Friday, February 15, 2019

Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988)

During the post-production of Hellraiser, a sequel was already greenlit, which brings back to the novel The Hellbound Heart. There was already room for the book to be left a sequel but since that didn't come through, the film version had a much greater chance.
Unfortunately, Clive Barker didn't return to write or direct, but, he did leave it at the hands of a capable director, who, while eluding to Barker's vision, also expanded the world of the hell dimension. The result was a pretty decent sequel. Does the script have issues? Yes, but at least it holds true to the original.
The Story: After the events of the first film, Kirsty, suffering from trauma, is placed in a psychiatric hospital for further evaluation. Upon discovering that her stepmother Julia's blood is on the mattress of her father's house, Kirsty warns Doctor Channard and his assistant Kyle to destroy it. But unbeknownst to her, Doctor Channard has plans of his own. It just so happens, he's been researching about the Lament Configuration for years and seems to have had a thing for Julia before she met Larry. As a way to bring her back, Doctor Channard brings one of his disturbed patients as bait and is able to bring Julia back from the hell dimension but at the cost of her once beautiful skin. Kyle witnesses all this whilst in hiding and runs out and warns Kirsty of what he's seen.
Meanwhile, Kirsty has grown a bond with one of the patients, a young teenager by the name of Tiffany.
To further his devious plan, Doctor Channard uses more patients for Julia to feast upon, completing the transformation of her newfound beauty.
Seeing visions of her father's skinless body, writing the words, "help me, I'm in hell." Kirsty soon goes on a mission to rescue her father and stop Julia and Doctor Channard's plans of grabbing the puzzle box and unleash the havoc of the dimensional god Leviathan and his Cenobites.

Whew! That was a lot of story to tell. Although Clive Barker didn't write the entire script this time, much of his influence was included in the story. I can see that this meant to be the sequel to The Hellbound Heart but I guess his schedule got in the way. So let's move to the cast and crew.

What I really appreciate about this movie is that you have two strong female characters, one a hero, one a villain, that is able to drive a movie on their own.

First, let's start with Kirsty, who is more feisty and determined as ever.  The film is very much focused on her by using her wits and intuition.

Kirsty is quite the brave one, facing head-on as she goes through the labyrinth of hell, even when she comes to face her own demons.

Though Ashely Laurence gives an okay performance, she is still able to carry the film.

But the real star of the movie is Julia. In the first movie, she was introduced as this reluctant housewife seduced by her lover to do devious things.

Now she is a woman of her own, fully aware of what power she holds. Just like Frank, coming back from the hell dimension made her bit evil, a bit power-hungry, and it totally fits the character.

Along with her newfound confidence, she also has a glamorous evil makeover. Claire Higgins fully embraces the role of turning Julia into this fierce badass.

No longer the victim of Frank's lust, Julia now takes charge and is willing to satisfy her own revenge by tearing out his heart for betraying her. Julia is by far the best antagonist for this series. I would've like to see more of her.

Doctor Channard has probably been established by Clive Barker before and there is a sort of organic way he fits into the story. He is one of the vilest villains this series has yet. He is fascinated by body mutilation, treats his sickest patients like caged animals without giving them proper care, kills a kid's mother, performs a brain operation to erase memory of said murder, and imprisons her as one of his patients, and last of all kills half of his patients for Julia to feast upon.

His cenobite design is also disgustingly creepy and strange. By turning him into a cenobite, it makes the character vicious and quite frankly unstoppable. Kenneth Cranham gives off a subtle performance, in which any other case, would come off as hammy or over-the-top. That's what makes his character so chilling. His curiosity when it comes to human anatomy soon evolves him into a sociopathic killer. Hell! He's even worse than Frank! If Clive Barker so happens to add this character into the Hellbound Heart sequel, he would've been an interesting addition.

Now we have the character of Tiffany. Not much is known about her other than she obsessively solves puzzles, which would later be used as a plot point.

She is mute and that is by the trauma of witnessing Doctor Channard murdering her mother. Although there's not much to her, I do find the character interesting and I would've like to see her play a part in the third movie as it she who closes the hell portal and defeats Doctor Channard. Imogen Poots did a fairly good job of portraying the vulnerable Tiffany and provides subtle expressions without saying anything. It's a shame the character wasn't mentioned in any of the movies after that.

