Friday, November 7, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Hellbound: Hellraiser II

Previously on Hellraiser...

We entered the world of Clive Barker's Hellraiser. A very dull and confusing world in which nothing made sense or was even remotely explained, but hey the Cenobites sure looked cool!

Flash forward to a year later, and a sequel was given the green light based off the success of the original's first week box office. Barker didn't return to the director's chair, instead handing the duties over to his friend Tony Randel who had helped edit the first movie. Barker wrote the film's story, with his good friend Peter Atkins turning it into a screenplay. Fun fact: Barker, Atkins, and Doug “Pinhead” Bradley were once a theatre group in the 1970s. Bet those were some very interesting performances.

Before we get underway, I want to address two messages I got concerning my last review. One was that I was WAY too hard on the first movie, but I stand by what I said: it's a fantastic premise with some very poor execution and direction. Second was what the hell is Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, which I described as a cult classic. Yes, it IS a sequel to the Jamie Lee Curtis classic slasher film, which would go on to spawn three weird ass sequels. It's actually a lot like Saw, where the sequel was a vastly different movie they repurposed into a sequel to build off the success of the original film. They went a supernatural direction, introducing ghosts and alternate worlds, but unlike a lot of horror films it WORKS. It's far from perfect, but I give it a strong recommendation because it has some amazing visuals.

Speaking of sequels, it's time to see if the Hellraiser sequel can bring some much needed sense to the franchise. Grab your favourite bondage gear, forget your safe word, and get ready for A Ghoul Versus Hellbound: Hellraiser II! Why isn't it called Hellraiser II: Hellbound like it should be?

We open right on the title card, along with a voice asking “What's your pleasure, sir?”. The ending of the last film is played to catch us up, all in its craptastic not-so-special effects glory. After the opening credits play over another impressive score from Christopher Young, we see a very human looking Doug Bradley in military gear playing with a familiar looking puzzle box. He solves it, which brings on the equally familiar hooked chains that begin tearing into his flesh.

He is dragged into the otherworld and transformed into Pinhead in a VERY brutal looking scene highlighted by his nails getting hammered into his head. REALLY hoping for some explanation this time around, because we're only a few minutes into this thing and I'm already filled with questions. The Cenobites are humans, then? How come Bradley got turned into a Cenobite while Frank Cotton was killed? What is the story behind this damn box?!

We transition to the “hero” of the first movie, Kirsty Cotton, who awakens to find herself in the Channard Institute, a psychiatric hospital. A homicide detective named Ronson is waiting for her, having already questioned her boyfriend Steve and sent him home. He naturally isn't too inclined to believe her version of what happened at the Cotton household, which I can't say I blame him because I saw the fucking thing personally and couldn't believe it either.

Elsewhere in the facility we're introduced to the man who runs it: Dr. Philip Channard, played by Scottish actor Kenneth Cranham. You'll probably recognize him from something in his massive filmography, as he's been working steadily for over four decades now, most recently Disney's live action reimagining of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent. To say Cranham chews the scenery in this film is an understatement, rather he devours it like a starving man at an all you can eat buffet and it is GLORIOUS.

Ronson leaves Kirsty to the good doctor, but not before she begs him to destroy the blood soaked mattress than Julia was tied to. See, somehow she KNOWS that this means Julia can come back to life just like Frank did, so either she's cheating and read the script or there was a cut scene of Frank actually explaining some of this shit to her. The detective humours her and walks out. Later that night Kirsty can't sleep, so she goes for a walk around the floor she's on.
She notices her neighbour is a young woman working intently on building a wooden puzzle, learning from Channard's assistant Kyle that she's an amnesiac that was brought in six months. Kyle is played by William Hope, whom is forever etched into the hearts of horror fans as Lieutenant William Gorman from the all-time classic Aliens. The woman never speaks and they can find no record of her anywhere, naming her Tiffany. She is played by Imogen Boorman, in what was her only major film role before she retired from acting to take up a career in Jiu-Jitsu. BAD ASS. All Tiffany does day in and day out is work on solving puzzles, which I'm sure won't come into play in the SLIGHTEST.

Kirsty tries to go to sleep, but instead has a vision of her now skinless father sitting in the corner of her room and writing “I am in Hell. Help me” is his own blood on the wall. Or perhaps it's not a vision, as Larry vanishes and the writing remains. Kirsty decides the only sensible thing to do is walk over, run her finger over the blood, and rub it all over her lips because WHY WOULDN'T she do that?! Duh!

