Judge Gordon Sullivan never figured out Rubik's Cube. He thinks it's the portal to Hell, anyway.
Our reviews of Hellbound: Hellraiser II (published October 31st, 2001), Hellbound: Hellraiser II: 20th Anniversary Edition (published January 12th, 2009), and Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition (published November 19th, 2007) are also available.
"It's never enough."—Frank Cotton
For years, the Hellraiser films have been dead to me. After the life-shortening fiasco that was Hellraiser: Inferno, I swore off any more sequels, and even the fondly remembered original was tainted by that cinematic train wreck. Somewhere in the intervening years, I read Clive Barker's original novella, The Hell-bound Heart and was impressed by how lean and visceral the original story was before it was bloated by countless sequels. Thanks to the Blu-ray disc of Hellraiser included in The Hellraiser Lament Configuration Box Set, I've renewed my appreciation for Clive Barker's directorial debut, even if I can only recommend the film to diehard completists.
Facts of the Case
In the world of Clive Barker's Hellraiser, those who have exhausted all the earthly pleasures this planet affords can quest for the Lament configuration, a puzzle box that opens a portal to a hell-dimension which summons the Cenobites, Pinhead (Doug Bradley, Nightbreed) chief among them. These creatures offer the seeker the ultimate in sensation, those beyond pain or pleasure. One such seeker is Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman, A Mighty Heart), who, when he's not sleeping with his brother's new wife Julia (Clare Higgins, The Golden Compass), travels the world looking for new delights. He's taken by the Cenobites, but manages to escape. With Julia's help he is recorporialized. Young Kirsty (Ashley Laurence, Cyprus Edge) is suspicious of her mother, especially once she accidentally solves the puzzle bringing the Cenobites, forcing her to trade Frank's fate for her own.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II takes off where the first film finished. Now Kirsty is confined in a mental institution where the understanding Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham, Hot Fuzz) has a reason to believe Kirsty's story: he has his own reasons for seeking the Cenobites.
Re-watching Hellraiser I was struck by how much it has in common with '80s slasher films. It seemed so unique when I first saw it, but the parallel is there: we have the unstoppable monster (Pinhead, or "Lead Cenobite" as he's known here), the final girl (young Kirsty), and plenty of illicit sex (courtesy of Frank and Julia as well as the S&M-inspired raiment of the Cenobites). Although he's justifiably famous, I don't see Pinhead gaining the kind of mainstream acceptance that the big three (Freddy, Jason, and Michael) have. This is because when the big three monsters pick up a rock, it's to bludgeon some horny teenager. When Pinhead picks up a rock, it's to make a point about the writing, squirming creatures underneath the rock and how much they are like humanity. That kind of unflinching avoidance of black and white morality keeps the first Hellraiser film fresh despite the changes time has wrought on hairstyles. Although I'm struck by how much Hellraiser looks like a slasher, the morally and sexually ambiguous Cenobites make the film a landmark in contemporary horror. The fact that this was Clive Barker's first time behind the camera only makes his achievement more remarkable.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II is not nearly so easy to classify as the first film. To some it is a blasphemous reworking of everything that made Hellraiser great. To others it's a push forward, a film that fleshes out (pun intended) the mythology of the first film. I can easily see both sides. Because it is large where the first film was claustrophobic and surreal where the first film was brutally straightforward, Hellbound should probably be viewed as an entirely separate entity from its precursor film. However, the film does an excellent job showing that there was more lurking behind Barker's original story than it might seem at first; for that the film should not be overlooked.
But enough about these remarkable films; it's time to cover this new Lament Configuration Box Set. This set contains a newly-minted Blu-ray version of Hellraiser, along with the 20th Anniversary DVD editions of both Hellraiser and Hellbound. There are only two substantial differences between this release and the previous 20th Anniversary DVDs or the stand-alone Blu-ray. The only new content (available on the stand-alone BD as well) is a trivia pop-up track on BD of the first film. The only thing fans who purchase this set get besides the otherwise available discs is the box which houses the three discs. What a box it is, though. Made of plastic, the packaging mimics the puzzle-box from the film, and the two halves pull apart to show the discs housed securely in grooves within the box. It's both aesthetically pleasing and very practical. It'll look good on any fan's shelf.
The Blu-ray version of Hellraiser (available separately as well) is fantastic. The transfer is amazing, reproducing an amazingly film-like appearance. Despite the film's age, grain is kept in check (and the grain that is present is well-rendered), and the level of detail is an obvious step-up from the DVD. The audio sounds slightly clearer than the DVD, and the film's score is particularly impressive. With the exception of a new (and generally pretty redundant) pop-up trivia track, all the extras of the previous 20th Anniversary DVD get reproduced here, including Clive Barker's informative commentary with Ashley Laurence. There are also five featurettes that cover everything from production to acting and scoring. We also get trailers, TV spots, and several galleries. Sadly, none of the extras appears in high-def.
The Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition was impressive when it was first released, but after watching the Blu-ray, there's no going back. As I said, all the extras from this edition are duplicated on the Blu-ray disc.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II looks okay on this 20th Anniversary edition. It's a fairly old transfer, but given the film's age it does fine enough. The audio fares slightly better, but it too shows its age. The extras include a featurette with the director and Ashley Laurence, as well as five featurettes covering various aspects of the production.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I know this review has been mostly positive, and that's because I hold Hellraiser in pretty high regard. However, this release is one of the dumbest things I've seen as a DVD reviewer. Only diehard fans are likely to purchase a box set of these proportions, and those are exactly the kind of people who have already bought the original as well as 20th Anniversary editions of both films. This makes their inclusion here insulting. The Hellraiser Blu-ray is good enough to make fans long for a BD update for Hellbound, but instead they get a pair of DVDs they likely already own (or if they don't own them it's because they were holding out for Blu-ray editions of both Hellbound and Hellraiser). Since the Blu-ray of Hellraiser is available separately, the packaging is the only thing to really tempt fans. Although it's pretty cool, it's not worth the extra twenty dollars you'd pay over buying the Blu-ray version of the first film, at least not in this reviewer's opinion. Anchor Bay should have saved this packaging for a Blu-ray release of the original trilogy, or at least the first two flicks.
The packaging is pretty cool, but ultimately I can't recommend this set because of the extraneous DVDs. Unless you skipped the 20th Anniversary DVDs of the first two films and want a BD of Hellbound on top of that, this set is almost certainly overkill for you. So, unless you have a dire need for the plastic Lament cube or have never bought any of the Hellraiser films before, I'd say go for the standalone releases.
Hellraiser and Hellbound are not guilty, but Anchor Bay needs to answer for this nonsensical box set.
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