Based on Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart and made on a relatively small budget, Hellraiser surprised enough at the box office to earn an immediate sequel. Its follow-up, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, performed a little below its predecessor at the box office. In addition, critics were less impressed with the results this time around. Not surprisingly, critical reception didn’t stop the Hellraiser franchise from rolling out direct-to-video sequels for the next 30 years. More importantly, Hellbound: Hellraiser II very much deserves some critical re-consideration. In fact, there’s a very good argument to be made that the first sequel, Hellbound, may be the series’ best entry.
After surviving her encounter with the Cenobites, Kirsty Cotton wakes up in a psychiatric hospital where police and staff dismiss her stories. But Kirsty hasn’t escaped the Cenobites yet. The head psychiatrist of the facility, Dr. Channard, has a lifelong obsession with the occult. When his unethical experiments with other patients unlock the Lament Configuration, Kirsty finds herself in the labyrinths of Hell where the Cenobites and Julia – her dead stepmother – are waiting for her.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II a Visually Stunning Descent Into Hell
Watching Hellbound: Hellraiser II for the first time, two things are immediately apparent. First, Peter Atkins’ screenplay in its entirety didn’t make it to the screen. Choppy storytelling and outright gaps in logic abound in the sequel. Instead of focusing on Kirsty’s journey to find her father in Hell, Hellbound dovetails into underdeveloped origins for its Cenobites. The sequel also offers no insight into potentially the most interesting new character, Dr. Channard. Why does the Lament Configuration turn Channard into a Cenobite? And why is Channard opposed to Pinhead and his Cenobites? Don’t expect Hellbound: Hellraiser II to offer any answers. Maybe the studio was too enthusiastic in the editing process. Regardless the result is a surreal viewing experience.
…Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a far more visually elaborate effort than its predecessor.
Besides the sequel actually benefits from its ambiguous narrative. What else is immediately apparent is that Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a far more visually elaborate effort than its predecessor. Director Tony Randell’s vision of Hell as a dark labyrinth impresses particularly when one considers what’s still a limited budget. And yes, the special effects are dated – they overextended their budget in the 80s. Nonetheless, Hellbound is a boldly dark vision with more than enough carnage for fans. Whether it’s Channard’s morbid experiments or Julia’s bloody resurrection, Hellbound isn’t lacking for creativity. Not everything makes sense but it look good.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II Shifts Focus to the Right Characters
Though Hellbound: Hellraiser II introduces new characters and teases an old one the sequel puts most of its attention on the right ones. Peter Atkin’s screenplay dangles the return of Kirsty’s father – the original movie’s least interesting character – it instead focuses on Kirsty and her resurrected stepmother, Julia. As an ‘unofficial’ Final Girl, Ashley Laurence’s ‘Kirsty’ was one of the better characters from the first movie. Both strong-willed and resourceful, she made for an interesting foil to the Cenobites. Moreover, her ongoing conflict with Julia gives the sequel some narrative heft. And Claire Higgins’ ‘Julia’ was always the more compelling villain as compared to the relatively dull, ‘Frank’. In Hellbound, Higgins has full license to hit the ground running and chew the scenery with her wonderfully wicked character.
…the sequel probably overextends itself by shoehorning in a lose origin story.
Given the popularity of the characters, it’s not surprising that the Cenobites pop up a little more frequently in the sequel. There’s still not much screen time available for Pinhead et al, which is best for the sequel. Less is usually more when it comes to monsters. Much of the logic in the Hellraiser movies is convoluted at best, so the sequel probably overextends itself by shoehorning in a loose origin story. Yet Hellbound: Hellraiser II offers us a brief glimpse into Pinhead’s origins and humanity anyways. Not surprisingly, it’s an underdeveloped story thread. On the plus side, it at least offers some rationale for why the Cenobites come to blows with Kenneth Cranham’s ‘Dr. Channard’. Like the Cenobites, Channard – who is a fascinating villain – doesn’t get much face time. Fortunately, Cranham crafts a memorable character with the time the sequel gives him.
Hellbound Hellraiser II an Idiosyncratic Sequel That’s All the Better for Its Eccentricities
Yes, Hellbound Hellraiser II is a messy movie marked by choppy storytelling. A lot of the movie makes no sense. But it’s also these same narrative lapses that add to the movie’s surreal atmosphere. As such, Hellbound works much in the same way as other past classic horror movies like Carnival of Souls or Phantasm. It’s a captivating sequel in part due to some of these idiosyncratic features. With an expanded and visually stunning world and more of Pinhead and the Cenobites, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is the rare case of a sequel surpassing the original.