Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Review #0036

The Hellraiser series' fall from grace happens a scant year after the original, with this five-story drop of a sequel. Uncredited editor Tony Randel is now at the helm, and he does try his darndest to put into images the undescribably awful scenario he has to work with.

Chronologically, Hellbound starts a few hours after the original. But logically, it takes place in a completely different universe. When Kirsty wakes up from the terrible nightmare that has ravaged her family, she is in a mental institution. But not any institution: the Channard Institute, led by Dr. Philip Channard, a creepy brain surgeon obsessed by the idea of visiting Hell. Using a blood-stained mattress from the house on Ludovico street (which I could swear had burned to a crisp at the end of Hellraiser), he resurrects Julia, Kirsty's evil stepmother, to act as guide. Simultaneously, Kirsty receives a message from what appears to be her dead, skinless father saying he wants out of Hell. Needless to say that Channard, Julia and Kirsty are all Hellbound. Thanks to a mute, puzzle-solving girl, the Box somehow allows them passage, and a tedious explorative journey ensues.

What's worse is not the fact that Hellbound systematically contradicts everything we learned from Hellraiser, or that the script is made almost entirely of cheesy one-liners and tacked-on background bits. What's worse is its depiction of Hell as a dusty, old labyrinth where nothing happens, and its master as a rotating, hovering prism that does nothing but serve as a convenient plot device near the end. Ouff... Even the abysmal Thaï remake of Jigoku (Narok, the worst film I saw at the 2006 Fantasia Film Fest) had more enticing imagery! Clearly, the makers of this film have privileged the Haunted House approach to filmmaking. In other words, they have made the lazy decision of using Hell as a way to show horrific images out of context and out of sequence. Thus, we get moaning specters on sliding beds, bleeding photographs, slow-motion sex parties, clowns juggling with eyeballs, skin-ripping winds, and all sorts of scare devices conveniently warranted by "Hell logic". We even get to see uncle Frank pop up, try to convince Kirsty to become his sex slave by threatening her with a switchblade, then spontaneously combust while Pinhead makes a voice-over comment. Yet, the most ridiculous contraption in the film is certainly the Cenobite-making machine. You read that correctly: Cenobites are created industrially by that mesmerizing rotating prism, Leviathan. Why there aren't more of them or why they fight each other will forever remain a mystery. But what's annoying here are not the huge plot holes or the highly dubious causes à effets, but the denaturation of all the intriguing concepts from Hellraiser. No longer are the Cenobites "explorers in the further regions of experience", they're just a bunch of brainwashed, anti-frost-blooded freaks with silly backgrounds. The question of choice has eloped and with it the heart and soul of Barker's original novella. Fortunately, Julia and lovely Kirsty are back for a rematch that takes center stage while paper-thin supporting characters flail for attention in the waivers.

On the plus side, the first half of the film is genuinely engrossing as we witness the nasty ressurection of Julia and anxiously await departure to Hell. Once there, everything falls apart. Our Milton and Bosch-fed imaginations are offered scraps of dusty Antique mythology while cryptic metaphors about labyrinths echo in the hollow corridors around us. The whole film is a failed opportunity. Just as the Channard Cenobite, whose flawless design (complete with scar-sewn face, metamorphic tentacles, and penis-shaped head appendix) fails to compensate for its overall flatness. Because you see, the Cenobite-making machine has one nasty side-effect: it limits your dialogue output to one line or less at a time. So you can expect a lot of Dr. Giggles type wisecracks, but not much in the way of closure or excitement since "Hell logic" apparently doesn't allow it. Even the all-out Cenobite brawl and the three-way final duel are too short and ridiculously resolved. In the end, Hellbound is but a jumbled portfolio of horror-themed art tacked together for a rushed release.

2/5 The grotesquely horrific content of the film is equalled only by the horrific scenario.