Thursday, January 29, 2015


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, metaphysical*


"HELLBOUND] has a more bizarre, even more suureal element to it [than the first film]"-- Tony Randel on the HELLRAISER sequel.

"I have very mixed feelings about [Hellbound] and did so a year ago... ..The whole point is, a year ago I said Tony would bring to the picture a certain science fiction bent and a number of other things, which I do indeed believe he brought to the picture. His passion for matte paintings, passion for young girls in jeopardy and a style of rhetorical storytelling are there. They are not creative decisions I would have made, decisions I necessarily agree with, but they are Tony's and it's his picture. The reviews were mixed; those people who liked Hellraiser didn't seem to like Hellbound and vice versa. At least Tony didn't try to send up the sequel like Jack Sholder did with Nightmare On Elm Street 2, which was to blow the conceit Wes Craven had created in the original. Hellbound is not a picture I would have made - but I didn't make it."-- Clive Barker, FANGORIA, 1989.

In my review for 1987's HELLRAISER, I stated that it's less interesting as a film in itself than for having opened up new potential for transgressive cinema. As of this writing I haven't seen all of the entries in the HELLRAISER franchise, though I hope to do so in the near future. At this point, I will say that though the first sequel HELLBOUND has its problems, it is in my experience the closest the franchise comes to fulfilling that potential.

The original HELLRAISER doesn't lack for stunning, gruesome visuals, but its storyline isn't enhanced by its use of such mundane material as sibling rivalry and the Freudian rescue-fantasy. Regarding HELLBOUND, Barker is credited for writing-input, and in one video-interview he speaks of the film as "my story." Still, pending further info. I tend to think that the expansion of the Hellraiser universe may be more the creation of director Tony Randel and screenplay-scribe Peter Atkins-- the latter of whom went on to contribute to four other sequels for the franchise. At the same time, it's possible that the producers, having scored a hit with the first entry, gave the crucial order to expand on the fragments suggested by Barker's story.  If, as I stated a little facetiously, the first film sometimes looks like a jumped-up episode of a "Thriller" TV-movie, the sequel looks like the producers' attempt to move into Steven Spielberg territory. This means, in part, that the film employs detailed sets depicting the weird dimension of the Cenobites-- yet with far more attention to the sadomasochistic ethos Barker conceived. It's possible that this difference in emphasis led to a shift from what I think of a "Freudian ethos" to a "Jungian ethos."  More on that latter.

To be sure, HELLBOUND does the same thing most first sequels do: recapitulating elements of the original film,  Though "good father" Larry is dead, his memory is the thing that drives Kirsty to enter the domain of the Cenobites-- but instead of finding him, Kirsty finds in herself the potential to be a "good parent" in her own right. Kirsty, who was out and about at the end of the first film, has by the sequel's beginning been consigned to an asylum.  It seems that the police have found the mangled bodies of her father and stepmother in the family house, but apart from a brief interview with one policeman, the authorities are never again involved in the narrative. The cop who talks to Kirsty inadvertently mentions to her the blood-soaked mattress where her stepmother dies. Kirsty, who remarks darkly that "fairy tales are true, even the bad ones," does herself no favors by ranting that the cops ought to destroy the mattress, so that Julia can't come back.  All this accomplishes is that two of the asylum-doctors, the middle-aged Doctor Channard and his young subordinate Kyle become aware of the mattress' potential, though Kyle is only interested in it as a facet of Kirsty's psychosis.

Channard, we learn later, has been researching the hell-dimension for years, so he's intrigued by Kirsty's story. Channard may be considered a recapitulation of the original prose-version of Frank, whose motivations for seeking out hell are left vague in the first film. Channard is a new kind of "bad father," for his evil is intellectual rather than visceral.  One of his tools, whom Kirsty encounters slightly later, is a teenaged girl named Tiffany, another inmate at the asylum.  The etiology of her illness is never explained, but apparently she suffers from a faux-autism, in that she can't relate to people but shows a genius for solving puzzles.

Kirsty sympathizes with Tiffany, but her passion for demon-fighting is re-ignited when she sees a vision of her father, asking her to free her from hell. Meanwhile, Kyle becomes suspicious of Channard when he overhears the doctor arranging to have the mysterious mattress delivered to his private home, rather than to police headquarters. Kyle takes the Kirsty-like action of sneaking into Channard's home. To his horror he witnesses Channard maneuver one of his psychotic patients into shedding his own blood on the mattress, so that Julia manifests from it and consumes the madman.

