I love Clive Barker’s Hellraiser now, but, back in 1987 when the film was released, I remember leaving the theater quite…well…quite confused and disappointed by it all. Sure, the Cenobites were cool, and there was a lot of nifty gore, but, ultimately, I was kind of bored by it all. You have to remember that, at this time, Clive Barker wasn’t exactly a household name in the U.S. (I’d had yet to read a word of the man’s writing - something I’d later rectify with a vengeance), and this strange little flick was a far cry from the sort of horror movies I was used to; namely, slashers! Still, there was something about the film – about the mysterious young mind behind it – that fascinated me. I soon found myself seeking out anything and everything Clive Barker, and, by the time the sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, was released a year later, I’d grown into a full-fledged Barker enthusiast, fully enamored with the writer’s quirky/classy brand of Lovecraftian horror.
Hellbound opens with a sort of “greatest hits” montage from the Hellraiser, culminating with Hellraiser’s heroine, Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) being committed to The Channard Institute for psychiatric evaluation immediately following the events of the first film. As one would expect, no one believes Kirsty’s story, but the institute’s founder, Dr. Phillip Channard (Kenneth Cranham) takes a vested interest in her case. He, along with his skeptical assistant, Kyle (William Hope) interrogate Kirsty, but, while Kyle thinks the girl is clearly mad, it’s obvious that Channard knows more about Kirsty’s story than he’s letting on, prompting Kyle to break into the doctor’s house where he discovers a virtual treasure trove of artifacts and documents, including a collection of the very same “puzzle boxes” Kirsty described. Kyle also finds a bloody mattress - the same one the police had confiscated from Kirsty’s father’s house – lay out on the floor of Channard’s office. While Kyle rummages through the doctor’s papers, Channard returns with a patient in tow. Kyle hides and watches as Channard hands the patient a straight razor and allows him to mutilate himself on the mattress. As the patient’s blood is spilled, Channard and Kyle witness the rebirth of Julia (Claire Higgins) who bursts out of the bloodied mattress and devours the life essence of the unfortunate sacrifice provided her. Channard goes about getting Julia more victims while Kyle rushes back to Kirsty, and, having witnessed the truth with his own eyes, attempts to spirit her away from The Channard Institute. However, Julia and Channard have other plans, and, aided by young Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) – a patient with a penchant for puzzles – they open the gates to Hell, bringing forth Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his fellow Cenobites.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II is my favorite installment in the series, and, somewhat ironically (considering that he was no longer at the helm) the film I feel is most indicative of Barker’s esoteric style. It’s a gorier, sexier, and much more outlandish film than its predecessor, with a nifty mad-scientist subplot, and a decidedly “epic” feel to both the mythology of the universe as well as the Hell that the Cenobites inhabit. I feel that the “rules” of the franchise are truly established here, and it’s in this film that I feel the Pinhead character is genuinely elevated to horror icon status. It’s a fun flick, and I was psyched to see it come out on Blu-ray. And I still am. Sort of.
Image’s Blu-ray release of Hellbound features the unrated version of the film in a somewhat schizophrenic transfer that is, at times, quite lovely, and other times...not so much. Excess grain and noise is prevalent in shadows and darker scenes, but, thankfully it’s never so bad that it becomes a distraction (unlike, say, MGM’s first stab at Predator on Blu-ray! Yikes!). It's just not all that pretty to look at. The good news is that this transfer seems somewhat “cleaner” than previous DVD releases, with only a scant few artifacts and signs of print damage, and, in well-lit scenes, the level of detail is actually pretty impressive. There are rumors that this (as well as other releases under Image’s new Midnight Madness Series banner) is actually a DVD transfer upscaled to 1080p, and, while that could very well be the case, I’m of the opinion that the transfer is really just a victim of poor source materials. While it’d be great to see Hellbound completely restored, I highly doubt that will happen any time soon, so this is most likely the best this flick is going to look for the foreseeable future, upscale or not. And it’s not bad! It’s just not great, either, and isn’t a huge improvement over Anchor Bay’s 20th Anniversary Edition.
The accompanying 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track, however, is a surround lover’s dream, with loads of directional cues and immersive sound effects scattered throughout the spectrum. Bass is very robust, and dialogue is mixed up front and center. If there’s one place this Blu-ray really shines, it’s in its audio quality.
Extras are pretty much nonexistent beyond a rarely-seen trailer for Hellbound (in HD), and a collection of trailers for other Image releases. I’m not sure why none of the previous DVD extras were ported over (especially seeing as how Anchor Bay and Image, but I’m guessing Image had their reasons and, besides, this disc can be had for less than $13 bucks, so I’m not about to complain about value, here.
Obviously, Hellraiser fans would sell their souls to get their blood-spattered mitts on a copy of Hellbound: Hellraiser II on Blu-ray, but I’m guessing some will be let down by the lack of quality extras while others may be less than impressed by the hit-or-miss transfer. Personally, I think the film looks perfectly acceptable (certainly light years better than Echo Bridge’s disastrous mistreatment of Hellraiser III, which isn’t even in the correct aspect ratio), but, if you already own the Anchor Bay 20th anniversary edition (which is loaded with excellent extras), you may want to give this one a pass.