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The Test of Time: Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

DIRECTED BY TONY RANDEL

STARRING DOUG BRADLEY, ASHLEY LAURENCE, KENNETH CRANHAM, IMOGEN BOORMAN, SEAN CHAPMAN

I’ll be real with y’all, one of the most f*cked up and seminally scarring moments of my youth came at eight or nine years old, when in the throes of a sweaty nightmare, I jolted myself awake in the living room. Thinking I found relief, when I looked up at the TV screen and laid eyes on what played on HBO at around 2AM, an even more hellish bombardment of insidiously gruesome imagery flooded my eyeballs. I had no idea what exactly I was looking at, until many years later, when I discovered the title of the movie in question. That’s right y’all, I literally once woke up from a nightmare as a kid to find HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II awaiting me. If you can’t tell, I still haven’t recovered!

And believe it or not, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II is set to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its U.S. theatrical release on December 23rd. Indeed, one of the most debasing, degenerative, and downright disturbing horror films I’ve ever had the displeasure of witnessing has reached its third decade. Question is, do those descriptors still aptly apply? We know Pinhead has become a vile and venerable mid-tier horror villain over that span, but what about the movie as a whole? Does it still shake, shock and shiver viewers in the same vein it did way back in ’88? Has it lost its bloody luster? Has it actually appreciated in value? We shall dig up some answers below when HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II Pinhead to head with The Test of Time!

THE STORY: Yeah, we’ll do our absolute best to untangle this convolutedly knotty thread. Scripted by Peter Atkins (HELLRAISER III, WISHMASTER 1-4) from a story conceived by titular mastermind Clive Barker, the story of HELLBOUND more or less resumes where the first installment left off. That is, we flash back to see Elliot Spencer pass through the Lament Configuration and gorily transmute into Pinhead (a larger back story for this was scripted by cut at the last minute due to budget cuts, a story line that was resumed in HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH). Kristy Cotton (Ashley Laurence) is admitted to a mental institution following the events of the first film, where she is treated by the duplicitous Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham). Kristy implores the doc to destroy the mattress her mother Julia brutally died on, but only the doc’s assistant McRae (William Hope) believes her. Turns out Channard has been secretly looking for the Lament Configuration for years, and after listening to Kristy, orders the mattress to be moved into his own home. With a spate of gorily tortured patients hanging from meat hooks in his steamy hellish cellar, Channard begins using the mattress to contact the other side. Along the way he resurrects Kristy’s mother Julia (Clare Higgins), who is out for her own wicked brand vengeance, and also becomes a sinister Cenobite himself. As Julia sickeningly seduces Channard, he enlists more patients for her to foully feed upon.

Meanwhile, intent on saving her father from the bowels of hell, Kristy turns to Tiffany (Imogen Boorman), a young patient with a penchant for puzzles. When Tiff proves able to unlock the puzzle box and access the Cenobite dimension, Channard’s crusty ass kidnaps the girl with plans to usurp her powers. The two gals are sucked into the nightmarish labyrinth of steaming pipes, dangling chains, and unimaginable sadomasochistic torture devices. While inside the Cenobite domain, Kristy happens upon Uncle Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) consigned to hell and watches Julia savagely slaughter him in front of her eyes. In the end, Channing fells Pinhead (Doug Bradley), who reverts back to Spencer, and Kristy tricks Channard to allow Tiffany to solve the Lament Configuration. Thinking they’ve defeated evil, Pinhead and his murderous minions appear in the bloody mattress one last time before a medical orderly. Cue HELL ON mother*cking EARTH!

WHAT HOLDS-UP: What holds up more than anything else in HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II is purely visually, surely visceral. No doubt about it, HELLBOUND is, was, and will forever be one of the most unapologetic blitzes of graphic grotesquery ever recorded on celluloid. The sheer amount of explicit carnage, horrific imagery, nasty sadomasochism and profuse cornucopian gore cannot be rivaled by very many films, if any at all. We’ll put a pin(head) in it and get into specific stints in a second, but mention must also be made of the malefic milieus and sordid set-pieces (the labyrinth, arcade, foggy catacombs, the Cenobite lair, etc.) Barker conjured up and first time director Tony Randel realized. Shite’s sheer and utter insanity!

