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Picking up where the original left off, it seems Kirsty can't catch a break. Being sent to a psychiatric hospital after having your family ripped apart (literally) by sadomasochists from beyond the grave was bad enough, but having to endure the batsh*t insane psychiatrist Dr. Channard, his curiosity in finding a way to infiltrate hell, and his resurrecting of queen bitch Julia to do it, takes the cake. And guess who else shows up once they're hellbound?
Clive Barker's quite the peculiar guy. The man has a thing for writing, for one, but the ideas he comes up with, in writing and elsewhere, are certainly 'out there'. I didn't know what to think when I first saw HELLRAISER (other than the fact that I will never go near an S&M bar), but it was certainly a departure from the norm. It was quite a trip (even though it was a tad slow and muddled at times), and HELLBOUND continues the trip by giving you more of what you loved from the first film.
One of the great things that's continued from HELLRAISER is the plentiful supply of plasma. Remember when practical effects were king, before this CGI stuff? Oh yeah, it's here, and because this is the unrated cut (yes!), there's even more. Pins hammered into one's skull (take a wild guess), a cut off limb, a schizophrenic patient carving himself up trying to get bugs off his skin, folks getting under other people's skin (literally), slit throats, impalements and more! Granted, some of the effects are so-so in spots (The Engineer chase sticks out), but chalk that up to technological limitations for the time.
Another plus for the film was its set design. Hell (at least in terms of the HR universe) certainly looked hellish, though nothing could compare to the hell that befalls the Channard Institute. Geez, remind me never to go off the deep end.
Acting-wise, everyone's on the ball. Ashley Laurence once again plays the sometimes distraught Kirsty quite well, and never got on my nerves once. Heck, what would you do if Pinhead and company showed up in your room? Imogen Boorman (Tiffany) played the mute thing dead-on, as the vapid look she has up until the time she actually says something was pretty unsettling. Of course, the winner for creepiest performance has to be Kenneth Cranham, who rivals David Gale's Dr. Carl Hill in RE-ANIMATOR as the villain doctor you'd hate to end up with in real life. Claire Higgins once again serves up a devilishly seductive and manipulative Julia, who is more than happy to repay Frank (Sean Chapman) for his backstab from the first film.
You obviously can't forget about Mr. Doug Bradley, who continues to excel in this installment with the perverse character of Pinhead (even though the subsequent sequels had you wishing he'd shut up with his inane banter).
As it goes with these trips from the first film to the second, there were some not-so-great things that came along for the ride. The plot, and the screenplay, weren't exactly up to par. While the pacing is better than the first film, it drags a bit at the start, introducing a throwaway character (William Hope's 'Kyle' character), and has a lot of running through corridors. Granted, when you have one of your main actors from the original (Andrew Robinson aka Larry Cotton) refusing to reprise his role and prompting hasty rewrites, there's your explanation. Another area of contention was when a certain group of characters have a turn of face, they were subsequently offed way too easily. I mean, in the context of things, weren't they already, well, dead? Whatever.
As far as the HELLRAISER series goes, this is probably the only other good film in the series so far, every bit as fun and red as the original, with the added plus of more Cenobite action and more plasma. It's a shame that the series was run into the ground with the subsequent sequels (and who knows what the reboot/re-imagining will bring?). Pinhead and company were a great addition to the horror genre when they ripped onto the scene, and this flick drives that home just like the first one. What's your pleasure?
Video: Being that this is the same disc as the 2001 release (which was pretty solid), the transfer still holds up today. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (forget that bastardized full-frame transfer) looks pretty good for the low budget that director Tony Randel had to work with. There's still a fair amount of grain in some spots (most notably with a couple effects shots), but the colours are strong along with the black levels, and there's next to no edge enhancement.
Audio: Along with the original Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix (which is acceptable for those without surround systems), there's a re-mixed (well, 2001 re-mixed) Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, which sounds superb with all the rumbling when the film takes its dips into Hell. Dialogue is split effectively with no distortion, Christopher Young's score sounds sublime, and ambient noises appearing in the rear channels here and there are nice touches. It's difficult with some soundtracks from the 80's (particularly with the low budget type) to bring out some of the finer points, but Anchor Bay has done a superb job.
For those itching for a commentary with Doug Bradley and/or Clive Barker, you're unfortunately out of luck with this one. Instead, the commentary with Director Tony Randel, actress Ashley Laurence and screenwriter Peter Atkins offers a pretty good alternative. The three share quite a bit of trivia and behind-the-scenes stuff, as well as the occasional humourous story. A fun listen.
The Lost In The Labyrinth Featurette is a 15-minute documentary that covers bits and pieces on the makings of the film, with input from almost all the parties involved. Barker opens and closes the documentary, though I wish I heard more from him (on second thought, from the sounds of things, he wasn't too keen on this or any of the other sequels). Heck, I wish I heard more from everybody. 15 minutes isn't gonna cut it these days. The other annoying thing about this doc was the fact that it's presented in a windowboxed format, meaning the video takes up a square in the centre of your screen, with a black 'frame' all around (the hell?).
Lastly, we get a Still Gallery showing off production and making-of stills (including the infamous 'Surgeon scene'), and the over-the-top theatrical trailer, complete with 'scary voice dude' hamming it up.
As a side note, for those wondering if this is just as good as the Region 2 Hellraiser Collector's Edition box set, it's not. Those who do have a region-free DVD player, the cash and are serious fans of the series should spring for the box set. More commentaries, more documentaries, more trailers, more everything. If you don't have the region-free player and the cash, this is as good as it'll get (until Anchor Bay decides to share the love with the rest of the world).
It's hard not to love HELLBOUND, even though the screenplay is spotty and it's the first and the last of the really good sequels in the series. It's simply a case of more gore, more Pinhead, and more reasons why being a sadomasochist isn't likely to win horror fans over. Even though this DVD has been surpassed by the Region 2 collection in every way, for those of us on the North American side of the pond, it's a fair consolation if this sequel was the only one you enjoyed out of the bunch.