Bound to Nothing
Hellbound discards many religious implications from the first Hellraiser, leaving this sequel shifting between well trodden mental health tropes, psychological terror, and a pseudo-Frankenstein story.
Clive Barker remains, writing and producing. His influence is still here, including some tantalizing visions of hell’s interior and a slight boost to Hellraiser lore. Lost though is the gratuitous depiction of sexuality, leaning more on raw slasher-like terror, distancing Hellbound from its early lineage. The sequels only furthered that agenda.
It’s as if Hellbound tries to find any voice, casting a sordid doctor (Kenneth Cranham) infatuated with researching pure evil, and discovering Kirsty (Asheley Laurence) mere hours after her escape in the first film. Through Kirsty, Hellbound turns pliable, leasing her perspective to toss out eclectic visions of hellish purgatory. Freddy Krueger is welcome to this underworld dreamscape, and almost undoubtedly, the early influence of Nightmare on Elm Street comes to play in this sequel.
With only 14 months separating Hellbound’s release from Hellraiser and a behind-the-scenes struggle in locking down a story, it’s little surprise to witness those battles on screen. Each of Hellbound’s steps portray an idea wonderfully – from the lurid, skinless make-up on a returning Clare Higgins to the MC Escher-like underground maze. Each image is vividly designed, with freakishly distorted horror undertones. Then, the narrative around them collapses.
Looking past the blatant tropes – including the mad doctor looking on at his creation during a thunderstorm – Kirsty becomes what the producers need her to, someone to shuffle through lore, adding arbitrary weight to the backstory. It’s a long term strategy of sorts to build a franchise, investing in the eerie visage of Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his malleable underworld. Strange then that Pinhead doesn’t appear until 50-minutes in, with listless involvement to the story at large.
It’s arguable that minimal Pinhead is a better Pinhead – the less he performs the more Pinhead holds onto a mystique. His undefined presence lifts the character onto a pedestal, not his actions. Hellbound gets it.
Like Hellraiser, Hellbound props up a female lead. In opposition to Higgins’ sour, morbid rampage, Kirsty takes on a direct heroine role, at odds with the overarching terror and tone. Nothing about Hellraiser needs a hero or heroine; all needs consumed by real world sins. At least, that’s Hellraiser’s thematic core which Hellbound shoots down. Luckily, getting there is sensationally vibrant in aesthetic appeal.
Arrow Video’s encode has plenty to do when it comes to this transfer. Whether a lower budget film stock, deliberate stylistic choice, or other circumstance, the grain quality of Hellbound quickly rises into a harsh, coarse look. Black levels, while more than adequate, cannot cover up the thick grain structure.
In this sense, Arrow’s compression does fine work, although a noticeably digital slant covers the image. It’s hard not to notice the buzzing and messy look, even if Hellbound is attracted to the aesthetic. When in flashback, this issue comes compounded by the thick grain of the first Hellraiser, doubling the issue in an unacceptable spike. On the plus side, Arrow clearly didn’t filter anything, and save for a single line during the Cenobite’s first appearance, the print itself remains in excellent condition.
Undisturbed color leaves Hellbound’s look pure. Accurate flesh tones and satisfying primaries hold under the weight of grain. Coupled with excellent brightness, image depth excels.
Better, under the grain structure is a sharp, fidelity-rich presentation. Close-ups preserve facial definition. The elegant if imperfect visual effects have their texture intact. Those brilliant make-ups keep all of their gooey minutiae, from veins to muscles, a sure sign of a pure transfer.
Although the DTS-HD 5.1 mix seems like the choice, it’s messy. With a huge sweep into the surrounds, the score sound too elevated, with a raw, harsh quality. Much of the directionality is ambient, somewhat annoyingly from the clanging chains near the end or the stock lightning effects.
Clarity isn’t great in 2.0 option either. Hellbound still suffocates a touch from age, thin dialog and rough effects included. The soundstage however is more natural, better placed in the stereos with cleaner directionality.
At two hours, Leviathan leads this Blu-ray’s extras in the best way. While not always high in production quality, the making of story threads through all necessary players. The style is a bit scattered and overlong, but few documentaries of this type are more complete.
As if anything else is needed, Sean Chapman discusses his small part in Being Frank, a wonderfully punny title for this 11-minute interview. Under the Skin, also punny, chats with Doug Bradley for 11-minutes as well. Of special interest is the “Surgeon Scene,” a lost deleted bit involving the Cenobites. The quality isn’t great (an aging VHS apparently the source), but it’s here.
The older featurette Lost in the Labyrinth seems redundant after Leviathan, but it’s here for completionist sake. On-set footage and two short vintage promotional interviews come next. If all of this didn’t seem like enough, you’ll still have two commentaries. Director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins join for the first, with the same pair reuniting with star Clare Higgins on the second. Still left? Trailers and still galleries. It’s a packed disc.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
It’s a messy time in the first Hellraiser sequel, Hellbound, a scattered batch of ill-formed ideas held together by stellar visuals.
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