Hellraiser II (Hellbound)
Clive Barker burst on the horror scene in the mid 80ís with his short story anthologies The Books of Blood, his novel The Damnation Game and his novella, The Hellbound Heart. These three things didnít make him a household name but they gained him enough of a following that, in 1986, New World Pictures figured there was a market for a film based on his work. Barker himself wrote and directed the adaptation of The Hellbound Heart, the feature film Hellraiser. While Hellraiser wasnít a critical darling or a box office blockbuster it generated enough of a profit that New World moved quickly to strike while the iron was hot and, a few days before Christmas the following year, Hellbound: Hellraiser II hit theatres. Given this short turnaround time youíd be justified in expecting that Hellbound would be a crass, shameless cash-in devoid of artistry or entertainment valueÖand youíd be utterly and completely wrong. Hellbound represents one of the best horror sequels of the 1980s: itís every bit as good as the original and even improves over its predecessor in several key areas.
Mere hours since the climax of Hellraiser and Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) awakens as a patient a mental institution run by the Dr. Chanard (Ken Cranham). The police try to question her about the events at her fatherís house, but Kirstyís tale is largely incoherent. A sympathetic young doctor, Kyle (William Hope), is moved by Kirstyís story (that fact that sheís hot probably doesnít hurt, either) and provides her a sympathetic ear. Also a guest at the Chanard institute is the mute Tiffany (Imogen Boorman), a girl with a mysterious past and an obsessive need to solve puzzles.
One night, Kirsty receives a grotesque visitation: her father, skinless and writhing in pain, writes a message in blood on her bedroom wall: I AM IN HELL HELP ME. Kirsty relays this vision to Kyle. Her insistence that the mattress Julia died on be destroyed piques Chanardís interest and he arranges to have it delivered to his home. In turn, Kyleís interest is piqued when he overhears Chanard making the delivery arrangements.
Kyle goes to Chanardís home where he finds a collection of artifacts that corroborate Kirstyís story. While Kyleís still snooping, Chanard arrives home. Kyle ducks into the shadows and witnesses a patient of Chanardís, convinced he has maggots crawling on and in his flesh, given a straight razor which he uses to mutilate himself on the mattress where Julia died. It doesnít take much blood flow before Julia emerges from the mattress. Soon Julia has Chanard bringing nubile young women to his house for Julia to feed on. Every time she drinks blood, a bit more of her skin is restored until sheís whole again. In return for resurrecting her, Julia promises to show Chanard all that hell has to offer. Not willing to summon the cenobites themselves, Julia and Chanard hatch a plan. Tiffany is given the box and solves it easily. The cenobites emerge but can see through Chanard and Juliaís ruseÖwhich doesnít really make sense since Kirsty wasnít allowed the excuse of ignorance in the first film. Whatever. The cenobites retreat back into hell, Kirsty and Tiffany take off to explore the labyrinth and find Larry Cotton while Julia takes Chanard to see Leviathan, the lord of hell, who proceeds to make Chanard a very disturbing flavor of cenobite.
Itís not long before all roads intersect: Kirsty and Tiffany are caught in a confrontation between Chanard and Pinheadís crew. A (pretty one-sided) battle ensues in which Pinhead shows a hint of his underlying humanity. When heís defeated, itís up to the girls to defeat Chanard and Julia. The only way to do that will be to solve the puzzle of Leviathan itself.
Sequels, especially horror sequels, get a bad rap and I think itís a rep thatís largely undeserved. I touched on this a bit in my review of Poltergeist II, and Iím going to talk about it a bit more here. Hey, if the anti-remake brigade are allowed to trumpet their views at every turn Iím entitled to spend a couple of paragraphs on my soapbox, as well. Sure, I can rattle off a dozen or so absolutely terrible sequels off the top of my head. I can just as easily name more sequels that are as good as, if not better than, their predecessors. The list grows even longer if we start to count films that, while not as good as the one that spawned them, are still good films in their own right. Surprisingly, given the genresí reputation for cranking out quick cash-ins on popular films, a lot of those good sequels would be horror films.
There are a few reasons for this but paramount among them is that most original horror films are usually produced on a low budget. If theyíre popular enough to spawn a sequel, more money is usually spent on making the follow. This means more money for effects, maybe more time can be spend polishing the script, better actors and technical crafts people. Generally speaking, the more inexpensive the original, the better chance the sequel has of being good.
Picking up immediately where Hellraiser leaves off, Hellbound doesnít have to waste narrative on catching the audience up to speed; after a brief recap before the opening credits youíre plunged right into the continuation of the story. Thereís little to no handholding: itís your job as an audience member to keep up.
I canít deny that Hellbound loses one the creepiest aspect of the original: the necrophilia subtext. It makes a minimum effort to repeat Hellraiserís twisted love story by implying a sexual motivation behind Chanardís resurrection and restoration of Julia. Actually, I think it was a mistake to even hint at it. Chanard and Julia donít have the history that Frank and Julia did in the first, which helped sell the dark love story. Chanardís interests seem to be metaphysical and transcendent; it doesnít really make sense that heíd be interested in fucking Julia. So, Hellbound loses the intimacy of the first film but it gains immeasurably in scope, both narratively and visually.
