The fifth Hellraiser sequel, Hellseeker, is nowhere near as fun or inspired as the fourth, sad to say. It’s hard to follow up a sequel that includes journeys into both French Revolution times and outer space, but even so this is a pretty dreary attempt other than the fact that it brings back Ashley Lawrence’s Kirsty from the first two films, albeit all too briefly. Most of the film focuses on her husband played by Dean Winters who seems out of place here and who I can never see as anyone else but the human personification of the OnStar navigation guide thing ever since he did those commercials. Kirsty is mostly out of the picture and he’s wandering listlessly through a drab desk job, a philandering lifestyle full of cheating and lying and strange memories of a hazy car accident where she apparently died, but he can’t quite get the facts or the recollections straight. Grisly murders start to happen in the city, crime scenes that he’s always conveniently around, and soon two suspicious detectives are on his trail, then slowly but surely Pinhead and his gang start to make themselves known. The first two thirds of the film are interminable, as it tries to be a noirish character study of this guy but I just. Didn’t. Care. He’s less than non-interesting and even a guy with Winters’s natural charisma just cannot bring him to life. Then the third act happens and there’s some sparks of life, with a twist that, although fascinating and unexpected, sort of negates the whole silly stream of events we see before with his character and kinda made me go WTF. This is by far the weakest story of the seven sequels I’ve seen so far. Not much in the way of memorable kills, gore, atmosphere or effects, a muddy, murky story, flatlined protagonist and a serious lack of screen time for Doug Bradley, who was all up in the fourth one like a scene stealing mad dog. This one can be avoided and skipped over for the sixth one, which is a fantastic return to form and I’ll get to reviewing tomorrow.
So what can be said about Hellbound: Hellraiser II.. well for starters it’s so fucking off the map crazy that it makes the first film look like a modest teaser trailer. It’s like they gathered up the entire collective special effects team employed by Hollywood in the 80’s, turned them upside down to see what shook loose and the result was this bonkers, smor-gore-sbord of a flick.
In the first film the Cenobites and all manner of pandemonium they brought with them were largely limited to the confines of one very haunted house, where they tormented the humans within. This time we follow what’s left of these people, namely Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) as she ventures into the hellish realm that these things come from and… well it’s quite a wild ride. After finding herself in an asylum run by a mad doctor (Kenneth Cranham) who gets a little too curious with that ol’ Rubik’s cube, she gets sucked into a portal and spit out onto a vast labyrinthine plane of pure evil, and that’s pretty much all there is for story. Oh and some neato backstory elements to the Cenobites that show they weren’t always supernatural dominatrix freaks, I liked that touch.
Honestly I preferred this over the first one simply for the level of ambition and sheer lunacy thrown at it and it’s ability to (mostly) hold up a coherent story throughout the din. Setting the story within the dimension of hell itself allows for so many more effects, cues, scares and opens up the tableaux much wider. Also, this picks up pretty much right where the first left off and as such we’re plopped down right in the mayhem whereas the first took some time and held back while lore was established. Sound, fury, gore and momentum propel this onto a level that is impressive even in the land of bonkers 80’s horror sequels. The loony surgeon whose fault the horrors are this time around gets a grisly Pokémon type evolution that has to be seen to be believed, not to mention a metropolis of stone catacombs where anything can happen, a Cenobite vs Cenobite Mortal Kombat death match and some weird sentient floating monolith thing that hovers over the land and looks down like Sauron’s eye. That isn’t even to mention the hundreds of gallons of blood, guts, pus, fake tissue, gristle and glorious glistening body horror on display. A true step up from the first and one hell of a twisted flick.
“Jesus wept!” exclaims a character in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser before being ripped to shreds. No kidding, and I bet David Cronenberg did too. Explaining the plot of rgis film to someone who hasn’t seen it can be vague and pretty bizarre. “Magic evil Rubik’s cube has the power to summon mutilated, sadomasochist beings from hell who inflict both pain and pleasure by maiming, mauling, dismembering and otherwise dispatching those who called for them in the most inventively graphic ways possible.” Well it is that, but you kind of have to watch it all unfold yourself to see how cool it actually is or it just sounds weird.
Many horror films start by showing a family moving into a house that has a dubious past and so does this but where it goes from there will floor you. Andrew Robinson (cast against type here as a meek dude) is a chatty yuppie who moves his new wife (Claire Higgins) into a family inherited home for some relaxation. Never mind that there’s maggots and decrepitude everywhere, the real danger is the lingering ghost of his reckless alpha male brother Frank (Sean Chapman in a role originally intended for Mickey Rourke which I would have paid big money to see) who got too curious with aforementioned Rubik’s cube and started all kind of trouble. Before too long his half dead corpse is resurrected, Robinson’s young daughter (Ashley Lawrence) becomes involved as do the inter-dimensional Cenobites and yes, all kinds of hell is raised.
It’s cool to see the impact that one film can have on so much in culture after it, the ultra gory practical effects, kinky costume design and overall distinct vibe here has obviously gone on to influence everything from Jacob’s Ladder, Event Horizon, Beetlejuice to countless video games and graphic novels. Pinhead is now an iconic character to the point where people know him before they do the film but back here he wasn’t even called Pinhead, credited simply as ‘Lead Cenobite.’ Every infamous legacy has its beginnings though and this is quite an arresting, gruesome, atmospheric and deliberately weird piece of cosmic horror. The performances are all sensual 80’s melodrama which just somehow works, the score is a bombastic orchestral overture courtesy of Christopher Young but it’s really the special effects that win the day here. Whether it’s a corpse crawling across the floor with no skin, razor sharp meat hooks ripping though flesh, living room walls opening up into other worlds or the startling, otherworldly design of the Cenobites themselves, this is one visually gorgeous piece of horror and looks even better on Blu Ray.