Kyle was...let's say, not so bright. He's not as useless as Steven in the first movie, he does try to figure things out and help Kirsty along the way but when it comes to pure common sense on his part, it goes all out the window. I know it's reliable for people to act dumb in horror movies to move the plot forward but I wish they could've been another way to off Kyle.

Okay, the gist is, he gets lured out by Julia, who at this point doesn't have a clue who she is, and pretty much sees the bodies that she's eaten.

This could be a warning sign for him to just, you know, run out and warn Kirsty, but no, he just stands there in repulse and soon becomes accessible to having Julia suck his organs out. William Hope, who's mostly known for being in Aliens, was okay for what he's given, though, Kyle was written as a reactionary character.

Aw yes! The cenobites! Once again, they are grotesquely gorgeous as ever with more design and a lot more character.

Doug Bradley as always gives another great performance as Pinhead. In Hellbound, there is a much needed backstory for Pinhead, though, in my opinion, I wish they would save some of this information in the third movie but I digress. Okay, so it turns out that the Cenobites were once human. Some point or other, one of them grabbed a hold of the puzzle box and it somehow turned them into these monstrous beings. For instance, the female cenobite was a nun and the chatter was a twelve-year boy. It just comes to show that the box has no mercy.
Once this is all revealed, the cenobites lose their muster when they fight against Doctor Channard as he kills them one by one. To me, this is one of the weaker points of the movie because the cenobites have such an iconic look and design that they would've had a mainstay in the franchise. Comparing to the cenobites of the later movies are just lackluster.

Okay, on to the special effects. Boy, this movie is go-or-ry! It's twice as brutal and twice as violent as the first in how it really gets into the skin of things. Trust me, this movie doesn't hold back. The makeup and design are top-notch and the setpieces are at a bigger scale now, which I appreciate. 

I like that the characters have to run through these weird mazes once they jump inside the labyrinth as it gives off an Alice in Wonderland-esque vibe to the world building.
The directing is fantastic. Tony Randall really did a good job of capturing Clive Barker's vision and embracing the fluidity of the first movie. Tony Randall did not disappoint and gave each amount of respect for the source material.
The writing is a bit iffy, kind of rushed. By the beginning of the movie, Kirsty is already there at the institution. What? They couldn't put her in a regular hospital? Then there's the case of Julia's body on the mattress with the puzzle box intact. Okay, how did she get there? It's not really explained. Though, they did get one thing right by getting all of the cut scenes from the first movie to interject in the sequel. But there are two more writing errors in the film, which I will discuss in our trivia section and by the end of the review.
Clive Barker had originally developed elaborate backstories for the Cenobites in the first film, though their origins were never explored. In this film, he wanted to make sure that, at the very least, the audience understood that the cenobites were once human and that their own vices led to their becoming demons. This element was meant to underline the story of Frank and Julia and their corruption by lust, with Julia intended to become the ultimate villain of the series.

THIS. WOULD. HAVE. BEEN. AWESOME. Julia was really growing as a character at this point. Her path to villainy played out perfectly. As you can see here, there was an alternate ending with Julia coming out of the large pillar, with her blue dress turning black, hinting that she has become the new queen of hell. Serving Julia as the new queen of hell would've been an epic plot for the third movie. But sadly, Pinhead proved much popular with the audience and thus leads us to our next movie (ho hum).
An In-depth subplot detailing the origins of Pinhead was scripted but deleted in pre-production due to last-minute budget cuts. All that remains of this subplot is the film's prologue, showing Captain Elliot Spencer opening the box and transforming into Pinhead.

Some part of me wished they would save the revelation that Pinhead was once human and just the kept the opening scene as a mystery. Though, his backstory is more explained, albeit in a clunky way, in the third movie.
Okay, one of the last writing mishaps was the return of Larry Cotton. Andrew Robinson was asked to reprise his role but refused. I guess he didn't want to be typecast but it's a bummer because he was one of the best parts of the first movie. So this led to a lot of rewrites during the middle of production.

The basis was Larry sends out a message to Kirsty to save him, in which Kirsty eventually finds him and he saves Kirsty from Frank when they battle it out, sort of Kirsty in the novel, would save Rory if there was a sequel to Hellbound Heart.

INSTEAD, Kirsty is tricked by Frank and somehow wants her to be his sex slave. Uh, ew! So in a sense, Kirsty is saved by Julia, of all people, once Frank is distracted by her beauty. Such a shame, bringing back Larry would have been a kickass moment but, oh well, I guess they wanted to wrap things up. Which brings me to my last issue with the script. Not only the beginning felt rushed but the climax was rushed as well.


