Picking up more or less where the original Hellraiser left off, Hellbound: Hellraiser II begins with Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) sent off to a mental hospital. You see, when her father and her step-mother where slaughtered by the demonic Cenobites, she tried to convince everyone of what really happened to them but of course, no one believed here, they all thought her to be insane. Unfortunately for Kirsty, the man in charge of the hospital is one Dr. Philip Channard (Kenneth Cranham), and he's less interested in helping his patients than he is in his occult studies and his hopes of finding the secret to inter-dimensional travel.
Kirsty's sole source of comfort arrives in the form of Channard's assistant, Kyle MacRae (William Hope), who truly believes that there might be more to her story than most are willing to give her credit for. What neither of them realize is that Channard has given Kirsty's story some credence as well, in fact, he's thinking that her story just might hold the keys to the mysteries he's been trying to solve. When he goes so far as to return to Kirsty's old house and touch the mattress where her step-mother, Julia (Claire Higgins) was killed, he resurrects her. When he learns that she needs to feed, he starts to kill off the patients in his hospital one at a time so that she can return to her former human form. The pair team up to bring about Leviathan but Kirsty and Kyle can't let them succeed, and the return of the Cenobites will surprise all involved...
One of those rare sequels that manages to equal, and at time seven surpass, its predecessor, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is simultaneously repulsive and beautiful in its decidedly erotic mix of sex, violence, and occult theology. Taking the mythology that Clive Barker created in his original short story, The Hellbound Heart, which in turn inspired the first Hellraiser film, director Tony Randel has crafted a smart and sexy vision of Hell and its denizens, one which is as intriguing and surreal now as it was when it first hit theaters two decades ago. Plenty of substance and just enough style combine with a smart script that deals with man's most base emotions - lust, greed, and desire - to create a horror picture that stimulates your mind as well as your jump reflex.
Much of the heavy lifting is done by Ashley Laurence, a beautiful and sorely underrated actress who proves here that she's much more than just a pretty face. Her Kirsty is a truly sympathetic character and her performance is strong enough that we can completely believe her in the part. Equally as impressive are the supporting performances that come courtesy of Julie Higgins and Kenneth Cranham, the pair who portray the true villains of the film. Of course, this wouldn't be a Hellraiser film without the presence of Pinhead and his Cenobites, and thankfully Doug Bradley does a fine job of reprising his role with some great support from Simon Bamford, Nicholas Vince and Barbie Wilde, the four of whom make a seriously deranged quartet.
The sequels that followed this picture didn't so much expand on the legacy of the first two pictures in the franchise as they did piss all over it but Hellbound: Hellraiser II proves that sequels can be done well, with smarts and with style. Pinhead has since become a bit of a cliché but here he and his crew are still intense and frightening characters, nightmarish visions that have taken on humanoid form. It's not often you can call something a modern classic but the movie really is an expertly made and incredibly effective horror film well worth revisiting.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II is presented in its original 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratio in a nice anamorphic progressive presentation. Colors look a little on the dark side but the film was shot this way and those who have seen the movie before know that this is nothing new. There's a healthy coat of grain present throughout playback but no heavy print damage. Some minor compression artifacts pop up in a couple of spots but you have to look for them to really notice them and there aren't any major edge enhancement problems anywhere to be seen. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural and detail levels are strong throughout.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track on this disc is quite good. There's plenty of aggressive surround activity coming out of the rear channels when called for while dialogue remains clean and clear. The levels are all properly balanced while bass response stays strong and tight. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about and the score sounds very nice and quite crisp. Optional English closed captioning is provided for the feature.
Anchor Bay has carried over the extras from their previous release and added a trio of new featurettes for this new 20th Anniversary Edition. The commentary track with director Tony Randel, writer Peter Atkins and actress Ashley Laurence is present once again and it remains an interesting listen even if you've tried it out before. They cover the origins of the picture, what it was like to return to the mythology that Clive Barker created with the first picture and how they tried to make this picture unique in its own right. They also discuss typical making of tidbits such as make up effects, location and sets, casting and cinematography. It's a solid and well-rounded discussion that sheds quite a bit of light on the history and making of the movie.
Also carried over from the previous Anchor Bay DVD release are the On Set Interview With Clive Barker (3:15) and On Set Interviews With The Cast & Crew (4:37) featurettes. These are fairly brief but they contain some decent behind the scenes footage and interviews shot during the production as well as some behind the scenes stills. The Clive Barker produced Lost In The Labyrinth (17:02) behind the scenes featurette also appears here which contains interviews with Barker, Randel, Laurence and others shot while the film was in production. Carried over from the Anchor Bay UK release of the film but new for US fans is Under The Skin (10:53) which is the Nucleus Films producer interview with Doug Bradley that cover his work on this film. Bradley comes off as a jovial sort as he talks about his life as Pinhead and what it was like going back to the well a second time with Hellbound.
New and exclusive to this DVD is The Soul Patrol (22:08) which is a collection of interviews with the Cenobites themselves, Simon Bamford, Nicholas Vince and Barbie Wilde. It's interesting to hear from the three actors about their experiences on set and what it was like to play these now iconic characters - it's also interesting to see what they look like now and without the make up on! Also exclusive to this release is Outside The Box (15:05), an interview with director Tony Randel that covers the early years of his career and the influence that Hellbound had on the films that he would make later on in life. Randel comes off as a pretty clever guy and while some of his stories are covered on the commentary track, it's still interesting to hear how he came on board and what he did to make this film his own. The last exclusive extra is The Doctor Is In (13:30) which is an interview with actor Kenneth Cranham who talks about his work on the film and what it was like to play Dr. Channard. He also talks about working with Claire Higgins and about the effects work used in the picture and how that all related to his role. All three featurettes are courtesy of Red Shirt Productions and are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Rounding out the extra features on this release are the film's four original trailers, a pair of television spots, a gallery of poster and promotional art and behind the scenes photographs. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included. Inside the keepcase for this release is an insert containing the film's poster art on one side and a chapter listing on the flipside of the insert. A miniature fold out poster reproduction can also be found tucked inside. The keepcase itself fits inside a slipcase featuring identical front and rear cover art (which makes it kind of pointless).
Die hard fans and Hellraiser devotees will want this one no matter what, but is it worth the upgrade for those who have the previous DVD releases? Well, the transfer is strong and the audio is very solid and Anchor Bay have included three new featurettes and priced the disc quite attractively. Hellbound: Hellraiser II holds up really well and remains a creative and genuinely frightening effort and this is its best DVD release yet. When you take that all into account, it's easy to highly recommend this one.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.