I recently binge watched all the Hellraiser sequels and man, they are one wild ride. One of my favourites is the fourth one, titled Bloodline, that traces a family lineage from French silly wig times where a toymaker first crafts the evil puzzle box for a dark magician, who initially conjures up Pinhead and his homies. The film traces this genesis into the 90’s art-world scene in a big city where the cube has been embedded into the architectural foundation of a skyscraper where it causes havoc, and then yet another timeline far, far into the future where a scientist on a massive deep space station experiments on the box, trying to put a stop to Pinhead and close the hellish portal for good. It’s an ambitious, wildly entertaining, boundlessly imaginative sequel that covers thousands of years and many characters including a sultry demon princess (Valentina Vargas) who is first summoned in French silly wig era by a very young Adam Scott, who wishes he never met her. She’s terrific and adds a sort of supernatural femme fatale aesthetic to the mythos. Doug Bradley is off the chain here and this is by far my favourite of his Pinhead turns in any of the films. He gets a whopping amount of screen time (often not the case in these sequels) and is a terrifying, antagonistic asshole who feels like an actual tangible threat here instead of his sometimes illusory, half-there half-not theatrical presence. I appreciate such ambition in horror sequels, where the same retread or motifs aren’t just tiredly recycled through new characters and settings, but actual innovation is employed and new lore is pioneered into the canon. The outer space stuff is a fucking blast, as the team of mercenaries played by recognizable faces (Christine Harnos & Pat Skipper are awesome) race against time to find the scientist before all hell breaks loose where no one can hear you scream. The finale is a jaw dropper and one of the most creative moments in the entire franchise as the space station becomes… something more, it’s a slow-clap moment of adrenaline pumping sound and fury and, in a way, the final narrative beat of the entire Hellraiser legacy, despite the fact that there are many more films to come. I would say this is tied with the second film, Hellbound, as my favourite in the series, it’s so well structured, gory as ever, creatively inspired and just so much fun. Oh yeah and there’s a Cenobite dog, too! So badass.
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.