BLU-RAY REVIEW: Hellbound: Hellraiser II

Devotees of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise will be pleased to know that Arrow Video has given the royal treatment to Hellbound: Hellraiser II. In 2016, Arrow released Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Trilogy, which included the series’ first three films — there have been a total of ten. The original Hellraiser and its first sequel remain the cream of the crop, and recently Arrow finally released the first two films as individual releases. Vents recently reviewed the Hellraiser individual release. Now it’s time to take a look at Hellbound.

There are many schools of thought when it comes to examining horror films. After all, simply categorizing a film as “horror” may relegate a given production to a category that non-genre fans inherently dismiss; however, for those of us who take a serious interest in the genre, there are as many considerations in classifying and critiquing horror films as there are in identifying unique types of fruit and determining the palatability of a given piece within each type. That is, not every piece of fruit is a rotten orange or a sweet strawberry. Similarly, not every horror film is Ghoulies or Kubrick’s The Shining.

One of the reasons Barker’s Hellraiser is powerful is that it balances a variety of story elements, not all of which are horror-centric. The film does have many horror elements that range from atmospheric to extremely gory and monstrous, but one of the reasons those work so well is that they are counterpointed with a compellingly sinful family drama. Hellbound: Hellraiser II essentially abandons the non-horror elements and amps up the atmospheric and nasty stuff. This is par for the course as far as the sequel business is concerned, and Hellbound definitely aims at delivering in the fan service department. That said, this film tends to split Hellraiser fans into two camps: those who admire the first film as an original piece of horror storytelling and those who would wear Pinhead t-shirts.

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For the latter group, especially, this film provides much satisfaction. It’s got more Pinhead (Doug Bradley), more gore, and it brings audiences into the world from which the cenobites come, which the first film’s Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) and her new companion / guide Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) are given an opportunity to explore. The film also follows the continuing adventures of Julia (Clare Higgins) and Frank (Sean Chapman) and introduces the evil Dr. Philip Channard (Kenneth Cranham), through whom we learn more about the nature of the cenobites. There is plenty of recycled footage from the original, but this film has none of the nuance and only a shadow of the eroticism of its predecessor. Still, as far as its ranking within the franchise, its funhouse-like trip through cenobiteland and its exploration of the nature of the cenobites typically have fans placing it as second only to the original.

As with the first film from Arrow’s Scarlet Box presentation, the video and audio presentations are very good. This film has not been given a fresh 2k transfer (as had the original), but there is less grain present throughout, and the film’s audio tracks (an LPCM 2.0 mix and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix) both deliver a lovely mix of Christopher Young’s score, the dialogue track, and the sound effects track. Moreover, once again, it is the extent to which this edition is chock-full of extra features that really makes it the best version to date. It’s got two commentaries (one with director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins and one with Randel, Atkins, and Laurence). It’s got three sort of sequels to the first film’s documentaries — these ones being called “Levianthan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II” (featuring interviews with cast and crew), “Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellbound: Hellraiser II,” and “Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellbound.” There’s a vintage featurette called “Lost in the Labyrinth” as well as on-set interviews with Barker and select cast and crew, along with behind-the-scenes footage. There’s also a cut sequence called “Surgeon Scene” that involves Kirsty and Tiffany running through a hospital populated by monstrous threats. Additionally, there are storyboards, a draft version of the screenplay, an image gallery, and trailers and TV spots.

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This film does not re-invent the wheel (or the Lament Configuration puzzle box, if you will); however, it does continue to explore and milk Barker’s iconic visuals and mythology, and for many horror fans, that is sufficient enough cause to dive into Hellbound. And, once again, if you’re going to take that trip, there is no finer individual edition with which to explore that territory than Arrow’s latest Blu-ray release of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, also offered on DVD.

About Scott Feinblatt

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