Whereas Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987) succeeded in presenting a new and interesting slasher concept in a relatively concise and simple film, its sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II (Tony Randel, 1988), failed in its attempt to prove itself as a worthy successor to the original. While the sequel did attempt to do what most successful sequels do in that it sought to be a bigger and more expansive film, it misfired in its attempt as it chose to focus on the wrong elements in its narrative. Key among the issues of Hellraiser II is its villain and its lack of confidence in its own premise. One of the most interesting features of the original Hellraiser was its villain, or rather villains, as they did not fulfill the typical horror movie villain archetype. But the sequel is mostly unconcerned with this, as it instead attempts to atone for what it considers the sins of the original if its approach to its villain can be taken as its view of Hellraiser. Hellbound: Hellraiser II creates a villain within itself that is not successful due to the film’s blatant disregard for what made the original film narratively successful, as well as its attempt to expand the world that it has inherited.
Hellraiser II begins to misfire once it begins to concern itself with the expanded world that was only alluded to in the original film. The film begins down this path in its first scene as it reveals the origin of Pinhead (Doug Bradley) as it shows him when he was still Captain Elliot Spencer and had yet to be consumed by the puzzle box. This decision is meant to serve the later turn that the film will take, as it is eventually revealed that all of the Cenobites were once human. But this reveal does little for the film or its characters in general, as Dr. Philip Channard (Kenneth Cranham) in his new Cenobite form immediately dispatches all of the other Cenobites. Dr. Channard is the biggest issue that the film has, as the film empowers him to such a great degree that all of his actions feel unearned in terms of their effectiveness. Hellraiser II’s villain is not only a Cenobite, but he is a character that is powerful enough that the rules of the world are rendered inadequate as he can seemingly do whatever he wants.
Returning briefly to the first film, Hellraiser succeeded as its real villain was not Pinhead or his minions, but the adult who dared tamper with the powers that he was an agent of. Pinhead simply loomed over the film as something of a keeper of order, a lawful evil that only brought destruction upon those that brought it upon themselves. And while the sequel does not do disservice to him in this sense, it does render him inadequate as it presents a new character that is seemingly able to do whatever he wants with little to no explanation. Dr. Channard is a much more interesting character when he is still in his human form and nothing more than a doctor with an unhealthy obsession with the occult. The true villains of the fist film were Julia (Clare Higgins) and Frank (Sean Chapman), and their primary victim was Kristy (Ashley Laurence). Pinhead stood on the outside of this conflict, ready to punish whoever deserved it. In this sense, he was not the true villain of the film, but he was also not a character that should be sympathized with. He was established as something nonhuman, something somewhat removed, and because of this his role was one that should not interact with the other characters in any sort of sympathetic way.
But Hellraiser II disregards this and approaches Pinhead as a former human that is in need of redemption. This route ends with Pinhead being killed by Dr. Channard and the film establishing the latter character as the principle villain of the film. But Dr. Channard is hardly an interesting character when he is not in his human form. As a human, he fulfilled the role of the one that tampered in something he should not have tampered with, and the logical course of action was that he should be undone by his own hubris. But Hellraiser II instead chooses to reward Channard for his behavior, as he ultimately becomes a Cenobite that is far more powerful than anyone else in the film. In the same way, the film also rewards Julia for her villainous actions in the first film, as she is revealed to be in some sort of position of power in Hell. This is another part of the problem of the sequel, as it seeks to expand the world of the first film, but it does not have any real idea of how to properly do so.
Instead of providing more stories of those that have come in contact with the Cenobites over the course of the puzzle box’s life, as was implied by the conclusion of the first film, Hellraiser II keeps the narrative focused on the same characters of the first film while also giving unnecessary information about its characters, such as Pinhead’s origin. And while the sequences located within Hell are at times somewhat interesting, they raise more questions than they answer mostly due to the treatment of Dr. Channard. His reward for summoning the Cenobites and entering Hell is his rebirth as a Cenobite more powerful than any of the others. Immediately following this occurrence, he kills Pinhead and his Cenobites, and the film treats this as some sort of tragic event. By treating Pinhead as a protagonist, the film takes away the feature that made him interesting as a character: his relative neutrality. Once Pinhead becomes a sympathetic character, all of the features that make him what he is are discarded, and the character loses any real reason to exist. In this sense, it is appropriate that he is killed off by Dr. Channard, but this entire turn is poorly handled as the new Cenobite is hardly convincing in any way. In addition to this, the entire interaction between him and Pinhead should not occur, or at the least should end with Pinhead standing triumphant, as he has fulfilled his keeper-of-the-order role.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II makes the mistake of attempting to expand its universe by putting forth too much information too quickly. In its rush to establish a new villain and new locations, the villain is rushed and little about his character makes sense. Dr. Channard is essentially only rewarded for his behavior, and though he is ultimately killed, so is almost everyone else. Kristy and Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) are the only two main characters to survive, but the effect of Dr. Channard is still felt. By killing Pinhead, Dr. Channard breaks down much of the order of the film. Following Pinhead’s death, any real sense of order is lost in the film as the one who killed him can seemingly do whatever he wants. The power bestowed on Dr. Channard is the biggest flaw of his character, as none of it is earned and it makes little sense as to why he is more of a threat than those whom have been in his position for a much longer span of time. Hellraiser II does not know how to handle the material it contains, especially its characters, and as a result it does a disservice to the original film as a whole.