Well, more accurately, Sunday in Hell. Saturday was a pink day, and all rather cute and cuddly, but we’ll talk about that later (or not). On Sunday, by way of redressing the balance, I read Christopher Fowler’s novel Hell Train and followed that up by watching a couple of entries from my favourite film franchise with the world ‘hell’ in the title.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Kirsty, the ‘sole’ survivor from the first film, has been admitted to a mental hospital, but evil Dr Channard (Kenneth Cranham) has plans of his own; he’s been investigating the Cenobites and similar supernatural phenomena for most of his life, and now wants to see for himself. Sacrificing inmates of the asylum on the bloodsoaked mattress where she died, he manages to bring Julia (Clare Higgins) back to life and ‘enflesh’ her, the two of them then entering Hell. Summoned to rescue her father, Kirsty follows with the aid of young Tiffany, another patient of Channard’s who has a flair for puzzles, including the Lament Configuration box. Actually it isn’t her father calling Kirsty, but uncle Frank, while Channard is transformed into a Cenobite, taking over from Pinhead and the crew. The scene is set for a ‘last man (or woman) standing’ in the cloistered confines of Hell.
There seems to be a bit of dislocation going on here, in that I thought the family house was destroyed at the end of Hellraiser, but now it’s intact again, and the first film was set in London whereas, to judge from the badged caps and handguns of the police officers, we are now in America. No matter, as the delightfully contrived plot and a barrage of special effects help to brush over any continuity issues. Of the cast, Ashley Laurence is excellent as Kirsty, the heroine of the piece, while a deliciously evil Clare Higgins truly comes into her own here, getting over her Frank obsession and aspiring to the queendom of Hell, and Cranham’s Channard provides her with an agreeably amoral helpmate, one who is himself transformed into something way beyond monstrous. Some more of the Cenobites’ cosmic grounding is provided, with a chilling vision of Hell and the ruling principle known as Leviathan, and a philosophy in which pain and pleasure combine, becoming inextricably mingled. We also learn something of Pinhead’s back story, how he became a demon, and this revelation of humanity gives the character an Achilles’ heel, one to be exploited later. The effects are marvellously staged, with Hell both a place of cloistered intimacy and also with a compelling aura of desuetude about it, the brooding Leviathan floating above everything. Flesh is ripped and torn, bodies pulled apart and reassembled, with the fate of Channard the most spectacular, echoing Alien and foreshadowing the Borg from the Star Trek universe. Equally impressive are the scenes of Julia ‘enfleshing’, the room of flayed bodies and Frank’s demise, though I could have done without the cliched sub-basement full of screeching lunatics at the mental hospital. It lacks the impact and originality of the first film, but more than compensates with the visionary qualities brought to the story.
Okay, now we are definitely in the US. Terry Farrell is junior journalist Joey who senses a career making story when she’s at the hospital ER and sees a young man torn apart by chains. With the aid of Terri (Paula Marshall), she follows the trail back to decadent club The Boiler Room, where owner J. P. Monroe is helping Pinhead gain a foothold in our world. But Pinhead’s human side, Captain Elliott Spencer, is advising Terri through her dreams and shows her how to defeat his evil alter-ego with the aid of the Lament Configuration box.
I found this all a little disappointing. The main problem is Farrell, who I liked in Deep Space Nine but is here totally out of her depth. She never seems to forget that she is acting, with no real emotion to her performance, almost as if she is sleepwalking through the whole thing. And she has to run a lot, but she runs like a girl, with arms and legs flopping, no real sense of urgency as she stumbles from one life threatening special effect to the next. Farrell reminded me of nothing so much as the heroine in a Victorian melodrama, forever throwing her hands up in the air and calling for the smelling salts. The whole thing with the dream sequences, in which Joey sees Spencer and her dead father, has a Hallmark feel to it, so that you don’t quite believe, while invading Earth and getting free of his hellish roots has turned Pinhead into just another monster, depriving him of the qualities that made him unique. The slaughter at The Boiler Room is a variation on prom night for Carrie with the sfx guys challenged to devise a suitable variety of death modes, while the new Cenobites that Pinhead creates are very ordinary, their only real purpose seeming to be to spout some cringe inducing jokes as they herd Joey back to Pinhead. And I’m not going anywhere near some of the plot unlikelihoods, such as Terri falling in with Joey at the drop of a hat. On the plus side, Doug Bradley does get to ham it up a bit as Pinhead, with some neat one-liners, and the scene in a church where he riffs on the crucifixion is probably the highlight of the film. Other than that and a few similar moments it’s very much a case of taking a new mythology and replacing it with the same old mediocrity, worth seeing the once for the effects and the odd laugh, but overall retreading old material in lieu of bringing anything new to the table.