10/20/09

Halloween Top 13: The Sequel #12: Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Leaving behind the nostalgic thrills of #13, I want to turn my attention to something a bit more horrific. Today’s flick is also the first on the list to be a follow up to a film that was on last years Top13, and when I say follow up I’m not kidding. Hellbound: Hellraiser II kicks off by recapping the last few minutes of Hellraiser in digest form. This gives me a great opportunity to talk about what makes a great sequel. While some, like House II, don’t need to have to have any connection to their predecessor, the most successful second or third helpings build on the foundation set down by the previous film and satisfy the audience by giving them more of what they want.

In the case of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, what the masses wanted was more of Doug Bradley as Pinhead, and not only did we get it, we also got to delve a bit further into the roots of the character. I’m getting ahead of myself though. As the film opens, Kirsty regains consciousness to find that she’s been taken to a mental institution and is under the care of Dr. Channard. The Doctor and his assistant Kyle don’t believe her wild stories about demons from Hell that killed her family, but secretly Channard is obsessed with the Box from the first film and resurrects Julia from a bloody mattress to help him. The Doctor also enlists aid from a troubled little girl who is a genius at solving puzzles. He gets the Box into her hands, and she solves it, unleashing the Cenobites once again. Kyle witnesses what the Doctor is doing, and helps Kristy escape the institution. They travel to Channard’s house where Kirsty travels through a portal into the depths of Hell in a desperate attempt to save her father. Channard, who has been double crossed by Julia, has been turned into a Cenobite, and he has other plans for Kirsty. Her last hope rests in the hands of Pinhead and his coterie of deformed demons.

If that synopsis doesn’t make a ton of sense, I apologize. This film derives so much from the previous film including a reappearance of Julia, Frank, and the Box that it nearly would require a complete explanation of Hellraiser mythos to thoroughly describe the film. While that is one reason I really like the picture, it is also one of its major drawbacks. This is not one of those sequels that the uninitiated could pick up and run with. The recap at the beginning picks up the momentum of the first film, but it doesn’t try to explain what was going on. It expects that you know already. The films that follow this one, although the quality progressively gets worse, follow the same formula. I’ve purposely avoided bringing ideas like the Lament Configuration into this review. As a fan of the series, even the bad ones, I could expound on the Box, it’s creator, and whether it was a gateway to Christian Hell or some other concept for quite some time, but we’re here to talk about Hellbound and I’m going to keep it at that.

When looking at this film, the main difference between the first and second film is the amount of screen time given to Pinhead and the Cenobites. The first film was more about Frank, Julia, Kristy, and Larry, for all intensive purposes, the family. This time Kristy does run into Julia and Frank (Andrew Robinson declined to reprise his role as Larry, and frankly, I didn’t miss him. Something about that guy irks me.), but their roles are more passing in nature. From the very beginning of the film where we see the creation of the Cenobite called Pinhead, Hellbound shifts part of its center from the denizens of Earth to that of Hell. In this film we see the creation of two Cenobites, Pinhead and the Channard-bite, and this connection, that these are not just demons spawned from the bowels of the netherworld, but people is and integral part of the themes of Hellraiser.

Butterball, the Lady Cenobite, and Chatter all have their moments in Hellbound. Especially the Lady Cenobite with her line to Kirsty, “‘Didn’t open the box.’ And what was it last time, ‘Didn't know what the box was?’ And yet, we do keep finding each other, don't we?” Yet the film belongs, as the franchise does, to Pinhead. Doug Bradley’s iconic performance as the well spoken monster is truly one of the best. Bradley had a clear vision of who Pinhead was, both before and after his transformation. He spoke about it some years ago in the pages of Fangoria. "[Pinhead] was an English army officer in an unspecified place and time, though roughly in the Far East in the late 20's or early 30's. He was a very pucker Englishman, a public school type who went straight into the army. He felt terribly out of place and unfulfilled because he was only there through family tradition. So from his sterile viewpoint, what he hears of the Lament box is very appealing. I see him alone in his Nissan hut trying to solve the puzzle - which he obviously does, and is transformed into Pinhead. I don't see him as the first Cenobite. Of the four we know about, he is the leader, but the Cenobites have been around for centuries. To me, Pinhead is the chief Cenobite of the 20th Century." Bradley truly captures all of this in his performance, and because of that, future films would turn their attention more and more to the character.

