It’s not a good sign for a sequel when there is not one, but two recaps of the previous film within the first twenty minutes. The Friday the 13th franchise used to have recaps at the beginning of every movie, but that was to pad runtime. In essence, recaps, sometimes in the form of extended flashbacks, are lazy filmmaking, entrusting big chunks of storytelling to a predecessor’s efforts. But, Hellbound’s director Tony Randel must have learned the technique as producer on Godzilla 1985, a film that was a recut bastardization of the Toho release, Return of Godzilla. Godzilla flicks are fun but they are stupid. They are stupid fun, I guess. Randel was part of a team that found a way to make a Godzilla flick even more stupid. Hopes were not high for this film.
Hellbound picks up right where the previous film left off. Julia and Frank (Clare Higgins and Sean Chapman) are dead, the Cenobites having done their thing in the last film’s climax, and the heroine, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), is back in a hospital bed, where she spent a good deal of the last film. Only this time, Kirsty is in a mental hospital run by the twisted Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham). Kirsty was brought in by the police, ranting and raving about demons, murder, and really aggressive kinky sex...in that order. Channard is the only person who believes Kirsty’s crazy stories, because he’s a bit of an alternate dimension enthusiast, aware of the existence of the Cenobites before Kirsty is even under his care.
After some special effects grossness, somehow more disgusting than the first film while looking less believable, Julia returns to life and Channard sets in motion his plan to visit the realm of the Cenobites.
It’s after this point that the plot goes a bit off the rails. Everyone wants to find this place, including people who, in the previous film, couldn’t wait to get away. And why? The entire joint is crawling with Cenobites, the most insanely grotesque group of fetishists ever put to film. One does not seek out these folks’ hometown.
But, this only turns out to be a minor inconvenience to the plot. Despite my low expectations for this film (plus having remembered it as being not that good), I was impressed with its pacing and fine with its storytelling. Randel doesn’t have the sense of mystery that Clive Barker, the previous film’s writer and director, had, but this is still a far more passable sequel to a very good movie than most viewers get. Hellbound feels like more than a chance to make a quick buck on the back of another movie.
The film’s biggest failings are not where I was expecting. Rather than in the general tone of the film, it’s in its fan service. The Cenobites were very much the stars of the first film, but they’re barely in it. They are a menace hovering over the entire production, but the story was not about them. In this film, there is only the simplest of narratives attached to the Cenobites, with little dialogue, but it serves to give each of the gross four an origin. Questions are always more powerful in stories than answers, because they let loose a viewer’s imagination. The lore behind the Cenobites was best left undefined.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II is not as good as its predecessor, and, having seen both, it’s impossible not to compare the two. But, I was expecting a launching pad to a succession of straight-to-video drivel (that comes later). This film is not that. It’s a decent add-on to a story that was already complete.