It’s not often, particularly in the horror genre, that an original is matched or even topped in terms of quality by another film in the series. However Clive Barker’s original Hellraiser (1987) and Tony Randel’s sequel a year later have always been in tight contention for my favourite of the franchise.
Barker’s original (based on his own novel The Hellbound Heart) set the atmospheric tone brilliantly, and managed to create a sustained level of dread throughout. The dank and dark world which Barker created utilised some superb special effects and some insanely memorable characters.
The sadomasochistic theme running throughout the film is present in the clothing and torture methods of the extra-dimensional beings (Cenobites) hence the original title for the film, Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave. Whereas, that is a great title (for any form of media), it’s not quite as iconic as Hellraiser.
Hellbound really expands on the story of the first feature and reverses the plot. Whereas the first film is about a group of Cenobites coming to Earth to retrieve an escapee from their demonic world, the second film is more about an earthling venturing into their domain. With this the film becomes more of a fantasy than the original. Compared with the first film’s relatively glum and grey colour palette, Hellbound is a much more vibrant piece that allows room for all of the themes and characters in the original to be explored more extensively, without purely repeating the original plot.
As with a lot of the horror films from the 1980’s the special effects are absolutely wonderful. Despite all the advancements in CGI, motion-capture, 3D and various other computer generated techniques, you cannot beat some good old fashioned makeup and prosthetics. There’s just something so much more aesthetically pleasing about physical effects and makeup as apposed to computer generated imagery. It’s meatier, weightier, heftier, gorier and ultimately scarier.
After the success of the first 2 Hellraiser’s the sequels came thick and fast. Currently at 9 official features with a 10th scheduled for release next year, I feel the series never really got anywhere near the brilliance of the first 2. With Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth we were introduced to demons that have cameras in-bedded in their head and can shoot CD’s out of their face. Amazingly, it slipped even further downhill from there. Hellraiser IV: Bloodline very bizarrely took all the cast into space and was deemed so bad by the director himself that he removed his name from the final product. One of the handful of productions credited to “Alan Smithee” (a name used in Hollywood when a director wishes to disown a film), the series never really managed to pick itself up again.
The first 2 however are seminal works in the horror genre, and one of the few pairs of horror films in a series that sit side by side together so well.