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Sequels! So often the cinematic equivalent of “second verse, same as the first!” “Hellbound: Hellraiser II” could easily have been “Hellraiser Too.” But the good news is “Hellraiser” is a fantastic horror film, so using the skeleton and generous tissue grafts from the first one means you have at least that much good movie, no matter how silly the ultimate Big Bad looks. Um, spoilers on that last bit.
The movie opens with quick edits of Hellraiser: the story so far. “Jesus wept.” The Scorpio killer from “Dirty Harry” is ripped apart by chains. The Cenobites close on a screaming young woman and almost nab her puffy-haired boyfriend, but the Fat One (not to be confused with Joey Fatone) isn’t quite quick enough. Pinhead: “We have such sights to show you…” “Go to hell!” yells the girl as she brandishes hell’s paperweight at the Cenobites. Cue dramatic choral music and the opening credits start coming at us.
If you didn’t get any of that, don’t worry. “Hellraiser II” will cover all of this material again before the third act. For starters, just like in the first movie, we watch a lone man frowning in concentration over the famous puzzle box, only this time he appears to be an old-timey British army officer in a Quonset hut. And just like with Frank Cotton, the Big Bad of the first film, we see the box bzzzrt to life with CGI, we see the petitioner lean tentatively over the box, and then we see chains fly out of the box to hook into the guy, or at least some sort of Naugahyde we’re meant to believe is the guy. This sequence is a little more interesting than Frank’s transformation though, imho, both because we’ll recognize the officer is being turned into Pinhead, and the sequence does a good job interspersing Pinhead’s screams and shots of the torture itself with glimpses of his creepy smile as he is well and truly Cenobitified.
In the present day, the young woman what banished Pinhead and his fellows to hell before the credits, Kirsty Cotton, wakes up in a psychiatric hospital. She’s told her boyfriend Steve from the first movie was sent home, his wild tale of the Cenobites apparently totally corroborating Kirsty’s, but not to the extent he needs to be institutionalized, too. However, a nice man from the police is there to sort of interrogate her, so there’s that.
Meanwhile, two trigger happy cops investigate the Cotton house, which is now definitely in America, despite being sorta in England in the first movie. They find a jump scare, but also a bloody mattress with chains on it, and so they call their boss to find out what to do with such big time physical evidence. The boss happens to be the officer interrogating Kirsty, and she overhears the discovery, because these are seriously the worst cops since Barney Fife swore in Gomer and Otis.
Then we meet Dr. Channard as he monologues to a rapt operating theater about charting the mind’s secrets while sawing open a patient’s skull. They really do brain surgery like this, you know. I think they discourage actual villainous monologuing, but the sawing a conscious person’s head open is legit. It would not be unfair to think of Dr. Channard as an excellent Hannibal Lecter audition.
Channard drops into Kirsty’s room with his assistant Kyle just long enough to establish that everybody knows each other’s names and for Kirsty to demand the discovered mattress be destroyed. She explains forcefully that since Julia — her stepmother, Frank’s lover, and the Lady Big Bad in the first movie – died on that mattress, she can be brought back from hell through it, just like Frank was in “Hellraiser.” And that gets her bupkus but a sleeping pill prescription.
Later on, Kirsty wakes, seemingly summoned by a patient in another room quietly putting together a wooden block puzzle. The Channard Institute patients are free range, and so Kirsty leaves her room to discover an innocuous blonde teenage girl puzzling her heart out. As Kirsty watches the patient work, Kyle surprises her. He explains the girl never speaks, and that they don’t even know who she is. A nurse calls her Tiffany. The girl just seems to compelled to solve puzzles, which Dr. Channard encourages. Weird coincidence. Kyle gives Kirsty sleeping pills, which Kristy refuses, and at this point he is clearly not a doctor, but has been horror-movie-boyfriend-zoned.
Kirsty goes back to her room and has a vivid visitation by a skinless man, scrawling on the wall of her room, “I am in hell. Help me.” Already terrified and angry that Julia has a potential portal back from hell just waiting for someone to cut their femoral artery over it, Kirsty worries about how she can bring her father Larry, murdered by Julia and Frank, back from hell.
Just as one might have an inkling that Dr. Channard is a less than a caring caregiver, the movie allows us to tour through the “Maintenance” level of the Channard Institute with him. It is every horrible asylum trope you’ve ever heard or seen. It is a Marilyn Manson video. It is dirtier than John McClane’s shirt at the end of “Die Hard” and there is screaming and crying and scrawling in stuff and straitjackets. The only thing it’s missing is Jessica Lange.
Kyle managed to be Channard’s assistant and yet totally oblivious to the entire floor of patient abuse his boss kips down to, I’m assuming, on a fairly regular basis, but he does overhear Channard making arrangements for the mattress to be delivered to his house. Newly clue-having Kyle is a man of action and breaks into Channard’s house, like you do, discovering Channard is quite the Hellraiser fanboy, with a whole study full of mad scientisting and no fewer than three of the infamous boxes under glass. We also learn that Kyle reads aloud and talks to himself, which is weird, but helpful to the audience.
