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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/30/01

Hellraiser & Hellbound: Hellraiser II

reviews by Florian Kummert of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsTHX-certified


1997 (2000) - New World (Anchor Bay)

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/B-

Specs and Features:

93 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), THX-certified, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with writer/director Clive Barker, star Ashley Laurence and writer Pete Atkins), Hellraiser: Resurrection featurette, theatrical trailer, stills gallery, THX-Optimode test patterns, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Hellbound: Hellraiser II

Hellbound: Hellraiser II
1988 (2001) - New World (Anchor Bay)

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A-/B-

Specs and Features:

95 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), THX-certified, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Tony Randel, star Ashley Laurence and writer Pete Atkins), Hellraiser II: Lost in the Labyrinth featurette, theatrical trailer, stills gallery, THX-Optimode test patterns, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

"Don't cry. It's just a waste of good suffering."

The number one lesson proved by the Hellraiser films is this: if you ever happen to find a cool-looking golden puzzle box lying around, you might reconsider opening it. Although it's supposed to deliver you unlimited pleasure, the box has a few... how shall I say this... side effects. You see, once you open it, a bunch of nasty-looking demons called Cenobites enter your world, build up a whole arsenal of torture apparatus and start taking you apart, piece by piece, pound by pound, one bone after the other.

The adventurer and womanizer Frank finds out about his new demonic friends as soon as he manages to open that box. Frank's body is torn apart, but his soul survives below the dusty old floor panels of the room in which he opened the box. A few weeks later, Frank's dorky yuppie brother Larry moves into the old house, along with his wife Julia, who once had an affair with Frank. When Larry cuts himself while dragging the marital mattress upstairs, his blood drops onto the aforementioned floor. Frank swallows it up greedily and starts to rebuild himself. He needs more flesh, though, and sexually frustrated Julia eagerly helps him by luring single men into the deadly trap. But the Cenobites get angry when someone else is having too much pleasure. So they start unpacking their hooks and knives again...

"I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker," horror-meister Stephen King said, after the British writer Barker became famous with his Books of Blood, a collection of boldly written, inventive short stories. Adapted from his own short novella The Hellbound Heart, the 1987 film Hellraiser became Barker's first foray into the movie business. Two further movies, Nightbreed (based on his story Cabal, which got severely butchered by the producers) and the entertaining Lord of Illusions followed. But it is Hellraiser that Barker will be remembered for. It's not the story or the film itself that became so famous. It's the lead Cenobite, Pinhead (the guy with the nails in his head), who turned into a classic horror movie icon on par with Freddie, Jason and Michael Myers. The success of Pinhead was not a planned one. Pinhead didn't even have a name in the first Hellraiser film and was only on screen for a few scenes. But that figure touched a chord - represented something new and unusual. With Pinhead, Barker had created what every horror filmmaker craves for: something that's really scary but beautiful at the same time. Pinhead perfectly embodies, as Barker calls it, "repulsive glamour." He is a magnificent superbutcher who shocked people and, with his chain-and-hook-handicraft, started a new trend. "Hellraiser helped popularize the notion of damaging your body for fashion," Barker says on the audio commentary of the Hellraiser DVD. With Pinhead, cult S/M clubs and piercing became really popular.

But beside the fascinating Cenobite back story, Barker created a scary, adult horror film with a brilliant femme fatale, Julia, and a really twisted love story. Clive Barker's assistant said, during the shoot for Hellraiser, that the film really should have been called "What women would do for a good fuck". And considering the meager budget of under $1 million, the nasty special effects of the pre-GCI era were (except for the finale) excellent.

Barker had sold all the rights for the Cenobite universe to the distributor New World. So he didn't have any control over the sequels, which increasingly focused on Pinhead, of course, and his pleasure and pain trips. Now, I'm not a huge fan of the Hellraiser sequels. Part four? Pinhead in space? Hello! Who had that stupid idea?! But the first sequel has interesting ideas and, by directly following up the story of its predecessor, Hellbound: Hellraiser II generates some good, decent fun. Julia returns as a women without skin, and we're introduced into the world of the Cenobites, an Escher-like labyrinth of booby traps and danger. Part two is actually even more gruesome than Barker's original, but don't worry - you'll get the unrated director's cut on DVD.

