October 3rd -- Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
As an impressionable youth, there were few things I like in life more than a good Stephen King or Clive Barker. King was always my favorite but I simply can't discount the importance of Barker in turning me into the horror-loving freak that I currently am. While King was the pop star, Barker was the hardcore, underground transgressive. His brash mixture of intense splatter, rampant sexuality and old-school, biblical vengeance was a potent platter for a young mind to absorb and absorb him I did. As my interests slowly morphed from the written word to the filmed image, I continued to follow Barker, even though his filmed work has been rather hit or miss. There are two Barker films that will always stand out for me, however: his directorial debut "Hellraiser" and its direct sequel, "Hellbound." Since I just watched "Hellraiser" a few months ago, it was only natural to include the sequel in my Halloween marathon.
"Hellbound" picks up directly where "Hellraiser" left off. Kirsty, the erstwhile heroine of the first movie, has been confined to a mental hospital after the horrific events of the first film: seeing your father, uncle and stepmother literally torn to pieces by demons will definitely do that to you. Kirsty has been plagued by nightmares of her father, suffering in Hell after the events of the first movie. She decides to journey into the abyss to retrieve him. The only problem is that her evil stepmother, Julia, has been resurrected by the insane Dr. Channard, a twisted psychiatrist obsessed with the infamous puzzle-box known as the Lament Configuration. Kirsty must fight them both off as she seeks to uncover the truth behind her visions and, perhaps, put an end to the horror once and for all.
Despite its problems, I've always considered "Hellraiser" to be a near-perfect film. It suffered from some of the cheese factor associated with mid-80s horror films but its vision was so twisted and perfect that I can't help but love it. Julia and Uncle Frank are such wonderful villains and, of course, there are the Cenobites, perhaps my favorite film creatures of all time. Led by the iconic Pinhead, the Cenobites were (and still are) the epitome of evil.
"Hellbound," perhaps due to its status as a sequel, is not the equal of the first movie. It is, however, fully deserving of praise for its own warped reasons. Even though the Cenobites don't appear until mid-way through the film, they're given a much more expanded role in the proceedings, which is, of course, the biggest benefit to the sequel. Cenobites notwithstanding, there is no shortage of great ideas to be found here: the dusty labyrinth that is Hell, the geometric obscenity that is Leviathan, the revelation of the Cenobites initial humanity...this is all great stuff and as a boy, I simply couldn't get enough of it. After re-watching the film as a more jaded man, however, there are definitely some chinks in the armor.
For one thing, the film has a tendency to over-rely on flashback footage from the first film. Now, in a way, this isn't entirely its fault: many '80s horror sequels had a bad tendency to rely on previous footage. At times, however, this has the feeling of padding the film out for no good reason. I'm also less than enamored of the creature that Dr. Channard becomes. As a human, Channard is cold, reptilian and very sinister. As a fledgling Cenobite, however, he's pretty damn silly. Spouting ridiculous one-liners like a bargain-basement Freddy Kreuger ("The doctor...in IN!"...e-fucking-gads!), Ceno-Channard wears out his welcome awfully quick. There's also an over-reliance on rather cheap special effects (another unfortunate habit of mid-late-80s horror films) that tends to cheapen the proceedings.
On the plus side, however, there are a multitude of unforgettable images here: Julia wrapped in bandages like the bride of the Mummy; Kirsty wearing Julia's skin to fool Channard; the transformation of Channard into a Cenobite; that glorious labyrinth and Leviathan...it goes on an on. I also appreciate that this is a direct sequel, similar to "Halloween II": we're not picking up years later, but days later, at the most. This affords a level of continuity that many sequels completely miss out on.
Ultimately, how does "Hellbound" hold up after all these years? Remarkably well, to be honest. Ceno-Channard is completely ridiculous but still has his charms. Kirsty and newcomer Tiffany are plucky, likeable heroines. The re-introduction of Uncle Frank is a nice touch and its good to see Julia get her come-uppance for the second time. I also appreciate the fact that this appeared to be made as a means to end the story. If one discounts the myriad of excreable sequels (and by this I mean composed entirely of feces), "Hellraiser" and "Hellbound" form a pretty nifty self-contained story.
Most importantly, "Hellbound" is a shit-load of fun. This was torture-porn before the word had a meaning (I still feel that the scene where the maggot-obsessed patient mutilates himself with a straight razor takes a colossal dump on anything Eli Roth's ever done), an opera of blood with skinned divas. Perhaps I don't like the film as much as I did as a kid but then, what really holds up from our youth? Time and distance have a way of blunting everything and if "Hellbound" seems like a lesser film nowadays, that has a lot to do with my own jaded worldview. The most important thing to remember is that, back in 1988, "Hellbound" was truly the stuff of nightmares. If it seems less so now, that really has more to say about us as a society than it does about the film itself.
"Trick us again, child, and your suffering will be legendary....even in Hell." Doesn't that still beat the shit of 90% of the pablum passed off as horror nowadays? If you used to be a fan, go ahead and give "Hellbound" another chance. I've been around the block a few times since the late-80s, but that still gets me every time. Just do yourself a favor and skip all of the series that followed: watching a film about Hell and being in Hell are two very different things.