Kyle also gets to be there when Channard brings one of the Maintenance level patients in to be sat on the mattress. Now I don’t want to spoil this for you, but it does not end well for the patient, who I like to think of as “maggot guy” and at the end of it, Julia has indeed come through the mattress, skinless like Frank, and you can just go ahead and cue up “A Strange Kind of Love” for her and Channard while Kyle wets his pants behind a curtain.
Just like in the first movie, the skinless Cenobite escapee is going to need to suck some victims dry and steal their skin. Actually the mechanism for this is kinda odd. It seems to be a combination of sucking on their mouth or face and shoving the plane of your hand into their neck, and I’m not sure how that works, because that’s bone. But Julia sure knows how it works, and she makes quick work of a whole room full of ladies in various states of undress. Please enjoy all the boobs you are going to get in this one.Kyle and Kirsty show up at Castle Channard because barreling into the villain’s lair was Kirsty’s go-to in the first movie and we’re still working off that script. Kyle does not fare much better than maggot guy in the end, but his contribution does finish off Julia’s skin. Kirsty unleashes a powerful banshee scream, but Julia knocks her cold with a patrician backhand, just in time for her new beau to bring Tiffany home as a surprise.
Julia and Channard hide in Channard’s anti-cenobite bunker while Tiffany solves the box. I don’t know why Channard needs a puzzle-solving prodigy to figure the box out. I get that he’s avoiding risking his own hide, but most people seem to be able to figure out the box with minimal montaging. Julia apparently did after she’d been gutted and effectively drained by Frank in the first movie.
It does work. Tiffany solves the box and the Cenobites show up and instantly rezone Channard’s pad into hell. As the lesser Cenobites cluster around Tiffany, ready to do what they do best, Pinhead forbids them. “It is not hands that call us. It is desire.” And Pinhead’s gaze takes the camera into hell after Channard and Julia.
This is the point the movie really departs into its own thing, adding new material to the skeletal and nebulous Hellraiser mythology while upping the ante in terms of threats and effects. And boy does it suck. OK, maybe not suck, but fair warning, nothing is going to make much sense from this point on.
Hell could be many things. Bottomless pit, unquenchable flames, something like a Bosch painting, that “Informer” song on a neverending loop. Hell in “Hellraiser II” took serious inspiration from Jareth the Goblin King’s realm in “Labyrinth.” It’s M.C. Escher matte painting with a little H.R. Geiger flourish here and there, wind machines, strobe lights, and a few themed sound stages for individual pilgrims wandering its otherwise featureless gray maze. Tiffany has a carnival soundstage, for instance. Kirsty’s is the house where her Dad was killed. Mine would probably be a room of monitors showing this part of the movie.
Wandering around the Labyrinth, Kirsty bumps back into the Cenobites instead of muppets. They menace her as usual, insist she clearly wants what they have to offer, but then strangely still don’t take the opportunity to mutilate her when she proves powerless against them. You know, the Cenobites like to imply Kirsty keeps running into them because she wants to be tortured for eternity, but they keep letting her go, so what does that say about them?
Meanwhile, Julia takes Channard to the center of the Labyrinth and introduces him to her god. No, not Satan, and not Jareth either – it’s Leviathan, who appears to be an obelisk screensaver. She then backs him into a Cenobite-making booth, announcing that the entire reason she was allowed to escape was so she could bring Leviathan more souls. And I’ll never believe in true love again. Kirsty ping-pongs from the Cenobites to dead Uncle Frank, who is being tormented on his own soundstage. He tells Kirsty it was he who appeared in her room, not her dad, who is dead. So in the Hellraiser universe (so far) if you’re killed by the Cenobites, you’re not entirely dead? You’re just in hell. But you can come back. But if you’re killed by anything else, including things from hell that aren’t Cenobites, you’re dead and that’s it? What are the eschatological implications here?
OK, then Julia shows up and kills Frank. I guess. Good. Kirsty contends with Julia, both fighting for Tiffany’s trust, and sometimes it’s in the most unlikely moments a movie passes the Bechdel test. Ultimately Julia’s skin is torn off and she falls to her…death? In hell? Man, I don’t even know.
Channard emerges from the Insta-Cenobite booth as the Doctor Cenobite, looking not at all well, but he looks around in wonder and murmurs one of my favorite lines of any movie, “And to think, I hesitated.” But they really should have left Channard in there for another millennia or so because he just looks silly. He’s like a flying tentacle porn Inspector Gadget. The rest of the movie is Kirsty and Tiffany versus the Doctor Cenobite, getting some unexpected help from our O.G. Cenobites, but ultimately it’s going to come down to Tiffany’s puzzle-solving skillz and Kirsty’s ingenuity to stop the Doctor Cenobite’s terrible medical puns.
“Hellraiser II” is a sequel from a more innocent time when horror sequels were really just expected to be the same movie plus boobs and bodycount, and to be fair, they did that. They do try to flesh out the lore, which would be a good thing if the stuff they added wasn’t self-contradictory crap. Clive Barker said that he was afraid people would laugh at the Cenobites in the first movie, but he managed to make something horrifying and cool instead. The Doctor Cenobite is every bit Clive’s fear realized though, which is doubly a shame because Channard was so effective before he got all go-go gadget. It’s still worth a look, but the movie really does go all to hell once they all go to hell.
Watch the trailer to “Hellbound: Hellraiser II”