Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
What's so surprising about the Hellraiser franchise (if we may call it such) is that no sequel is a repeat performance of its predecessor. No - forget the parentheses: it should not be placed on the same level as Halloween or Friday the 13th, admirable though these franchises may be. For each film has a fresh hell to offer us. Hellraiser's was restricted to one house: a contained, private hell. Hellraiser II takes us to greater depths, as Hellraiser's dynamic teen heroine Kirsty faces the Cenobites on their own turf.
Kirsty awakes in hospital, distressed and confused, only to be berated by a tactless cop. Although she has saved her own life and that of her boyfriend, the wake of the first disaster reveals only a skinned dead body (her father's), a blood-soaked mattress covered in body parts, and an unbalanced teenager saying that the demons dunnit. A creepy brain surgeon (Dr. Philip Channard - Kenneth Cranham) and a cry for help written in blood on the wall propel Kirsty into the Cenobites' nightmarish and labyrinthine underworld, determined to free her dead father from hell. Little does she know that her worst nightmare has already come true. The bloody mattress has been used to resurrect the one that died upon it: Kirsty's stepmother, the cold, licentious, amoral Julia.
This is a less scary film than Hellraiser. The deeply disturbing incest theme is played down here (although the catchphrase, 'come to daddy' - and in one case, 'come to mother' - remains). However, what the movie lacks in scares (lacks, that is, only in comparison with the original film), it makes up for in visual excitement. We are treated to three entirely new landscapes against which the action is played. Both the psychiatric hospital and Dr. Channard's house have a sparseness that beautifully offsets the lavish but tasteful bloody effects. As for the world of the Cenobites, it is possibly the most striking and unnervingly original depiction of Hell ever seen on screen. No fire and brimstone for Clive Barker. His Hell is a mixture of Brian Froud's Labyrinth and the Workers' City from Metropolis, painted like a creepy carnival and infused with grim surrealism and nightmare logic. Corpses undulate under sheets on slabs, mirrors reflect mirrors, babies sew their own mouths shut, and at the center of it all, mysterious and potent as the monolith in Kubrick's 2001, there floats a great black object: Leviathan.
Also stunning in this movie are the make up and costuming. The old Cenobites return, looking much the same, but this time they're not all. The resurrected Julia begins as a sticky, skinless creature (much like Frank in the first film). This is very well done: it almost hurts to look at her. During the middle section of the film, she is bandaged like a mummy, with only her eyes, nostrils and mouth visible, and wears an elegant, 1940s-style gray dress, giving her the look of a 1950s horror vamp. As for Dr. Channard, whose desire for knowledge at any price leads him to the world of the Cenobites, he soon becomes the ultimate constructed demon. Stop-motion tentacles sprout from his hands, each sporting a different nasty sharp instrument, and the man himself is carried around by an unidentifiable 'thing', whose sharp teeth/talons stick into his scalp.
Yes, the Doctor ought to be very scary. Indeed, he certainly would be, were it not for his interminable 'I'm a doctor, you know' puns. In a film that is otherwise pretty well scripted, these bouts of out-of-place 'humour' stick out like the proverbial painful appendage. Aside from that, his acting is good, but the real star of the baddies' team is Julia. She comes into her own in this movie, posing more of a threat than Frank, whose part in the film is brief. The best lines, though, are given to Kirsty. 'He gotta ticket to Hell?' she calmly asks, when told that Dr. Channard can help her. Yes, actually, he has.
Ashley Laurence (Kirsty) is as watchable and charismatic as she was in Hellraiser, but this time Kirsty is more assured. She's beat this once and she'll beat it again. Another great little actress, Imogen Boorman (playing Tiffany, a damaged mute girl who obsesses over solving puzzles) joins Laurence on this adventure. Can you guess how she fits into the story? Yes, so did I, but it really works. Incidentally, watch out for a priceless overturning of the old cliché where the mute's first words are always something profound and touching…
All in all, this is another great film. Exciting, involving and relentless, it draws us into a world we wouldn't dare imagine, and leaves us loving it. Pinhead is great as usual, but for his master performance, go on and watch Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. Kirsty's the star of this show, and she gives it everything in a thrilling, scary and fun movie whose multiple possible inspirations add up to nothing you've ever seen before. This is one of the very few sequels that do what a sequel should: it progresses the plot, deepens our understanding of the world the films create, and adds to our overall experience of that world. This isn't I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (um… shouldn't that be the summer before last?). Watch this sequel with pride.
The 20th Anniversary DVD from Anchor Bay features a blurb taken from this review on the back cover!