In the late 80’s Clive Barker started to become a name in horror literature that was as much of a selling point as Stephen King with his first few works selling amazingly. Barker himself had also been part of a theatre company along with Doug Bradley, who would play Pinhead, and Peter Atkins who wrote Hellraiser II as well as Wishmaster but there was one other person who helped jolt the franchise into further sequels and helped enhance Barker’s directorial debut of Hellraiser and that man was Tony Randal. Randal worked his way up in New World Pictures under Roger Corman as editor and in optical shots eventually making his way to VP of productions where he was sent to Pinewood Studios in England to oversee the original Hellraiser which the producers were not pleased with. Randal immediately understood the potential and actually got the film more funding to help enhance some of the practical FX! Almost immediately while the first film was in post production long time friend of Barker, Peter Atkins was set to write the sequel and eventually Randal asked to helm the film as his first feature. Sequels are always tenuous and in horror they have rules for the way a sequel goes it seems but Hellbound had the love and care of a team that was present during both films and much like Halloween II it had a director who wanted to seamlessly cut the original and his film together only this time he had the benefit of shooting the film’s back to back.
After surviving the hells of her own home which was brought by her uncle whom returned from hell and stepmother, as well as escaping the horrors of the Cenobites she unleashed to stop them, Kirsty awakens in a mental hospital trying to recover. Her boyfriend has been sent away from her after telling the police of the insane story of the Cenobites and the puzzle box that summons them. She is kept there under the care of Dr. Channard whom unbeknownst to her has a fascination with the occult and has studied the history of the puzzle box. Taking over from the police in what he says will help him cure Kirsty and find out what truly happened he has the box and bed in which Julia, Kirsty’s stepmother, died in recovered from the crime scene and brought to his house. There he brings in another severely ill patient that has a fear of bugs crawling on and out of his skin. Setting the man on the bed, Channard gives him a blade and he begins cutting through his skin slicing away the imaginary bugs. As the blood seeps into the bed Julia missing some of her muscle and skin rises out of it grabbing the man and sucking the life out of him. Channard keeps bringing her home victims to feast on until her body is fully grown back to the way it originally looked. Channard has another patient whom sits in her room all day solving puzzles, named Tiffany. He uses her to solve the puzzle box which opens the door way to hell unleashing the Cenobites as Channard enters hell with Julia to become one himself. Kirsty enters hell to save Tiffany, stop Channard and maybe find her father who has been coming to her in her dreams writhing in agony saying he’s stuck in hell. This time though the Cenobites want to keep Kirsty in hell with them, they want to have her flesh as she has already escaped them before.
This sequel has a lot of interesting elements that keep it going both as a sequel and as a stand alone film. The original is more of a haunted house movie focusing mostly on the family drama of Uncle Frank who is accidentally resurrected by the powers of the box and his affair with Kirsty’s stepmother Julia who kill together to fully revive Frank. The Cenobites aren’t really in the film until the end and that’s when they dispense their justice upon Frank. With this film under pre-production when the original first hit theaters it directly affected how the story would go. We all know Hellraiser through the image of Pinhead, but the original intention was to have Clare Higgin’s Julia, who excels in making herself a terrifying persona in the sequel, become the Queen of Hell and be the face of the franchise. However test screenings of the first film showed audience love for Pinhead which amplified the presence of the Cenobites especially Doug Bradley’s Pinhead, even giving him a backstory. The family horror amplified in the vein of wicked stepmother versus Snow White, the villainous presence of the Cenobites amplified and given back stories what was added that makes this film stand out as its own and carries it to cult classic status is its representation of hell. Very few films dabble in the aesthetic of hell before and after this film. Most films that tried after were directly compared to it. Endless stone tunnels dimly lit leading you to rooms that could be your own personal hell with chains hanging commanded by the Cenobites like pets. The highest level of hell is illustrated as a glorious matte painting of the lower maze with a walkway that looks up into the dark blue sky where floats a dagger like shape, the lord of Hell, Leviathan. Imagery of horrors come to Kirsty when trying to find her father in hell as well as barrages of terrible memories and carnal displays set before Dr. Channard himself. Larger, more gore, explain the villain more are demands of a usual horror sequel and this film excels in that but doesn’t make it feel cheap.
The opening sequence of the film showing Doug Bradley as Captain Elliot Spencer discovering the puzzle box is possibly one of the best opening sequence and origins to any horror film. As the box opens on the panels we can see some horrid looking growth and finally chains come out slicing his face up into squares, another begins hitting nails into his head as a hammer comes down hitting them in deeper until he becomes the icon of horror we know and fear. The coolest thing though is the reveal that Cenobites were once human which actually plays heavily into the film as Dr. Channard becomes one in an amazing and gooey gore filled sequence in hell, as well as a way for Kirsty to fight them. There was a lot more to be filmed for Pinhead’s origin but unfortunately the stock market crash of Black Monday hit as funds were being transferred from LA to Pinewood cutting the budget by 20%. Even with that loss the production team which helped Randal and taught him a lot combined to make an amazing looking film, with each set piece and makeup effect unrivaled by even the technologies of today.
There’s so much balance with the story as each character moment directly leads to the overarching narrative. It’s still amazes me how well they tied up story arcs from the first film but still were able to make the film its own. As much as I love Pinhead I think Julia would’ve been an amazing antagonist in continuing films as Higgins evolution to evil is just so perfect here from skinless horrifying moments to her commanding scenes as a normal looking human that terrifies you with her calm and her devilish eyes. There’s just so much to love in this movie and it compliments the original so well that I would say the first two would be the only ones worth watching or even necessary to have been made. Randal went on to have a pretty great career even making one of my favorite cheesy horror films from last years list, Ticks, but nothing will ever compare to the mastery of how effective of a film Hellbound is with its production team on and off the screen that made it hold up to this day.
2 More Days Til’ Halloween! Halloween!
2 More Days Til’ Halloween! Silver Shamrock!