How on earth can Kirsty fit into Julia's skin that heap of time?

And uh, ew! Why would she wear someone's skin?

Not only that, she kisses the Doctor Channard Cenobite on the lips as a way to distract him while Tiffany closes the portal. How gross is that? Really, Kirsty, really?


So that was Hellbound: Hellraiser 2. I really enjoyed this one and it's by far the best sequel this series got so far. Everything about the movie felt organic and told the story in such a cathartic way by making it bigger and broader.
When you look back at it, it could've been a fantastic franchise. But by the third movie, All was scrapped and the story wouldn't have any meat without Pinhead. Which will lead us to our next review. But besides that, Hellbound is a solid addition to the series and I highly recommend it.
My Last Word: A definite Yes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Hellraiser (1987)

In 1986, fantasy horror writer Clive Barker wrote the chilling novella The Hellbound Heart. After the publication, he would later turn it into a script, in which it became the basis of the spine-tingling gorefest Hellraiser.
When I was a kid I was too scared to watch this or any of the movies. It's just something about Pinhead that freaked me out. Well, all of the horrormeisters of the 80's, such as Micheal, Jason, and Freddy, all freaked me out. But it was Pinhead, in particular, that gave me the chills. It's just something about his chalk white skin, ominous stare, and mutilated-pined face. Ugh, I couldn't bear to look at him. By the time I was around 12 or 13, I was finally able to watch this through.
And...This is probably the most visually striking horror movie I've seen in a long time. It's horror at it's finest. The violence and gore cuts skin deep, it's really extreme. The MPAA probably had a field day cutting out the more gruesome scenes, I amazed that some of the footage went through.
But what really stood out to me was the story. Everything just flows well. The character development, the plot, the conflict, the climax, everything.

This is why I think Clive Barker is one of the best horror writers since Stephen King. He really takes you into another world with his writing, combing the feeling of what's being captured on screen. This is why the first one is the best of the series because, without Clive Barker, the movie's identity is lost.
The Story: Married couple, Larry and Julia Cotton, just moved into a new home, unbeknownst to the strange going-on in the house. One night, Julia curiously goes up to the attic, only to find her former lover and Larry's brother, Frank, very much alive but horribly skinless, having escaped from a hellish dimension. In order to make his body whole, Julia must lure men for Frank to suck their body organs. Larry's teenage daughter Kristy, unfortunately, finds herself caught up in Frank and Julia's twisted web of deceit. And after escaping from Frank's grip, Kristy finds a puzzle box that soon unleashes a league of blood-thirsty demons known as the Cenobites. Now it's up to Kristy to save her father from Frank and Julia's diabolical plan and put Frank back to hell. Once and for all.

The cast is phenomenal. The stronger performances come from Andrew Robinson and even Doug Bradley.

But let's start with the main hook of the story which is Frank and Julia.

Claire Higgins actually did a good job of portraying the character of Julia. Her fear, her reluctance, her path to the dark side was all captured splendidly. The character of Julia within the novel is pretty much the same. This bored, unsatisfied woman who wants excitement and passion gets what she's bargained for once she meets Frank. And when Julia is caught up in Frank's sexual dominance, that's when all hell breaks loose. That's pretty much the description of her character. A woman who falls into lust but turns evil because of it.

Sean Chapman was delicious as Frank. He definitely conveys that bad boy edge and very hot to boot. Although he has little screen time in the role, Sean Chapman does have a seductive presence, fitting right at home with a character like this.

Frank in the novel is not particularly the hot, sexy stud you see on film. He's an average-looking man with a stocky build but it's really his raw masculinity and aggressive nature is what Julia finds attractive. Frank is pretty much a thrillseeker, finding anything that quenches his thirst. Once he discovers the puzzle box, it unleashes a force he can't reckon with, which in turn banishes him into an eternal hell. Once he escapes the wrath of the cenobites, he too turns toward a path of darkness.

Andrew Robinson was sensational in his dual roles.  He's probably the most versatile actor, playing victim and villain in one movie. He's quite likable as Larry, being the kind, jolly everyman that would say dry jokes at the dinner table.

And in all honesty, he and Julia are a total mismatch as Julia would fit at home in Dynasty than Leave It To Beaver.