It would be 14 more years before Ashley Laurence returned to the role of Kirsty Cotton in Hellraiser: Hellseeker, but this second turn as Kirsty takes the character from the unsure, and slightly whiny, girl from the first film to being a competent and fearless opposition to the Cenobites. Now granted she does manage to get Pinhead & Co. into quite a mess, but it’s not like it does her any good in the long run. I quite enjoyed her performance this time out as I felt she was one of the weaker characters in the first film. Also returning in this flick were Claire Higgins as Julia and Sean Chapman as Frank. Frank has very little screen time, but as usual, he manages to sleaze up his part of the film quite nicely. I don’t think I’ve seen Chapman in anything else, but if I did, I’m not sure if I could accept him as anything other than a slime ball. From a slime ball, I turn to a mammoth bitch. Claire Higgins’ Julia is even worse of a person than in the first film, but I guess that’s what having your skin popped off will do for you. I enjoyed her performance, and my only gripe had to be that her resurrection scene is not nearly as memorable as Frank’s in the first film.

The other great performance in the film comes from Kenneth Cranham as Dr. Channard. His character’s name was derived from Christiaan Bernard, the first doctor to perform a heart transplant. That’s kind of ironic for a character whose motivations and actions could be characterized as heartless at best. For his part Cranham has said that "I had so much glue and rubber on me it was unbelievable, but you get used to it eventually, and the flying wasn't so bad - just so long as I didn't look down! I thought I would overact as a Cenobite, but I didn't.” This is quite true. I’m sure once all those prosthetics go on there is an inclination to go over the top with it, but Cranham reigns in this impulse and his performance delivers most of the terror in the picture.

Before I sign off I have to tip my hat to the writer and the director of Hellbound. Tony Randel had served as editor on Hellraiser, and when Clive Barker, who had helmed the first film, proved to be unavailable for the sequel, Randel was the hand picked successor. He did an excellent job not only guiding the story, but in keeping the same cinematic tone from the first picture to the second. This was a real boon in making the film feel like a continuation of the story and not a separate entity. The screenplay by Peter Atkins also has to be commended. Atkins crafted an excellent continuation with little to go on. In his own words, "Clive provided me with a very thorough outline of the story, who was in it - and whether they were dead or not! I proceeded from there." As a first time screenwriter, Atkins admitted that, “I had no idea what scripts looked like, but I knew the rhythm of movies, and two and a half weeks later I had a first draft.” Having a connection with both Barker and Bradley when he was a member of The Dog Company, a 1970’s avant-garde theater company in London, surely made the task at hand easier, but the nuances of the script are quite impressive for a first time screen scribe.

Peter Atkins also noted in an interview with Kerrang magazine that, "Hellraiser was an examination of the fulfillment of hedonistic dreams and nightmares. Hellbound is perhaps a little more. It's not only concerned with the desire for possession, it's also to do with the desire for power. Maybe, you see, they're the same thing." This expansion of the themes of the series couples with cinematic tone, good performances, and a killer script are what make Hellbound one of my favorite sequels. The only reason it comes in this low on the list is that it’s sort of a difficult film to follow, and it often requires a little creative thinking on the audience’s part to connect the dots. If you’re a fan of Hellraiser, and somehow you’ve neglected to see this film, I highly recommend you watch it. If you’ve never seen the series, then this is not the place to start. Go back to the beginning so you can get set up for one of the better second helpings of around.