Let’s first slice into the frightful sights, shall we?! First off, the evil environment of the Cenobites is hideously harrowing. Between the grue-sodden mattress that plays a key role, through the sweltering steam-punk lair with eviscerated bodies swinging around on chains, to the dripping pipes and hellishly industrial aesthetic, Randel places us into a certain dankness and darkness that instantly makes one feel coldly uncomfortable. It only gets worse from there, as we’re soon marauded with a menacing glimpse of Elliot morphing into Pinhead, the epidermal evisceration of which is as eerie as it comes. The opening mattress self-mutilation is both a show-stopper and a tone-setter at once, adumbrating what abject evil lies ahead. Next we see as iconic a shot the entire franchise has ever boasted, that of Kristy’s father’s skinless façade pleading from the gruesome mattress: “I am in hell. Help me!”

Honestly, from here you could freeze-frame the movie at any point and become haunted by the starkly unnerving imagery. I for one am always revolted by the scene in which Julia, swaddled in medical bandages as blood seeps through underneath, begins seducing and making out with Channard. Before that, she literally sucks face with McRae to the sound of flies buzzing in her mouth, the putrid rot of the FX work inducing near vomit in any witness. These images were creepy as hell back in 1988 and have lost very little of its terrifying sheen in the past 30 years. I personally always get a kick out the tracking shot through Channard’s lair, where viciously skinned corpses are hung out to dry like human jerky. The concomitant thunder and lightning adds to the nightmarish nature of the scene.

It never ends. Shite's a relentless cavalcade of abject evil! How about the scene where Julia rips out a heart, Mola Ram style? No f*cking bueno! Or how about the f*cked up finale in which Pinhead gets his pretty little dome brutally yanked off its spine column until a geyser of grue explodes in every direction? Too damn good! The reason why these sequences hold up so well now is because of the aplomb of key makeup artist Aileen Seaton (NIGHTBREED, THE MUMMY) and her team, as well as the impressive VFX display helmed by chief technician Steve Cullane (LIFEFORCE, THE MUMMY RETURNS). The practical, in camera FX work is beyond reproach in HELLBOUND, as its tactile and tangible qualities immunize the movie from betraying its age. The tech on the other hand? Shoot...

WHAT BLOWS NOW: What was probably forgivable at the time, as it came from the infallible mind of budding horror scribe Clive Baker, let’s be real, the story of HELLBOUND is a maddeningly incoherent jumble. Granted, part of the appeal is the anarchic chaos and ungraspable definition of what we’re experiencing (and the imagery so strong it hardly matters), but goddamn, the plot is harder to follow than a f*cking Chris Nolan film. You need a PhD to figure this shite out! Part of this was due to the fact major script changes were hastily forced when Andrew Robinson decided at the last minute not to reprise his role of Larry Cotton. In the original script, Larry was to appear in the chamber as Frank’s Siamese twin. Larry was to cut himself apart after Frank attacks Kristy, and Larry was ultimately to be the one to kill Julia before suffering a heart attack. The subplot would have lead to the infamous deleted scene in which Pinhead dons the OR scrubs. But either way, with or without the last minute amendments, the story is extremely hard to follows these days. First time scribe Larry Atkins is surely at fault for this, as is producers for rushing a sequel just one year after the original was released.

But what really does not hold up very well when seen today is the technological SFX and pusillanimous CGI (or equivalent of). I’m talking primarily about the FX heavy finale, in which badly rendered blue orbs and bolts of lightning fly across the screen as if it were a goddamn He-Man cartoon. Seriously, it’s almost as bad as Michael Mann’s THE KEEP, which I believe has the worst and most painfully outmoded SFX I’ve ever seen (short of an Ed Wood picture). The Harryhausen-like animated sequences of Pinhead shooting claws into various victims does not play well at all today, in fact they induce such eye-rolling ridicule that it almost threatens to undermine all of the greatness that comes before it. Fortunately the abject carnage atones for the chintzy effects in the end, but my lord, the $3 million budget of HELLRAISER II embarrassingly exposed how little could be done with the SFX.

THE VERDICT: We need your help guys and gals, as the jury sort of seems deadlocked. On one hand, the thing that makes HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II such a memorable horror movie – the graphic grotesquery done through impressive makeup and practical VFX – absolutely holds serve by today’s standards. The reviling imagery alone in HELLBOUND is just is mortifying today as it’s ever been. Conversely, the story seems to make even less sense now than it did back in 1988, and worse, the technological SFX have grossly aged over the past three decades. One the whole, since movies are a show me not tell me medium, I’d say the movie’s unwavering carnage does indeed supersede the muddled plot and outdated tech to defy the undefeated foe of Time, but it’s damn closer than you might expect. Give us your two Cenobites below!

STREAM HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II HERE

GET HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II ON DVD HERE

GET HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II ON BLU-RAY HERE

Source: AITH

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