Rory (his name in the novel) and Larry don't really have much characterization beyond just being boring and bland but Andrew Robinson put more into the role and you feel sympathetic to him. And like I said, Larry and Julia, total mismatch, wherein both versions, Frank and Julia plot to kill and take Larry's skin.

That's where Andrew Robinson's roles switch and he is TERRIFYING as Frank. With his lecherous stare and diabolical grin, is darkly gleeful.

The Jesus wept line when his body brutally hooked in chains, gave me the chills. It was actually Andrew Robinson's idea to put that in the script. What a genius. He is clearly the strongest actor in the film.

Lastly, we have Kristy, Larry's daughter. I thought Ashely Laurance did a really good job of capturing the vulnerability of her character.
But now comes the strange part about her. In the novel, Kristy is Rory's (remember that's Larry) friend who happens to have had a crush on him. Weird considering that's she's his daughter in the movie but aged younger. However, I do like the changes that were made to the character. Making her Larry's daughter puts more stake to the plot, giving her a much more cohesive motivation for Kristy to save Larry as oppose to a twenty-six-year-old woman trying to save the guy she had a crush on from the hell dimension. It gives the two characters more of a connection by making them child and parent.

There are also personality differences as well. Kristy is a lot feistier in the movie and I  kind of like that. She really seems like the kind of girl that doesn't take any crap.

Okay, let's just squeeze this in. I did not care for Steven. There really is no purpose to his character other than being Kristy's love interest. I guess the producers needed something or someone to add with Kristy into the story and I guess they added a love interest just because. What makes this character even more laughable, is that he just shows up at the end, suddenly becoming dragged into the story. How convenient.
Okay, I have saved the best for last and now I introduce to you...

The Cenobites!

Ahh! what incredible make-up effects and costumes. Only Clive Barker would have a vision like this. The near-sight of these creatures are ghastly and immaculate at the same time.

But I guess the real star of the film is Pinhead himself. He doesn't quite have a role in this, but every time he's on screen, he has such an intimidating, commanding presence. This was Doug Bradley's first major role, and boy, is he good. Just like Andrew Robinson, Doug Bradley gives this in-demand performance, taking the character of Pinhead and rolling with it. This is why he made Pinhead so iconic. 

The score is phenomenal. Bursting with this strong operatic flare, taking you into an adventurous but dangerous territory.

Fun fact! Clive Barker had no experience in film directing but what he showcases is definitely the most gruesome yet gorgeous imagery that's ever captured in horror.

For example, the scene when Frank escapes from hell by the drop of his brother's blood, morphing into a skeletal beast. This was one of the best special effects work I've seen a long time. They don't make it like this anymore. 
The scenes are of ambiance, it's mysterious and it gets under the skin, probably something that no audience in 1987 haven't seen before. For Clive Barker to be involved with every waking moment in this film is awe-inspiring, which is why he is known today as a cult film director. 
Trivia Time!
The film was originally supposed to be called The Hellbound Heart, named after the novella it was based upon. However, the studio decided that the title sounded too much like a romance. Ironic, considering the gist of the plot is based on a love affair albeit a destructive one. So Barker went with another title which was, Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave, which sounds like a Roger Corman B-movie title But then the funny part is, a female crew member suggested, "What a Woman would Do for a Good Fuck." Ha, fitting.
Doug Bradley's character was named, "The Priest," in the earlier drafts of the script and ultimately, simply became "Lead Cenobite" in the shooting script. This was at the time where the "Lead Cenobite" wasn't an established character yet. So the name "Pinhead" became sort of a street cred name, which Clive Barker disliked. And so later when the series was developed in comic book form, Pinhead was referenced to "Priest."
The concept of a cube being used as a portal to hell was the basis of the urban legend, The Devil's Toy Box.
Doug Bradley was originally offered the choice of roles between one of the mattress movers and the lead cenobite. Being a new film actor, he thought it was important for the audience to see his face, so he nearly turned down the role of the Lead Cenobite. And thank god, he didn't.
The film had a budget of 1 million but made 20 million at the box office. This was Clive Barker directing debut, who only made two short films prior to this.
So those are my thoughts on Hellraiser. Nowadays, people just think it's an okay film along with the onslaught of lackluster sequels that came after it. But I think it's an astonishing effort by Clive Barker. His first film is really good at building the characters and the world around them. No other writer or director would even think of creating a concept like this. That is why Hellraiser remains as an 80's cult classic.