Hellraiser - in it's pure and original concentration - is one of my favorite horror movies to talk about, particularly because of the way in which it shakes my perception of horror. Every time someone asks me about horror movies I'm all high and might and say things like "Oh man, it's not about the gore, it's about..." and then I talk about "good vs. evil" or "demons in the mind's eye" or something that makes horror seem like a noble and altruistic venture. And then I watch something like Hellraiser - something that I find perverse and disgusting - and I'm calmed and fascinated. And I even find it kind of beautiful. Hellraiser is basically Schrodinger's Cat for horror fans - you can believe you're not fascinated by it when you're not looking at it, but when you pull back the lid and look at it you have to face whatever you see.
The calm fascination that I find in Hellraiser comes, I think, from the distance between myself and the film. Sure, I'm seeing people ripped apart and am face to face with grotesque demons who have fantastic special effects around them, but I'm still safe at home with a TV screen and several other items separating me from the hell that I can see. The things I see are even some times effecting me physically, but I can at the same time realize that this physical response is controlled by my mental response to Hellraiser as an external stimuli. I'm making this sound really technical, but I really do think that Hellraiser has some kind of philosophical relevance to my life as a horror fan. I can't be the guy who "only likes highbrow horror" if I like Hellraiser. I also can't say that gore can not equal high art if I like Hellraiser.
Which brings us to Hellbound: Hellraiser II. If Hellraiser is a splattery philosophical debate inside my head, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is the nightmare I have when I go to sleep. It's less coherent and there are times when the flaws in logic that derail so many nightmares shine through the cracks, but at the same time it hits home plenty of times and even opens our mind to possibilities of horror that we didn't think of before. It expands upon the events of the first film - even recounting most of them in a myriad of flashback scenes - in plenty of ways, and leaves the viewer at least intrigued by the possibilities it presents.
The plot of the film picks up after the events of Hellraiser, with our survivor Kristy (Ashley Laurence) in a mental hospital and a bloody mattress that holds the key to reanimation that occurred in the house from the first film. Julia, the evil stepmother (and let's just take a moment to consider the use of the evil stepmother here and how it makes Hellraiser and Hellraiser II kind of like an animated Disney classic) from the first film is soon reborn and then re-skinned thanks to spilled blood, and then the two end up running around the world of the Cenobites. There's more to it than that, but not a whole lot more.
Let's get back to that world of the Cenobites. Remember that time in the first movie when Pinhead was all "We have such sights to show you!"? He was not kidding. The most amazing thing about Hellraiser II, to me, is the grand scale "Hell" that our characters end up roaming. The visuals are very stilted these days - what would now be CGI is accomplished here by matte paintings and illusions of perception - but the labyrinth style (which again makes me think of children's fairy tales) world that entraps our characters has always widened my eyes and made me think about the possibilities that are out there.
The biggest problem with Hellraiser II is that it keeps making you think about Hellraiser, which was a much tighter and engrossing film. The sequel is far more abstract than the film that came before it, and it simply can not match the feeling that Hellraiser gave us. The first film felt real, even though we knew it wasn't, while this film offers things like Cenobite-ed psychiatric doctors that fly around like a monkey from The Wizard of Oz that are just too dreamlike to be taken seriously.
Hellraiser II does offer up a nightmare world, but it's the difference between that nightmare world and the incredibly realistic - save a few cheesy effects - world that the first film created that holds it back from being truly special. Still, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a top notch sequel and a worthy addition to the story Clive Barker created. The grand scale vision of Barker's Hell that we see in this film is unmatched in other Hellraiser films (then again, most Hellraiser films after this one offer little of anything worthwhile), and some great visuals and cenobite carnage should send fans of the first film home happy.