Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988 / director: Tony Randel) So, as we all know, horror was considered a very strong and thriving genre for a long time - until the late 80's, when every single studio decided they wanted a piece of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchise pie. No, this is actually true. Because although Halloween birthed a million and one scummy American and Canadian rip-offs (while Romero's Dawn of the Dead did the same overseas), the genre was still booming with creativity. As the slasher genre was beginning to fester, Carpenter gave us The Fog, Raimi gave us The Evil Dead, Cronenberg gave us Videodrome and The Fly, Romero gave us Creepshow, Cohen gave us Q the Winged Serpent, and 1981 gave us the finest werewolf films the genre had ever seen with The Howling and An American Werewolf in London. This is still to say nothing of the classics to come which would establish the new careers of Stuart Gordon (who will come up again in later paragraphs), Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Brain Damage), Peter Jackson (Bad Taste, Dead Alive), Tom Holland (Fright Night), and a few others. No, the genre wasn't dead in the early 80's. It was just in a slump, dominated by one subgenre that was busy trying to court controversy to drum up revenue and pay those producers, etc. Many of whom didn't give a damn about backlash. Did they have to? The paying public pretty much said: screw what Siskel & Ebert thought. And for awhile, the one constant throughout the years of questionable returns was guilt-free fun with the Jason and Freddy sequels (most of them were bad but nobody was breathing down their necks to be the ones to keep the genre's quality control in check). As for budding franchises: Evil Dead II and Prom Night II weren't great but they did prove there was a little juice left in the can; it wasn't time yet to call time-of-death on horror. Then, the clock struck 12:00 AM on January 1st, 1988, and everything went to hell. Literally. Although the year gave us 2 highly important film releases now regarded cult (or camp- take your pick) classics, Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Brain Damage (both high quality, must-see, and perhaps underrated as highly ambitious pieces of horror), people didn't flock to see those films (they bombed big time). Probably because the big money went into pimping sequels. Critters had nothing to lose when it spawned a sequel that year (because the original film was considerably overrated, including by critics who didn't even see how exceptional Gremlins was), but Nightmare on Elm Street did. Part 4: The Dream Master was disappointing at best (the only thing arguing its' success was mainstream popularity and we all know how reliable that is: *COUGH* Saw *COUGH*). But it was merely Child's Play (a film I was once willing to go out on a limb to defend but not anymore) compared to the one-two punch of Phantasm II and Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Phantasm II is another disaster for another time (as is the traumatically awful Scarecrows, just to show you how much original ideas were suffering that year as well). Hellraiser II may be superior to that trainwreck (I saw it once- please GOD don't make me sit through it again!). Though it certainly makes some of the same fatal mistakes. Namely- flashbacks and a continuation on the same story with a couple new pieces. I don't know about you but I don't want the same story. With sequels, unless there's no story in the first place (Friday the 13th), I want something new with some of the old pieces. Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and Prom Night II delivered this. But they actually had quality new ideas. And that was '87. In '88, it was in-vogue to incur memory loss and change details that were set-in-stone from the year before. To such absurd degrees, they deserve to be met with screaming "WHAT THE FUCK?!"s from anyone horrified that the original film's creator wouldn't condemn a sequel for. For example, at the end of Clive Barker's Hellraiser, the box was gone. And so was Larry and Julia's house. Yes, the thing set alight and on its' way to being burnt to the ground. Not in this film- the entire thing is not only still standing, there isn't anywhere NEAR the amount of damage there should be. And so, now there's an excuse to put Kirsty in an asylum (where she's no longer confused about the ending to the original film, now she's damn convinced she knows exactly what's going on and spews forth silly bullshit about fairy tales, leading to awful, sternly spoken one-liners which you can smell coming from miles away), have something cursed from the old house make its' way onto the stage of our new hell arena (a dungeon of jailcells with cliched screaming crazy mental patients, mostly victims of psychological brain-scrambling, ala- a Re-Animator lobotomy by way of Nazi experimentions performed by poetic madman, Dr. Channard - but as kinda handsome as Kenneth Cranham is, he's no match for David Gale's Dr. Carl Hill on the sinister scale), and more devious games of cat and mouse with the new pieces. Or, should I say- new rules? Because this film really wants to get to that big Labyrinth you probably remember if you crossed paths with this thing on late night USA / Sci-Fi Channel any time in the early 90's while flipping channels. That's almost cool. But for us to get there, this movie speeds up the montage of killings to get Julia her new skin. Then, the movie tosses in some motivation (Kirsty's mission to rescue her father - wherever he is - meanwhile, the evil doctor and Julia are hatching their own plan - whatever that is) to take us into the world of hell the Cenobites live in. The place where all the "sights" are that Pinhead wanted to show Kirsty before- though almost none of them are up to snuff. When we finally get to the Labyrinth, we quickly see what this movie could have been in a sequence where mute female patient Tiffany runs into a section of the maze that looks a lot like a circus. Yes, Hellbound has a lot of great imagery scattered around. And a great deal of it is bundled up in Tiffany's story. Although we never find out anything about that, we do get great shots of her putting together various puzzles, flashbacks into her mother's surreal murder (a recurring image of a Stepford-like woman with lifeless eyes whose mouth is stifled by a black-gloved hand leaving the sound of a final squeak from her throat to echo over a shadowy shot of the girl all alone), and a few creepy clowns who appear in mirrors before they shatter. And that's all we get there. The other thing that keeps this movie from being a total shitfest is an even more delicious turn from Clare Higgins as Kirsty's wicked stepmother. This movie is too ugly to be a fairy tale, but almost every second with Higgins onscreen is a breath of fresh air. Her resurrection via a roomful of corpses hanging from chains (an image that looked a lot better in Nightmare on Elm Street 3) gives the movie opportunity for some wacked Universal-classic moments. Her bloody membraned husk wrapped up in The Mummy bandages until her glorious Bride of Frankenstein unraveling. And her confrontation scene with Kirsty finally makes good on the movie's underscored bitchy tension as Higgins lays some groundwork for the great Sigourney Weaver to later follow (in 1997's Snow White: A Tale of Terror) with the classic: "I'm no longer just the Wicked Stepmother. Now I'm the Evil Queen. So come on- take your best shot, Snow White!" Though thankfully, this sequel does away with ugly orange worms and Kirsty is given a far more attractive doomed love interest (William Hope), there has to be a point in returning to hell. A few improved effects and a story that promises higher stakes then crumbles is not going to do it. The horror genre suffered greatly for stupid stories like these with their painful predictability and sappy, psychologically-challenged attempts at fleshing out characters. Especially since plots with cheap gross-out and filmsy mindfuckery like these (simply extracted from Hellraiser's S&M-lite territory and then freely dropped in the middle of any given occult or ghost themed movie) would be hailed as refreshing change of pace from the latest Leprechaun or Dr. Giggles one-liner fests throughout the better half of the 90's (ironically, while getting a reputation on this site of having the poor taste to claim schlock is high art or something - neither of which I would call Deadly Friend or Jason Takes Manhattan, I merely respected and enjoyed the more schlocky 90's films because they never pretended to be better than they were: *COUGH* In the Mouth of Madness *COUGH*). You'd do much better instead with a double feature of Barker's original paired with Stuart Gordon's goopy near-masterpiece, From Beyond.