A couple of years ago, Anchor Bay released the two films as movie-only, non-anamorphic, bare bones DVDs. If you own those discs, you'd better throw them away now, because Anchor Bay's new transfers rock the house. These THX-certified, anamorphic widescreen remasters (with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1) look absolutely beautiful. I remember being distracted by numerous artifacts on the old discs. Not anymore. The fully-saturated colors are right on spot, with solid blacks. Although there is some noticeable grain in several scenes, I never found it distracting. The image is more detailed and three-dimensional than ever and the prints used are absolutely clean. Pinhead's hooks and torture gadgets never looked that pleasure-inducing. Anchor Bay also includes an open matte, 1.33:1 transfer for each film, both of which boast the same quality.

Both soundtracks were remixed and now feature a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Again, the audio is a vast improvement over previous releases. Of course, Hellraiser can't deny its low-budget origins, so don't expect any surround extravaganzas. Especially the dialogue in the first Hellraiser is lacking in dynamic range, but it's never distracting. I'm a big fan of Christopher Young's majestic, Gothic score and, on both discs, it sounds wonderful. Anchor Bay again has created a great remix of a horror classic. Kudos to them for taking care of the non-mainstream stuff. Keep it up, guys!

Note that Anchor Bay has released two different new versions of Hellraiser and Hellraiser II. You can choose between a single-disc special edition of the films or the full-fledged limited edition tin that features both of the same exact Hellraiser films packaged together (that is, if you can find it - it's already out of print).

Now then... what about the goodies? Well, they're nice, but (considering the plethora of material out there) a little disappointing. The previous DVDs had no extras at all, so what we get is still welcome to be sure. But compared to the laserdisc special edition that was released a couple of years ago (a big box with the original screenplay and Cenobite drawings, personally signed by Clive Barker himself, limited to 2,500 editions - yes, I have one.) it's not THE special DVD edition I had hoped for. What do we have? Both discs feature newly recorded audio commentaries that include Ashley Laurence and Pete Atkins, along with each film's director, Clive Barker and Tony Randel. Clive Barker's commentary on the old laserdisc was plain boring, so I didn't expect too much when I popped in the first DVD. But good old Clive actually was in a good mood (although he repeatedly tells us how sick he is of talking about Pinhead over and over again). Barker and Laurence have some nice stories to share. Hellbound's commentary is also worth listening to for its wealth of information.

Each disc includes a 15-minute featurette produced by Clive Barker. Both of them show brand-new interviews with cast and crew members and are shot in anamorphic widescreen (a nice touch). The filmmakers even put Barker in a darkened room and make him sit in a circle of candles holding that golden puzzle box. Ashley Laurence, Pete Atkins, Tony Randel, Christopher Young and the whole Cenobite crew are fun to listen to, although I would have liked to see more behind-the-scenes footage. Talking about anamorphic widescreen, even the trailer on each disc is so enhanced. The still galleries with production photos are well done, but the laserdisc box had much more pictures and artwork and more behind-the-scenes stills. While the DVDs feature one trailer, the laserdisc had three, including an "international unrated trailer" that included material later cut by the MPAA to get the R-rating.

The Limited Edition tin also includes reproductions of the theatrical posters on the back of the scene selections insert. And Hellraiser fans get a 48-page booklet of Hellraiser production photos taken by photographer Tom Collins. The booklet is nicely produced, but I would have preferred some text to accompany the images.

All you Pinhead fans out there should try and get the tin (which, as I mentioned, is pretty scarce these days). If not, the single-disc editions are worth settling for. Both transfers are vastly superior to any other previous release, be it tape, laserdisc or DVD. And though they're not as extensive as one could hope, the extras on each disc are informative and fun to watch and listen to. Anchor Bay should summon up those Cenobites and tell them: "We have such sights to show you!"

Florian Kummert
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Hellbound: Hellraiser II

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