The world of Hellraiser opens up a bit this time around starting with a prequel that shows us how pinhead came to be, yet really tells us very little. Itís a wise move: adding additional back story is a minefield. Itís much better to hint at a larger story and let the audience fill in the gaps. I liked Hellraiser III but its single biggest weakness is the mid-film exposition dump that over explains Pinheadís origins and imposes arbitrary and nonsensical rules to the universe.
The quick, one year turnaround actually benefitted Hellbound. Using most of the same cast and production crew gives the film a sense of continuity with the original that goes beyond the narrative. This is a big pitfall for a lot of follow ups: the get the feel wrong, that intangible sense you get when you watch a film. With Hellbound, barely a minute of screen time passes and weíre comfortable in the world because it feels so similar to the original. Weíre immediately at ease.
Slasher films dominated the first half of the 1980s audiences soon started to tire of them. Midway through the decade, Wes Craven came along a gave the subgenre a shot in the arm with A Nightmare on Elm Street, which started the mini craze of rubber reality movies: horror films with strong fantasy elements. When the story moves into the netherworld of the cenobites, Hellbound has its big toe in this sub-genre. Whatís kind of astounding is how well the film captures the feel of a nightmare. The girlís descent into Hellís labyrinth is a series of nightmarish vignettes and tableaux that are alternately gruesome and disturbing. In these moments, Hellboundís imagery is every bit as potent as the best moments in the Elm Street series. The film is an impressive accomplishment for then-31-year-old first time director Tony Randel (not the comedian) and was a promise of a great career that, unfortunately, never quite materialized. Still, if I were a director with a film like Hellbound on my vitae, Iíd be nothing less than ecstatically proud.
Hellbound is no mega-budget production so thereís always going to be a fairly low ceiling for it to hit in terms of video quality. Even given that caveat, however, the video on this disc is a disappointment. There are the expected source defects during optical scenes, and a few instances of flaws with the lens. Iím to going to hold that against the disc. What does need to be answered for is the plethora of compression artefacts that start in the opening scene. Mosquito noise, color banding...you name it, itís probably there. These werenít an issue on Anchor Bayís 20th Anniversary Edition DVD, so thereís no reason for them to be on the Blu-ray. The transfer rarely ever cracks 20 Mbps and is often much, much lower than that. Inexcusable in what is essentially a movie-only disc.
The 1.78 framing slightly crops the original 1.85 aspect ratio. This is a pretty common practice and the change in aspect is usually imperceptible. In this instance, the shift in aspect is quite notable - gory highlights like the knife scoring pinheadís forehead in the opening a visibly diminished and, of course, the movieís one breast shot is almost completely cut away.
There is one or two instances where the picture quality is visibly improved over the previous DVD release but, overall, the DVD is a much better and more consistent experience. That this lackluster transfer occasionally rises to the level of serviceable is hardly a point in its favour.
Well, at least itís loud. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is okay, though lacking in discreet surrounds, directional effects and low end. Itís kind of hollow sounding, though never shrill. Hellboundís audio presentation here just feels so lifeless Ė thereís no sense of atmosphere or ambiance. Again, its few good points are outweighed by the negatives and the fact that it suffers in comparison to the DVD really says all that needs to be said.
The final insult on top of the mediocre presentation is the sole feature, a Theatrical Trailer (1:25). It looks like complete and utter shit and no wonder: not only is it presented in standard definition full screen, but the control track flaws over the title card reveals that it was sourced from a VHS (and given the quality, likely not even a VHS master).
Also included as Easter eggs are the trailer for the original Hellraiser, and Wes Cravenís The Hills Have Eyes, two other titles that Image released in the same wave of titles as Hellbound.
Horror films that have underpinnings of fantasy especially stand to benefit the most from the increased production values afforded to sequels. Watch A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and tell me that it doesnít more fully realize its concept than the original film did. So too, does Hellbound benefit from being a sequel. There is a bit of horse trading involved and some of Hellboundís improvements come at a cost, it doesnít have the same element of family tragedy to it that the original does, but in the final analysis it is a sequel every bit as entertaining and worthwhile as its predecessor and it, as well as its fans, deserve a Blu-ray presentation that does it justice. This is not that disc. Stick with your 20th Anniversary Anchor Bay DVDs. Watching such a great movie given such shoddy treatment will tear your soul apart.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Nice review. My only caveat is that I would much rather see a review for Mountaintop Motel Massacre(the original Anchor Bay disc went unwritten about here), than another in a long line already written for the Hellraiser series. I know I'm in the minority on this; horror fans have got to keep up to date on Hellraiser/Evil Dead/Dawn Of The Dead re-releases! ;) All movies I love BTW.
I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to older, lower budget horror films on Blu-Ray, but this looks really underwhelming. There's nothing actually wrong with it (points for not mucking around with the source), but there's nothing remarkable either. Not one aspect that I look for that "pops" on Blu is present in any of those shots. Even the grain looks flat.
And the bad thing is the German and Japanese Blu-rays have the same troublesome transfer.
I'm really disappointed at the DTS-HD audio in this one. Most of it it's only in the center channel and the LFE is very dull. I was hoping the score, which I love, would sound awesome as it deserves to sound on blu, but it just doesn't make it justice. Crappy blu for a great movie, it deserved better.
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