Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #609
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: December 23, 1988
Sub-Genre: Body Horror
Country of Origin: United Kingdom, United States
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Tony Randel
Producers: Christopher Figg, David Barron
Screenplay: Peter Atkins
Story: Clive Barker
Special Effects: Graham Longhurst
Cinematography: Robin Vidgeon
Score: Christopher Young
Editing: Richard Marden, Tony Randel (uncredited)
Studios: Film Futures, Troopstar
Distributor: New World Pictures
Stars: Ashley Laurence, Clare Higgins, Kenneth Cranham, Imogen Boorman, Doug Bradley, Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Barbie Wilde, Sean Chapman, Oliver Smith, William Hope, Deborah Joel, Angus McInnes, Catherine Chevalier, Kevin Cole
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Motörhead “Hellraiser”
 Christopher Young “Hellbound: Hellraiser II”
I’ve watched many franchises flounder over my years as a horror aficionado. Indeed, very few have managed to uphold any real level of credibility by around the fifth entry and some have fallen from grace long before even that point. Two such guilty parties would be The Howling and Children of The Corn, neither of which could muster a solitary worthwhile sequel and have instead been consistently risible. Another that is often accused of being wasteful is the Hellraiser series, based on the novella The Hellbound Heart by legendary English author Clive Barker. While admittedly the decline in quality has been progressive, culminating in Víctor García’s wretched Hellraiser: Revelations only being made so that Dimension could hang onto the rights, I happen to be of the opinion that a number of the films have had at least some merit. Nevertheless, you can pretty much chart the steady decline from around the time that Anthony Hickox delivered us the third.
Tony Randel’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II, on the other hand, is something of a rarity in that it very nearly manages the impossible feat of matching up to its predecessor. Indeed, the word that springs instantly to mind is respectful and, with Barker returning as executive producer, it was clear that he still had plenty to say about the shape it eventually took. Randel had already worked on the original, so had a fair idea where to pitch it and has since stated that the tone of the movie reflected his own mindset around the time that he took his seat behind the lens. The result is a follow-up that, in keeping with the very best sequels, plays out more like a natural progression than anything else and even reintroduces many of the key players.
Ashley Laurence, Clare Higgins, and Sean Chapman reprised their roles, not to mention the Cenobites themselves in what would be the last time the entire quartet would do so before fresh upgrades took their place. Meanwhile, Peter Atkins took over screenwriting duties and paid more than just token reverence to its origins, and one could be mistaken for thinking that Barker himself has picked the reins back up, such is the similarity in both style and substance second time around. One thing is for damn certain, if you’re looking to point the finger at where it all started to go awry, better not be prodding it this way, as Hellbound: Hellraiser II provides of the worthiest continuations modern-day horror can ever hope to boast.
Picking up almost precisely where we left off, hapless heroine Kirsty Cotton (Laurence) has been donated her very own pair of carpet slippers with a nuthouse insignia emblazoned across them, and is still very much troubled by the atrocities she witnessed to say the very least. With gory vision after gory vision looping her subconscious and the deeply dubious Doctor Channard (Kenneth Cranham) prescribing the meds, things ain’t looking that crash hot for Kirsty and they’re about to get a darned sight worse as the doctor has his own devilish designs on the Lament Configuration and how could you not with this kind of poster boy leading the ad campaign?
I know right? I’d love to know where he gets his deep cleansing lotion too. Anyhoots, Kirsty is convinced that the mattress her mother Julia (Higgins) died on needs to be destroyed before its evil can be unleashed again and, while Channard rubs his hands together excitedly, his assistant, Kyle (William Hope) is more inclined to stroke his chin and fear for the future of all humanity. Indeed a little moonlighting detective work reveals that Channard has already prepared himself a sacrificial lamb and used it to revive Julia from her perpetual torment. Needless to say she has seen better days although, to her credit, she still knows how to work a room, regardless of the fact that she could evidently do with a little “fleshing out”.
During her time in the institution, Kirsty has befriended a young girl named Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) who makes up for what she lacks in social skills with an ability to solve the puzzle box when left to her own devices, making her the ideal plaything for Channard and Julia as they bid to reopen the gates of hell and release the usual suspects. Just like the original, Hellbound: Hellraiser II takes its time setting up the dominos and this is a shrewd decision as it could have been in danger of overplaying its hand and manages to keep things suspenseful before opting for the grand entrance we’ve all been anticipating. Barker had actually developed elaborate back-stories for each of the Cenobites for the sequel but financial constraints meant the project had to be stripped back considerably and it’s great credit to Randel that it doesn’t suffer markedly from the omission.
As for how it stands up against the original, well it’s certainly not in danger of being labelled safe and the only real negative is that it never feels quite as intimate an affair as the first film. That said, it doesn’t skimp on the grotesque imagery and there is plenty on offer here to leave a stain in more ways than one. Ultimately it does precisely what a sequel should and, most critically, feels much more like an extension than digression. Once again, Laurence proves the ideal foil for the king of pain with Kirsty far more proactive here than the first film, and is assisted no end by the less vocal but equally impressive Boorman as her muted young protégé. Doug Bradley is in fine form as the irrepressible Pinhead and leads the line as brilliantly as ever. Meanwhile, Cranham is equally magnanimous once he makes the transition to full-on hell raiser and hovers from his phallic umbilical with great menace and purpose, and Higgins damn near steals the show as the skinless wicked stepmother who seduces him into doing her vile work for her.
It is notable that Barker was still very much on board at this point as his presence can be felt throughout and it wasn’t until Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth moved the goalposts four years later that the series started losing direction. It’s not perfect by a long shot; some of the dialogue feels a little clunky at times and it adopts a somewhat cold and forensic approach to its violence that makes it harder to warm to on the whole, with characters portrayed as either good or evil and only present to either prosper of suffer greatly. But Hellbound: Hellraiser II still signifies something of a minor success for the series and that’s more than many franchises can boast. It may not quite “tear your soul apart” when all is said and done, but it also doesn’t shred the rule book and that, in itself, is downright commendable.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Randel manages quite the feat by making his sequel even more repugnant than the original and ups the ante with regards to grue and lasting imagery. The mattress is almost a character on its own and many of the most grisly sights on display play out on its horizontal plane. Then there’s Higgins who boasts a considerable amount of sex appeal (much like impossibly sexy M.I.L.F. Bernice Stegers from Xtro, we’re never quite sure why we find her so enticing) although she does her level best to turn us off by shameless flaunting her assets minus the epidermis. Top or bottom doesn’t come into it; this is one knee-tremble too far in my book.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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