The next morning Channard heads to work, as we get some establishment shots of how nice the hospital is. He then heads to the maintenance floor, which is revealed to be in complete squalor with the REAL crazies locked up in padded rooms bouncing off the walls. Kyle visits Kirsty, finding her staring at the blank wall where the message was. I really hope she didn't lick it clean because... eww. She tells him about Larry, which now makes him think she's bonkers too. He goes to get Channard, overhearing a telephone conversation the doctor is having with Ronson over having the bloody mattress delivered to his house. I don't think Channard is playing for the right side anymore.

The doctors go to Kirsty's room, where she recounts the events of the last movie through stock footage flashbacks. This is the part where I mention that the movie was originally supposed to have a much larger budget, but its distributor New World Pictures was undergoing some major financial issues at the time so that didn't happen. So far that is blatantly obvious.

Things skip ahead to later that night, where Channard now has the mattress in his house and is examining it. He leaves, Kyle breaking into his house to see just what he's up to. He finds the house is filled with tons of weirdness, including a table with THREE Lament Configuration puzzle boxes on it. Looking through a scrapbook on the table, Kyle finds a picture of Pinhead back in his human days. Before he can find anything else, he hears the door opening and hides behind the curtains.

Channard brings in one of the patients from the maintenance floor, having him sit down on the mattress. We are shown the patient believes maggots are infesting his skin, so the doctor gives him a straight razor to go to town with. What happens next is NOT pretty, as once again I get Saw flashbacks of a person horribly and graphically maiming themselves. Once enough blood is spilled, Julia's arms and legs emerge from the mattress and embrace the poor man, drinking his blood as he frantically struggles to get away. BRILLIANT shot there, it's definitely not for the faint of heart but is some TRUE horror imagery and even tops the hallway sequence from the first movie.

Although I must wonder how exactly did this bring Julia back to life? Frank died through supernatural means, so I assume that left the door open for his resurrection. But Julia wasn't killed by the Cenobites, just a good ol' fashioned knife wound to the stomach. Unless it had something to do with Frank being supernatural himself, aaaaaaaaaaaand I do believe I'm overthinking things again. Moving on.

Kyle races back to the hospital, where he is now 100% on board with Team Kirsty. She decides she wants to go to Channard's house to get one of the boxes so she can save her father... somehow. Back at Channard's House of Horrors, we see a room FULL of dead corpses that Julia has fed on to return to her lovely self. What, already? Where'd all these people come from? This is very confusing because I'm not really sure of the time frame here, as the very next shot is of Kirsty and Kyle breaking into his house. Did Channard just have a truckload full of people brought over to his house in the past hour? Were they already in his house before he even had the mattress brought over? Why are these films so bad at the basics of storytelling?

The not so Dynamic Duo enter the house, Kyle making the WISE decision to go exploring the house while Kirsty stays in the room with the puzzle boxes. I can't help but notice you didn't bring any weapons there, Mr. Kyle. Aww, but I'm sure everything will go just- oh no, Julia killed him. Well, wasn't HE just vital to this story?

Downstairs, Kirsty goes through the scrapbook and recognizes the photo of Pinhead, taking it. She hears Kyle's body make a telltale thump, heading upstairs to investigate... also without taking a weapon of some sort. She finds Julia standing next to his body, her stepmother knocking her out with a MASSIVE pimp slap. Channard shows up soon after, Tiffany in tow. To her credit, she is quite unfazed by the room of dead, rotting bodies. I'm guessing thanks to Channard's “care”, she's probably seen worse.

He sets the young woman up in his office, giving her one of his puzzle boxes to solve. She gets to work, continuing even after the room starts going crazy. Channard and Julia watch her from another room, Julia asking him if he's sure this is what he wants. He replies he does, but once again the movie offers no insight whatsoever into exactly WHAT this is. I get he wants to explore the realms of pleasure and pain or whatever, but just maybe a LITTLE explanation into the reasoning behind all of it would would be nice you know?

Tiffany solves the box, but no hooks appear to rip her apart. Now how in the fuck does THAT work? START MAKING SENSE MOVIE! The Cenobites enter the room, so let's do a quick roll call since I didn't do that in the last movie. There's Chatterer, the Resident Evil Nemesis looking one, Butterball, the fat one, and the creatively named Female Cenobite. They surround Tiffany but Pinhead makes his dramatic entrance and tells them to wait, saying Channard is the true summoner.

