It’s strange that so many horror movies spawn enormous franchises when the surprise and the unknown are central to the effectiveness of a good horror story. Shock and dread are two of the desired outcomes of horror: to be surprised by something you didn’t want to see, and to be slowly drawn toward something you don’t want to see, but just have to look.
Hellraiser as it stands doesn’t make a great candidate for a sequel in any case. It’s primarily a twisted love story – the main characters are the undead Frank and his lover Julia who supplied him with fresh meat to rebuild his body, not the horror movie monsters that come to find them. The mystery of the Cenobites is background for the tale, not the point.
But the movie made money (or looked like it would: the sequel was greenlit before production was completed on the first), Pinhead, who didn’t even have a name in the first film, is an intriguing image, and horror movies are all about the franchise, even if that means they’re not really about the horror. Hellbound: Hellraiser II ditches the twisted love story for a focus on the aftermath of the first film. Kristy, who took a quick trip to an asylum in the action of Hellraiser, is now fully committed, since nobody believes her story and there’s an awful lot of mess left at the house to deal with, including a bloody mattress where Julia was killed. Kristy wants it all destroyed lest more evil end up rising out of it, but the chief of the asylum Dr. Channard is intrigued by her case, and has the mattress delivered to his house instead.
Channard is secretly obsessed with the Lament Configuration, the puzzle box that opens doors into other dimensions. After a patient flays himself alive on the mattress at Channard’s prodding, a skinless Julia emerges from it. From there boxes are played with, and our friends the Cenobites arrive, and Kristy and another patient, Tiffany (a mute who loves to play with puzzles), end up trapped in Hell.
There’s not much plot to the proceedings once they arrive in Hell, and not a hell of a lot of story, either. Since there’s no intriguing if odd love story at the center of the movie, it’s the exploration of the world of Hell that has to take the full brunt of audience interest. Unfortunately, that world is mostly smoky corridors, swinging pillars with hooks, and other things that we already saw in the previous film.
Hellbound was not directed by Clive Barker, the writer/director of the original, though that doesn’t mean he walked away from the production. His novel-writing career was taking off at the same time as the Hellraiser films being made and he was preparing the screenplay for Nightbreed. He stayed on as executive producer and was involved in the filmmaking. The screenplay for Hellbound was written by Peter Atkins, a long-time Barker associate, and the film was directed by Tony Randel, who was a production executive at New Line Pictures who oversaw the production of the first film. The result is a film that maintains the look and much of the feel of the original, along with some filmmaking improvements. The pace is less pokey, and although it is Randel’s first time directing a feature film, the acting is directed with more self-assurance, as is the sense of setting. There are a number of scenes in Hellraiser where the setting is underdeveloped and sometimes the actors seem to be nowhere at all. That doesn’t happen in Hellbound.
What doesn’t work so well is when the film attempts to expand the vision of Hellraiser. Whatever problems that film might have, it makes up for with an assured sense of the grotesque and disgusting. When Barker goes for a gross-out, he goes for the jugular. In Hellbound, the stuff that works best is the stuff that echoes directly the look of the first film. Its new additions to the gallery of horrors don’t have the same kind of frisson. The monsters here simply aren’t as memorable as the horror creations in Hellraiser. With the possible exception of the scene with the patient cutting himself on the mattress, Hellbound fails to match the visceral nastiness the first film, which was a central part of that film’s horror appeal.
Most of the cast of the first film returned for the sequel: Ashley Laurence is still Kristy, Clair Higgins plays Julia, and the Cenobites are all back and as arresting visually as ever. Andrew Robinson does not reprise his role as Larry, which is too bad and apparently was a late development in the film’s pre-production, forcing major rewrites to a screen story that was largely about Kristy trying to rescue her father from Hell. The major new additions are Dr. Channard, ably played by Kenneth Cranham, and Kyle MacRae, the doctor’s assistant who has the misfortune of being recruited into helping Kristy as she begins to suspect the doctor is more interested in her hellish story for his own reasons, not to help her.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II is not the rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor. It also isn’t just some cheap cash grab, which is more typical for a horror sequel, nor is it exactly more of the same. Without the perverse love story in the center to connect all the other elements like the first film, it becomes more a collection of events than a story. Ultimately it expands the mythical landscape of the Hellraiser universe, but doesn’t necessarily deepen it. It’s missing a strong narrative core, so that its various story elements don’t do much, or mean much. It looks neat, it’s no kind of embarrassment. But there’s just not enough story for it to be a compelling follow-up to its predecessor.
Hellraiser II: Hellbound has been released by Arrow Video, and like the first film it is packed solidly with supplements. The most extensive of this is Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, which is two hours long and like the documentary on the Hellraiser Blu-ray is excerpted form a mammoth fan-made Hellraiser doc. There’s a pair of commentaries, both with Tony Randel and Peter Atkins, one including Ashley Laurence that discuss the production of the film. Video extras include “Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellbound” (12 mins) where the actor is frank (no pun intended) about his disappointment with the sequel; “Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellbound” (11 mins); and a number of vintage featurette and interviews, trailers and TV spots. Also included is a long rumored “Surgeon Scene” where Pinhead and a Lady cenobite appear in surgical outfits, and walk down a hall after Kristy.