Oct 25, 2014

October 2014 Horror Movie a Day - Day 24: HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988)

Hellraiser is a tough act to follow, and this sequel proves it. Starting out strong, it eventually becomes convoluted, yet still manages to carry over and expand upon the themes and subtext introduced in the original film. Overall though, the picture is a mess.

Where Hellbound: Hellraiser II loses its way is in the second act when as I'll discuss momentarily, Ashley Laurence (reprising her role from the first film) enters into the hell dimension in search of her father. Andrew Robinson is seen only in flashbacks from Hellraiser, and doing some research I discovered that he was supposed to appear in this movie but declined. Instead of recasting, the filmmakers went for extensive script changes and it shows. The idea that Laurence is going into hell to rescue her father is then completely lost. It appears as though they shot the scenes where it is introduced that she intends to do just that, but then had to scramble to make changes once they reached the part where she was supposed to be actually doing it.

Clare Higgins reprises her role as the evil Julia, taking the place of Frank (who also returns, briefly) as the bloody, resurrected corpse. She is joined by Kenneth Cranham as Dr. Channard, a new character who is way more nasty than Julia and Frank ever were. His intentions are understandably diabolical.

Finally a shooting day where I don't have to sit through hours of make-up application.
The picture opens with a brief sequence hinting at an origin story for the Cenobites. We see a British soldier from the 1920s/1930s open a puzzle box and then transformed into 'Pinhead'. So now we know that the Cenobites weren't always demons, but were once human. Clive Barker hates the name of Pinhead thinking it lessened the impact of the character and intended to call him 'Priest' and did so in a comic book series. In the first film Doug Bradley (also playing the character here) is credited merely as 'Lead Cenobite'. Here the credits list him as 'Pinhead' so I will stick with that name (my last post I had decided not to) because that's what audiences know him as. Sorry Clive. It also should be noted that all the Cenobites get names - Butterball, Chatterer, Pinhead - except the female one (credited as 'Female Cenobite'). That's unfortunate because I found her to be just as intimidating if not more so than Pinhead.

Even creatures from hell are subjected to Hollywood sexism.
Now we're at the point where the first film ended. Ashley Laurence is in a hospital under observation and being interviewed by the police because of all the nasty, maggot infested, flesh-less corpses found in her father's house. The cops aren't too keen on her Cenobite story, and her boyfriend is somehow released (meaning the production didn't want to pay the actor for this movie, nor did they need him). She is declared mentally unsound and treated as a primary suspect. As the police search the home, they find the blood soaked mattress where Claire Higgins had died in the first film. Laurence begs for the cops to destroy the mattress, but they just ignore her, writing her rantings off as craziness - all but her Doctor it seems.

We're bad and we know it - she, literally to the bone!
Right away we know Cranham as the Doctor is the 'big bad' as we're introduced to him callously performing open brain surgery on a patient who is fully conscious. That's right, the patient is conscious while the Doctor has her skull open and is poking away at her brain with instruments. His assistant Kyle (William Hope) becomes suspicious of him when he learns that the Doctor has had the mattress transferred to his home and not the hospital. The 'good' Doctor then travels deep into the bowels of the hospital to reveal a dungeon-like area filled with people trapped like prisoners, screaming in horror, locked in straight jackets. From our experiences in the first film, we know these characters are connected to the activities in the other world somehow given their pleas and blood-curdling screams - and the Doctor knows it and seems to enjoy their torment.

Never wear white after labor day or after being resurrected.
Kyle breaks into the Doctor's house to find the still bloody mattress as well as a room filled with puzzle boxes and other research materials connected to Pinhead and the other realm. He just keeps repeating 'weird' over and over - finally a horror movie character with some common sense. The Doctor returns forcing Kyle to hide behind a curtain. He watches as one of the crazy patients is brought into the room, and used to resurrect Higgins from the mattress in the same way Frank was in the first film - through the victim's blood.

At the hospital, Laurence has visions of her father calling to her from hell and feels the urge to go and rescue him. The Doctor also has a mute patient (Imogen Boorman) who is a puzzle expert working on the boxes to open the door to the other realm. She does so successfully and the Cenobites are summoned.

I'm in hell because the filmmakers wouldn't pay me enough to come back.
Kyle tries to help Laurence but Higgins takes him out of the picture leaving Laurence and Boorman on their own to figure out how to stop the Doctor and save Laurence's father from hell. They encounter the Cenobites who this time plan to hold onto Laurence, but give her time to explore hell as they will have "an eternity with her flesh". Julia leads the Doctor into the realm who gets exactly what he desired and more which is not a good thing for anybody involved - including the Cenobites. Once inside the realm, they encounter a lot of grotesque and disgusting things that would make your head spin. Like the first film, this sequel does not mince images when it comes to gore and blood. In a usual sequel maneuver, it ups the stakes.

As I mentioned above, it is when Laurence and Boorman enter the other realm that the plot gets messy and confusing. There appear to be a lot of elements cut out in terms of Boorman's back story as well as Laurence's intentions. Higgins plays a much bigger role in this and really is a standout, as is the Doctor. The Cenobites again take a back seat to these other 'big bads', and get only minimal screen time which I think hurts the picture. As one comment on IMDb put it most succinctly, the picture 'goes to hell when they uh, go to hell'.

Very few lines to memorize - cool!
The way the first picture made minimal use of the Cenobites made sense, but I felt this picture needed more of them wreaking havoc. They seem to let Laurence sweet talk them out of torturing her way too often while Frank and others get ripped to shreds within seconds. So they're softies after all.

You know how hard it is to sleep with a head like this?
The movie does succeed visually though with some very scary imagery in the 'hell' sequences. Again the blood and gore effects are to the extreme, beginning with the resurrection of Julia. As with Frank in the first films she is a mass of skin and nerves covered in blood, enhanced when she puts on white clothing and the blood seeps through. In the hell realm we get scary clowns (I know many friends who would get nightmares from this), one who is juggling his own bloody, gouged out eyeballs. The movie is the stuff that nightmares are made of and intends to create a few as well.

About half the people reading this are going to lose their mind over this still.
This picture managed to maintain the gore and themes from the first one effectively, and outside of the obvious plotting complications, is a worthy follow-up both visually and thematically. Unfortunately the middle and ending fall to pieces turning the Cenobites into almost sympathetic characters as well as some bad action movie-like one-liners from one character in particular (although I will note that when the mute Boorman finally speaks, her first line is pretty great).

Somebody get this thing off my head so I can go to the restroom.
I think with more money and more time spent on fleshing out the scripting problems, this could have been a good picture. As it stands now it is merely adequate and not all that memorable which is part of the reason this franchise - albeit with numerous sequels - never rose to popularity heights like the Elm Street or Friday the 13th franchises.