Man, do I wish this movie was 2/3 as long as it is.
Let me back up for a moment. I’m a big fan of the original Hellraiser, both as a low-budget, unsettling horror film and as an adaptation of Clive Barker’s work. I think that there are few authors out there like Barker, but movies have always struggled to match his surreal imagination, boundary-pushing horror, and blurring of lines between morality and pleasure. Barker was never an author interested in conventional horror stories, and any effort to turn his work into something more easily pigeonholed usually ended up disastrously.
All of which is to say, I wasn’t really expecting Hellbound to be any good. It’s not as though Hellraiser really needed a sequel, and knowing how the later films essentially turned Pinhead and the Cenobites into generic slasher villain tropes – thus missing every appeal of the original film and novella – I assumed Hellbound was just the first step down a long path of mediocrity.
Which is probably why I got so frustrated by the film’s final act, because up until then, Hellbound is way more interesting than you’d expect it to be. Yes, it still feels like an unnecessary sequel – it picks up right after the events of the original, and follows Kirsty’s fears that her stepmother Julia can be resurrected the same way Frank was in the original – and can sometimes feel a bit like a retread, with characters sometimes just going through the motions to keep the original plot cycling through again. And yes, there’s undeniably a sense of “missing the point”, with the filmmakers clearly not interested in Barker’s blending of pain and pleasure and instead going full on torture and gore.
And yet, Hellbound manages to capture the unsettling, otherworldly, Lovecraftian feeling that Barker sometimes managed. The glimpses of the other world that we get here are genuinely unsettling and strange; Pinhead and the Cenobites are still forces of malevolent nature, incomprehensible to human understanding; the horror is still visceral and truly horrifying. (I try not to be an old man about movies too often, but there’s little denying that Hellbound‘s effects largely work because of their practicality. The latex body suits are tactile and horrific in that texture, giving it all a physicality that computer effects never could. And the same can be said for the matte paintings, which are moodier and stranger than CGI could often create. I’m not saying all CGI is bad – far from it – but the first two Hellraiser films are testaments to the power of practical horror effects.)
All of which makes it all the more frustrating when Hellbound goes so far off the rails that the word “off” doesn’t even do it justice. Up until the scene in which of the film’s antagonists meets what seems to be his final fate in a hellish box, I was into it. But within seconds after that, character motivations veer wildly, physical behaviors make no sense, power struggles become unclear, and the film loses any sense of coherence, clarity, or any purpose beyond gore and violence. It makes for an exhaustingly awful, pointless, and truly incomprehensible final act, and it’s so bad that it takes away from how surprisingly solid, if unoriginal, I found the rest of the movie. If you love the original Hellraiser, you might be surprised by how good Hellbound is for a while; just trust me when I tell you that it’s time to turn the movie off after the aforementioned scene – that is, unless you want to be able to pinpoint the exact, precise moment a film implodes.