Kirsty wakes up where she was knocked out, Julia leaving her alive because she's a TOTAL rocket scientist. Kirsty goes back downstairs to find everyone gone, grabbing the box Tiffany opened and runs down the hallway the Cenobites entered through. We cut to another hallway where Tiffany stumbles across a demented looking carnival, where things REALLY start getting trippy. Kirsty runs into the Cenobites who threaten her despite the fact she didn't open the box, Pinhead turning the box in her hand into a diamond shaped puzzle... for some reason. Explanations? What are those?! She runs off to find her father, but finds Tiffany instead.

Julia leads Channard to an area with a gigantic diamond shape hovering in the air that just happens to match the one Pinhead turned Kirsty's box into. She tells him it's Leviathan, the god she now serves. A box appears and she shoves him into it, bio-mechanical devices shooting out from all sides and beginning to torture him. Thanks for playing Channard!

Kirsty and Tiffany continue their trek through the maze of hallways, coming across the door to Larry's house from the last movie. Kirsty leaves the mute woman outside and goes in, but instead of the house it's something resembling a mausoleum filled with candles and bodies writing under bloody sheets. This scene is WONDERFUL, Randel is severely stepping up his game this entire act. Uncle Frank appears, skin and all. He reveals HE'S the one who sent the message and not Larry, and I'll totally give Kirsty the benefit of a doubt for not being able to tell them apart without their flesh.

He attacks her but she stops him by KISSING HIM. Eww. No, that's going to be a double eww. She agrees to do whatever he wants, then grabs one of the sheets and throws it onto a candle, which causes the entire room to burst into flames. Umm, okay? She knew this would work HOW? The fire engulfs Frank so he tears his skin off, which is pretty freaking quick thinking if you ask me! The flames die down as quickly as they started, revealing Julia is now in the room and holding Tiffany by the arm.

Julia walks over to Frank and rips his heart out, telling him it's nothing personal which is an ironic echo as that's the exact thing he told her when he accidentally stabbed her. Kirsty and Tiffany book it, Kirsty tripping and dropping the Leviathan shaped object which Julia promptly retrieves. That's probably not going to be good. Or maybe it is, who honestly knows at this point?

Back to Leviathan's realm, where the box opens and Channard emerges as a Cenobite. He's rather pleased by this until a vagina-mouthed tentacle appears with a buzzsaw in the center and begins burrowing into his head. Are they even trying to tell a story anymore, or just shove as much fucked up imagery as possible into this thing? Mind you I'm not complaining because this stuff looks AWESOME, but I don't know... I feel like I'm watching a Clive Barker demo reel instead of a film.

Kirsty and Tiffany run into a hallway that tries to suck them into a vacuum, but instead Julia winds up falling into the trap, losing all her skin in the process. The two women flee, finding themselves back in the hospital. Kirsty starts crying, apologizing out loud to her father for not saving him. Tiffany comforts her, attempting to speak but just hugs her instead. Collecting herself, Kirsty announces they're leaving so they begin walking out. They walk through a room full of bloody patients working on Lament Configuration boxes, stopped by Channard, who is being propped up like a puppet with his vagina tentacle. Tiffany, your thoughts on this?

“Oh shit!”

Best. First. Words. EVER. Even better if the WTF looking Kirsty throws at her as she grabs her and escapes. Channard holds out a hand, a bunch of bladed tentacles shooting out of his palm. Quipping that he recommends amputation, he slashes up one of the patients because that's how he rolls. The two women find themselves in a chain filled room with the Cenobites, but I'm more interested in the fact that Chatterer now has eyes. Before he's always just been a burnt face with a set of non-stop clacking teeth, now he's sporting two big ol' eyes.

Apparently the actor who portrayed him, Nicholas Vince, has having trouble seeing out of his makeup and ended up taking a hook to the jaw because he couldn't tell where he was going. He asked for his costume to have eye holes while they wrote into the movie where Chatterer was given vision, but this scene was removed in the final cut so it just comes off really confusing. But that's par for course for these movies, so I'll let it slide.

The Cenobites want to “play” with Kirsty finally, but that's not exactly at the top of her bucket list. Instead, she reaches into her pocket and hands Pinhead that picture of him back when he was a human. He doesn't know who it's of until she tells him that's it a picture of himself, meaning he and the rest of his crew were once mortal. He doesn't believe her at first but then suddenly remembers, just in time for Channard to crash the party.

He demands Tiffany, but the Cenobites step in front of her. Oh, it is officially ON. Pinhead starts making hooks pierce the doctor, but he uses his hand tendrils to cut them off. He shoots a projectile through Female's neck that kills her, returning her back to her human form as she hits the ground. Butterball and Chatterer are the next to fall, but Pinhead stands his ground. Channard begins blasting him with energy beams that strip away his Cenobite self with every hit until he's the soldier we saw at the film's opening. He and Kirsty smile at each other as she takes Tiffany away, then Channard slits his throat and kills him. Well, that was a BIT anticlimactic.

