Hellbound: Hellraiser II

October 17, 2011

Hellbound: Hellraiser II was originally scheduled for Halloween release, which would seem to be a sensible course for a horror movie. But the film kept getting postponed, and now 1988 has run out of weekends. So here it is, just in time for Christmas.

Actually, the timing of the release provides an interesting experiment. There have often been action films that did well during the Christmas season (Sudden Impact and 48 HRS., for instance), but horror movies have not turned up much during the holidays. Will Hellbound tap the roving, restless out-of-high-school crowd, or will it be lost among the joyful tidings?

Whatever happens, the movie itself is a provocative entry in the horror genre. The first Hellraiser was written and directed by Clive Barker, the talented author of a number of volumes of horror (or Books of Blood, as some of his collections are known). Barker is credited only as executive producer on Hellbound, though it is taken from a story of his. The director here is Tony Randel.

Hellbound gets off to a cloggy start, as it’s necessary to catch us up on what happened in the first movie; we see a few clips of the more revolting sequences (hey, if you’ve paid for the special effects, why not use ’em again?). We find the teenage heroine (Ashley Laurence) from the first film in a mental hospital. Then we are introduced to an exceptionally perverse doctor (Kenneth Cranham) who enjoys drilling into peoples’ brains, apparently for the sheer fun of it.

This guy chants an incantation, and summons up one of the characters from the first movie, played by the spooky English actress Clare Higgins, who was last seen on her way to hell. She returns, but unfortunately without any skin. Yeccch. She looks like that model kit, The Visible Woman.

She pads around the doctor’s antiseptic home for a while, then covers herself in bandages like Claude Rains in The Invisible Man. Then she kisses the doctor—double yeccch—and calmly announces, “Now all we need is skin.”

This film manages to recapture the devilish humor of Hellraiser, but also veers off into some pretty startling territory; the last half-hour ventures into a hell full of Escher-like labyrinths, weird multi-limbed creatures, and big orchestral music. Like Hellraiser, the film is admittedly something of a mess, but students of horror will want to see it. Bring a strong stomach.

First published in the Herald, December 22, 1988

And they’re still churning these out! Some of which haven’t been bad, although I haven’t kept my Pinhead-watching up to date. Among other things, Clare Higgins, a mighty actress of British stage and screen, seems to be a very good sport.



June 20, 2011

Within the last year, a young English horror writer named Clive Barker has risen from cult status to become a best-selling author and a first-time moviemaker. Stephen King, who ought to know from such things, as called Barker “the future of horror.”

Barker is indeed an original writer. He’s in the tradition of Poe and Lovecraft, but he pushes his images and effects past even their abnormal limits; he mixes up some frequently complex ideas with astonishingly graphic violence and sex. His short story collections are called, rightfully enough, The Books of Blood.

I don’t know how Barker got away with directing his own movie. Many writers never get a crack at it. (Stephen King had his fling last year, with the fizzled Maximum Overdrive.) But here is Hellraiser, and, for a first film, it’s quite a good outing—one of the best horror films of recent years, in fact.

It’s about a couple (Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins) who move into an old family house, where unbeknownst to them, something terrible has happened. It seems Robinson’s brother had been experimenting with a magical box in one of the upstairs rooms, and conjured up some evil spirits (“explorers in the furthest reaches of experience,” they call themselves). The brother was blasted apart and dragged down to hell, or some reasonable approximation, but he is revived when the couple move in.

Higgins had had an affair with the deceased, so she helps him reconstitute himself, by bringing in victims for him to feed on. The gore quotient is fairly high, mainly because the dead guy walks around without any skin.

It builds to an explosive finale. But by then, Barker has kept up the tension throughout; this is an unusually relentless horror movie, with almost no dead spaces. And it avoids the formula of recent years, consistently coming up with original situations.

It’s not as ambitious as many of Barker’s stories, but its straightforwardness is really an asset. The main thing Barker can be faulted for is the unevenness of some of the acting, but that’s a predictable problem of debut films. In most other ways, Hellraiser is an absolutely solid horror film, and it promises much for the immediate future of that genre.

First published in the Herald, September 23, 1987

When those Books of Blood first came out, it was cause for real excitement; Barker is a smart person with some fiendish visions in his head. As much as I enjoyed Hellraiser and find some of Barker’s other movie projects somewhat interesting, it does seem as though Barker has never quite got a grasp of how his particular gift might come to life in a truly vital way on screen, and his movie career must stand as a disappointment. So far, that is: he’s supposed to direct again this year. He came to Seattle for interviews (for Lord of Illusions?) and came across as an ingratiating guy with a cheerfully debauched air about him. In other words, trouble.