Dir. Tony Randel
Having survived the bloody events of the first film, in which her family was torn apart by the demonic Cenobites, inter-dimensional demons with a deprived definition of ‘pleasure’, Kirsty Cotton is taken to a psychiatric hospital. Unbeknownst to Miss Cotton, her creepy psychologist has been searching for the gateway to hell and plans to resurrect her step-mother Julia to help him in his diabolical plans to indulge in untold, hellish pleasures.
Hellbound reunites much of the cast and crew who worked on Hellraiser, ensuring a seamless segue into this instalment, which features a similarly grimy, bleak tone. It succeeds as a sequel because while it continues the story, picking up almost immediately after the events depicted in Hellraiser, it doesn’t just repeat itself, it opens up and explores the background of certain characters and, despite the rather modest budget, has a much more grandiose feel. Directed by Tony Randel, who served as an editor on the first film, Hellbound was still guided by Clive Barker who worked as a producer. The screenplay by Peter Atkins features dialogue that veers between clunky, rudimentary drivel, grandiose parlances about the immensity of suffering - “We have eternity to know your flesh” - and cheesy Freddy Krueger style one-liners - “The doctor is in.” That said, it never really feels uneven as a whole, and it brings the story into some very unexpected and dark places indeed.
Hellbound is not a safe film. It exhibits a mean ‘anything can happen’ format. Characters exist solely to die horribly. This is confirmed not only through the death of a character seemingly established as one of the main players early on, but through its unfettered, sickeningly nightmarish imagery and downbeat narrative. Randel’s positively misanthropic attitude is one of the most prominent and uneasy characteristics of this sequel; the director claimed the film is so dark and bleak in tone as it reflected his state of mind at the time, and his dour outlook on the world. He utilises the same coldly forensic and unyielding approach to violence and suffering as Barker did in the first film; only here it continues in a much more intensified manner. The film is rife with utterly repellent, depressing and morbidly fascinating imagery. Deplorable, brain-botheringly wretched imagery. Genuinely upsetting, avert-your-gaze-from-the-screen-in-disgust imagery. The kind of imagery that squirms and scuttles under your skin and writhes there indefinitely. A particularly nauseating scene depicts Dr Channard giving a switchblade to a distressed psychiatric patient who proceeds to cut and hack at himself, his pooling blood eventually resurrecting Julia. Recent examples of ‘torture porn’ have nothing on Hellbound, its amalgamation of cruelty and fantastical violence is overwhelming. The depravity is designed to instil base feelings of dread and repulsion, rendering the film something of an endurance. Therein lies its undeniable power as a horror film and its strength as a sequel.
Characterisation is as minimal as it was in Hellraiser, ditched in favour of graphic depictions of violence and pontifications on the depravity of human nature. Characters are either good or evil, and only exist so their flesh can be lacerated and mutilated. They have no depth, nor do they garner any sympathy - which leaves us with a basic story centring on pain for the sake of pain. Human life is presented as futile and powerless, humanity weakened by its own base wants and desires. The first thing a skinless Julia (Clare Higgins) does when she is resurrected from her grave - the bloody mattress she died on - is down a glass of wine and smoke a fag. Priorities. The only characters able to generate a modicum of sympathy are heroines Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) and Tiffany (Imogen Boorman), a young mute girl with a penchant for solving puzzles. They ellicit sympathy on a very basic, human level, and only because they are presented as 'good.' Kirsty is a decent heroine, and here she’s as proactive as she was in the first film, even going as far as bargaining with the Cenobites for her own soul. Venturing into hell to rescue her father whom she believes is trapped there, Kirsty soon discovers it’s all an elaborate trap set by her vengeful uncle. She is able to remind the Cenobites of their human origins, revealed in a later scene when they are massacred by a monstrously transformed Dr Channard (Kenneth Cranham).
Hell is depicted as a gigantic Escheresque labyrinth presided over by an obelisk-shaped god known as Leviathan, and Randel deploys some striking imagery (bodies writhing under blood-spattered sheets in a candle-strewn morgue, random flaying, aforementioned labyrinth), while exploring the concept of hell as a very personal space; each character experiences their own individual hell. The underlying fairytale motifs of the first film - including a basic plot structure that when condensed, features an individual who must overcome a seemingly impossible task or journey and be changed in some way by the experience - are also exhumed. At various stages characters actually compare the unholy situations they find themselves in to fairytales, such as when Julia rasps “Didn’t they tell you? They’ve changed the rules of the fairytale. I’m no longer just the wicked step-mother. Now I’m the Evil Queen. So come on, take your best shot, Snow White!” Kirsty tries to convince the detectives questioning her that something unnatural has occurred, saying that fairytales and demons actually exist, and “some of them come true. Even the bad ones.” In various fairytales characters are painfully transformed into beasts or inanimate objects. A number of transformation sequences are depicted throughout Hellbound as characters are transformed into Cenobites; their flesh corrupted and modified, twisted and reconfigured.
A true horror film, Hellbound wields the power to make the audience feel uneasy, wary and unsafe in its own skin. Skin is such an inconsequential thing when you’re in hell.
Head over to Plutonium Shores to read about the unfilmed surgical sequence. Are some things better left unfilmed...?