Bugg Rating

Since this is the second movie on the countdown, I thought I would include two lists today. The first comes from one of my readers, James Feola of Brooklyn, NY. Let's see what James has to say:

As I started to think about sequels, only a couple popped in there, like Halloween II (1981), with it's ultra creepy synthesized version of my favorite piece of music in any movie, or, The Bride of Frankenstein, with the magnificent, although brief performance by Elsa Lanchester as the monster's mate. "WE BELONG DEAD!!!"
I then gravitated towards Friday the 13th, especially part 4 and 6 and next of course, to Zombies. So many to choose from! There's Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and from my Italian brother Lucio Fulci, Zombi 2.

Though in the end, I gotta say, the #1 sequel that has had the most profound and lasting effect on me is the horror comedy Return of the Living Dead Part 2. It's missing Trash, Burt and Ernie, and the Tarman is a total knock-off, but it still has our favorite Uneeda Medical Supply employees turned grave-robbing duo, Joey and Ed, (Freddy and Frank in part 1), played again by Thom Matthews and James Karen. Also, the main kid was about my age when it hit the video rental shelves so, you know, I related. The slapstick is laid on thick and that's what makes it so fun. The zombie M.J. at the end? Genius. And how can anyone possibly top "GET THAT DAMNED SCREWDRIVER OUT OF MY HEAD!"

Great choices there James, I haven't seen Return of the Living Dead 2 in a lot of years. I might need to go check that one out soon. Who knows? Maybe I'll still be in a sequel mood next month. One person who wasn't in the mood for sequels was Fitz from Nevermind Popular Film. His list only features his favorite horror films with not a sequel among them. I still decided to include it anyhow.

1) The Shining - The essential King novel turned into the most horrifying film of all-time.

2) Blair Witch Project - What you don't see if infinitely more horrorifying than what you do.

3) The Mist - An excellent film that allows you to ponder the depths of inhumanity, the evils of religion

4) Alien - The original and the best.

5) The Orphanage - The most impressive foreign horror I've seen.

6) 28 Days Later - Zombie genre revolutionized

Thanks for the list Fitz. Another Blair Witch fan. I just don't get it, but to each his own. Big thanks to both of you guys for taking part in the countdown and I'll be back tomorrow with another Halloween classic and more of lists from you folks out there!

11 comments:

  1. I always liked watching the first two movies together. This one actually helped me appreciate the first one more. I wasn't really sure I liked Hellraiser the first time I saw it. Great review.

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  2. I have always loved Hellraiser, and part 2 is the perfect accompaniment to the first film. Great read!

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  3. Thanks for the comments folks. I had forgot how much I liked this film until I re-watched it.

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  4. Never have seen Hellraiser films, you guys gave me something to do between midterms. Thanks!

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  5. You should check them out Fitz. The first 3 at least are worth watching. Also thanks for becoming my 100th follower!

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  6. I can't believe I forgot about Return of the Living Dead?!

    Love Heallraiser II and it's nice to read a great review of it. And while it's not nearly as good as the first two films, I actually have always enjoyed Hell on earth too...the only thing I actually didn't like about that sequel was the new Cenobites that were in it. CD man?! Really?!

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  7. He's loaded with Celine Dion's greatest hits, Matt, seriously scary stuff.

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  8. Channard > all. I was so stoked when they (NECA) released the deluxe action figure of him to go along with the other Cenobites. I'm'a have to bust those outta storage, one day soon...

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  9. Love this film and definitely a worthy sequel to the original. If I'm not mistaken, I believe Trent Reznor took the message scrawled on the wall in the first still in your post and used it as a song title for a track off of his THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL album.

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  10. Great review! I passed on Hellraiser 2 back in the day, although I'd loved the original. But when I finally saw it--well, in the words of Dr. Channard, "And to think I hesitated!" (I actually met Pete Atkins at a horror convention & told him how much I loved that line.)

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  11. Man o man, what a great review. I go back and watch this one every couple years. I especially love how evil Julia is!

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