Judge Daryl Loomis is the Verdict Cenobite. He'll tear your DVD apart!
We have eternity to know your flesh.
In 1987, Clive Barker, the young master of literary horror, adapted his own novella, The Hellbound Heart, for the screen. In so doing, Hellraiser, which the writer also directed, became one of the seminal horror films of the 1980s and introduced the iconic Cenobites, leather and metal clad demons from Hell. These "explorers in the further realms of experience" come to earth only when they're called, when someone opens the mythical puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration. The Cenobites, led by Pinhead (Doug Bradley, Nightbreed), drag these willing souls into the depths to show them the limits of the flesh, pain and pleasure as one, from which there is no escape. One year after Hellraiser hit the screen, director Tony Randel (Fist of the North Star) took the reigns to helm the sequel, beginning right where the original left off.
Facts of the Case
After sending the Cenobites back to hell, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence, Warlock 3: The End of Innocence) lies in her hospital bed lamenting the death of her father. Nobody believes her story about demons and a skinless uncle coming back from the grave, assuming instead that she's gone mad after witnessing her family murdered. Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham, Bed of Roses), the hospital supervisor, knows more than he lets on, however. He knows about Uncle Frank, the Lament Configuration, the Cenobites, and wants to call them to Earth. He has taken the bed that Kirsty's stepmother, Julia (Claire Higgins, The House of Mirth), died on with plans to bring her back, reopen the box, and experience the unknowable. Kirsty is desperate to prevent this from happening again and must venture into Hell to stop Channard and the Cenobites.
The term "cenobite" is not an invention of Clive Barker's. Cenobites, traditionally, are people who live by the precepts of religious monastic orders, and this gives the best signal to where Pinhead and his cohorts come from. Sure, they reside in Hell, but I've never seen them as evil. Pinhead is a demon of principle and a man of his word; giving people the extreme experiences they crave. As he tells the female Cenobite after Tiffany (Imogen Boorman), a mentally ill, puzzle obsessed girl, opens the box: "It is not hands that call us, it is desire." He knows that Dr. Channard forced her to solve the puzzle and he is uninterested in her. Channard wants to see Hell and Pinhead wants to fulfill Channard's desires. He's violent, but he's an agent; it's man that's the real evil.
This sets the Hellraiser series apart from other horror movies. The Cenobites are unrelated to Freddy, Jason, or Michael Myers in any way, coming when they are called and leaving when the job is done. Because Hellbound takes place directly after the original, it retains much of the spirit but broadens the scope of the idea significantly. Though this does not entirely benefit of the sequel and, in fact, undermines some of the main principles of the original. It does, however, lay the groundwork for the next two sequels which, for all their faults, expound significantly on the mythology.
Significantly more violent than the original, Hellbound eschews much of the psychological horror, replacing it with buckets of gore and more visceral imagery. Two scenes stand out the most. First, with Kirsty laying in her hospital bed, she witness a skinless figure, who she assumes is her anguished dead father, sitting below a message written in dripping blood: "I am in Hell. Help me." Second, in one of the most unsettling images in the history of horror, Channard brings a violently insane patient to his home. The man believes that he has maggots all over him and, after Channard lays him on Julia's mattress and hands him a razor to help him get the bugs off. The man proceeds to slash himself to ribbons to facilitate Julia's rebirth and is almost too disturbing to watch.
While the first half of Hellbound looks and feels much like the original, the second half diverges significantly. Gone are the tight interiors of the Cotton house, replaced with the broad hallways of the Channard Institute and the massive expanse of Hell. Using much more surreal imagery and Dante-inspired punishments, this world feels much larger than what Barker built in his original. This larger world also includes more characters and, unfortunately, becomes more convoluted as a result. Often, and Randel admits as much in the commentary, Hellbound feels like two movies: a direct continuation and a deliberate overhaul at the same time. These do not work very well together, though both have their share of intriguing aspects. In an attempt to tie up questions left from the original, many of the new aspects get confused. It isn't too bad; the film still works well, but there are plenty of holes in the plot as a result.
While Anchor Bay's 20th Anniversary edition of Hellbound: Hellraiser II features the same image transfer and surround mix as their previous edition of the film, they have added a number of special features that make this a far better than average double dip. The image quality is sound, especially for a seven year old transfer. There is some grain here and there, but the colors are strong with deep black levels and good detail. Our skinless friends shimmer like we want them too and the scenes in Hell have plenty of depth. The THX-certified surround mix is excellent. Dialog is clear, surround separation is dynamic, and Christopher Young's gorgeous score (along with the original, these are two of my favorite horror scores of all time) comes through brilliantly, adding mood exactly when necessary. We have all the extras from the 2001 release of the film. The audio commentary from director Tony Randel, screenwriter (and main architect of the mythology) Peter Atkins, and star Ashley Laurence is good, giving both behind the scenes information and many of the filmmakers' intentions with the film (including the explanation of the iconic Cenobite doctor image that dominated the promotional material and video cover, despite the fact that the scene was neither included in the film or ever actually shot). One featurette, Lost in the Labyrinth, has been ported over from the old release and is joined by four new ones, giving fans all the information on Hellbound that they could possibly want.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only real big problem with the film comes toward the end. Where the original Cenobites are deadly serious in their business of torture, the new Cenobite prefers to joke around. This is a clear nod to the standard horror villain template; we are forced to listen to bad pun after bad pun and it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a big step down from the original, but Hellraiser is one of my all-time favorite horror films and would be extremely hard to match. I'm an unabashed fanboy of the series and will watch or read pretty much anything that comes out in regard to it. Fans of the film will not be disappointed. With all the new featurettes, this edition of the film is, for once, worth the double dip.
Guilty of violence, fetishism, and perversion, Hellbound is a delicious feast. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary
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