Tiffany, now fully able to speak, realizes she has to finish the puzzle box to put an end to this clusterfuck. They return to the otherworld to the spot where Julia was skinned, the diamond puzzle still clutched in her hand. She takes it to Leviathan, working on it as Channard appears to stop her. Scratch that, he appears to TELL her he's going to kill her for about nine hours instead of just doing it. He takes so long that Julia shows up, skin now fully intact for some reason, and... makes out with him? Time and a place Julia, time and a place!

This OF COURSE allows Tiffany to complete the puzzle while Channard gets his mack on, seemingly completely forgotten about her. It's not until she solves the puzzle does he acknowledge her, returning to trying to kill her. But he's too late, as solving the puzzle causes his tentacle to freak out and RIP HIS HEAD OFF AT THE JAWLINE! This is so freaking awesome I didn't even get a Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 flashback. Okay, maybe just a little one.

This startles Tiffany so much that she falls off a nearby ledge, holding on for dear life. Julia, whom I guess was distracting Channard on purpose, pulls her to safety even though the previous scene she wanted her dead? Why would she- you know what? Fuck it, the movie's almost done. Character motivation and Hellraiser go together about as well as character motivation and Transformers, some things you just have to roll with. The physical strain of pulling Tiffany to safety caused Julia's skin to start coming off, so she rips it off to reveal she's really Kirsty. Dun dun duuuuuun! Oh snap, this movie just did something that was explained AND made sense!

Leviathan starts freaking out and shooting energy orbs everywhere, so they book it back to the hospital. Things jump ahead to later as they leave the hospital together, while the final shot is of a moving company emptying Channard's house. One of the workers is actor Oliver Parker, who also played one of the movers helping Larry move into Frank's house in the first movie. Parker's character starts playing with the bloody mattress because he's a genius, arms bursting out and grabbing him.
His friend, who may or may not be George Lucas, goes to check on him and finds his dead body. The Cenobite pillar slowly rises out of the floor as we can see the severed faces of the Cenobites and Julia are attached to it. It spins around to a bearded man's face, recognizable as the hobo from the first movie who was stalking Kirsty. Just in case you didn't get that, they helpfully covered his face in crickets to help you remember. He asks the mover “What is your pleasure, sir?”.

Cue the credits.

This ranks up there with some of the most incomprehensible movies I've ever seen, I daresay FAR more than the first Hellraiser. I'm not even sure you could say this movie had a plot, other than the abandoned idea of Kirsty trying to rescue her father from Hell... or Leviathan... or wherever he was. Behind the scenes the movie originally was meant to go very different because Kirsty was supposed to find her father, but then actor Andrew Robinson balked at the salary they offered him so they had to rewrite pretty much everything.

Somehow though, I get the impression that even if Larry had come back this film still would have been a complete nonsensical trainwreck. I could easily do several rounds of “20 Questions With A Ghoul” here, but honestly what's the point? The filmmakers didn't give a damn about trying to tell any kind of a cohesive story here, why should I bother burning precious brain cells trying to figure it out?

Instead, they wanted to make one of the most visually striking horror films ever made and YE GODS did they succeed. I couldn't find the actual budget for the movie anywhere, but rest assured it's LOW. Probably even less than the million dollars the first movie had. And while there are definitely some shots where you can see the seams of everything, most of this movie is flat out spectacular to look at. The mausoleum scene with the writhing bodies is instantly in my top ten, but there are so many other standouts like the bloody mattress, Channard's transformation, and so many of the hallway scenes. After this movie, I FINALLY get why this franchise has a devoted fandom.

And big props to director Tony Randel here.  Like Clive Barker, this was his first time in the big chair but unlike Barker he turned out a very entertaining and well paced film.  The first Hellraiser had me falling asleep for the majority of the run time, whereas here I was riveted for almost every scene because things flowed great.  He also got much better performances out of his cast, I wouldn't say the acting was stellar but everyone was very serviceable here.

If you have any kind of eye for the macabre, I give this my full recommendation. If you can't get past its utter disregard for plot and storytelling... well, you're probably not reading this because the first film would have put you off already. It is kind of terrifying I still have SEVEN more of these things to review, because holy shit that's a lot of likely poorly scripted nonsense to sift through.

Onto the third attempt!