did I? Well, this is by a million miles the best of the 80s horror sequels, but we’ll dwell on that a little when we get to 1992’s part 3.

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