While Channard makes the acquaintance of the hell-spirit he's summoned up, Kyle flees back to the asylum and tells Kirsty that he now believes all of her demon-tales. Haunted by fears for her dead father, Kirsty determines that she must trespass on Channard's house, because he has one of the puzzle-boxes that can give one access to hell. Kyle rather improbably decides to go along with her.
This adventure doesn't turn out well for either of them, for Julia finds and consumes Kyle. She knocks out Kirsty, echoing the girl's own thoughts about fairy tales by saying that, "I'm no longer just the wicked stepmother-- now I'm the evil queen!"

Later we will learn that Julia isn't an escapee from hell as Frank was in the first film; she was actually sent by her deity Leviathan to scout out new converts to the faith. Nothing in the script quite explains why Channard needs Julia, though, for his next act is to use Tiffany's talents to solve a puzzle-box, thus opening a doorway into hell. Possibly Julia serves as a "Virgil" to Channard's "Dante," for though the Cenobites appear in response to Tiffany's solving the puzzle, they don't menace Channard as Julia conducts him into hell, in contrast to the violent reception given Frank-- and for that matter, to the original human persona of Pinhead, who is seen being "restructured" in the film's opening, pre-narrative sequences.  Nevertheless, eventually Channard is subjected to just such an ordeal-- in a device that segments him, rather like a cheese-grater. In addition, Channard is directly linked to the hell-deity Leviathan by an infinitely long tentacle attached to the doctor's skull-- appropriate, in that the physician is first seen cutting open a corpse's brain as he lectures other doctors about the "labyrinths of the mind."

Tiffany is left unharmed by the Cenobites. When Kirsty recovers she warns the troubled girl not to enter the labyrinths of hell, but the teenager does so anyway. This in part forces Kirsty to pursue her, though to some extent she's still motivated by a desire to save her father.  The two girls are separated, and Kirsty again encounters the Cenobites, who are eager "to know her flesh." Still, they release her, in part to let her see the folly of her releasing her father from hell.

In an early script-draft, Kirsty would have encountered the spirits of both Larry and Frank, and Larry would have fought to protect her. Since actor Andrew Robinson elected not to reprise the part of Larry, later scripts wrote out the character, and reveal that Frank alone sent Kirsty the vision of her tormented father. This is something of an improvement, in that Kirsty must again fend off the "bad father," but her desire to protect innocent Tiffany eventually takes priority over the rescue of her father, whose exclusion renders him a nugatory presence.  In addition, the finished film gets rid of Frank the same way the early draft did: Frank, Julia, having finished her initiation of Channard, intrudes on the scene to revenge herself on Frank for murdering her in life. She pulls out his heart, repeating the same phrase-- "Nothing personal"-- that Frank speaks when he kills her.

But Julia isn't much longer for the world either. She pursues Kirsty and Tiffany, and for no explicit reason, all three are beseiged by a vortex that threatens to suck them down one of hell's many corridors. In the course of the struggle, Julia is caught up by the vortex and is not seen again in the finished film (though the early draft was going to end with her triumphant return at the "teaser" following the conclusion). She does leave behind her artificial skin, which for some reason isn't really part of her; one of the tropes from the original film that doesn't transfer well.

I should note that though the protagonists start out in Channard's house, they end up running through so many corridors that they somehow end up at the asylum-- an appropriate image, since it has a stronger resemblance to hell's labyrinth.  Still, all the important scenes take place in hell: Kirsty manages to reach the Cenobites by revealing to them their forgotten human identities, which she learned while rummaging around in Channard's house. The Cenobites briefly contend with the New Demon on the Block, but Channard kills them all. Tiffany is then Kirsty's only hope for escape, though it's not clear how she figures out that Tiffany's solving the puzzle-box in reverse can do this.

The manner in which Kirsty wins out over the much more powerful Channard is the film's most incisive psychological stroke. Though Channard is not primarily a lustful father-figure like Frank, Kirsty can only deceive the Ceno-doctor by donning the discarded skin of Julia and making up to him. Here is yet another mirroring-moment. Earlier in the film Julia kills Kyle by kissing and consuming him, and though Kyle is not Kirsty's lover, Julia makes it a sexual matter by commenting that Kirsty has "better taste than I thought." In partial contrast, during her resurrection Channard does have some sort of fling with "Julia-of-the-peel-off-flesh," so by vamping Channard, even for a moment, Kirsty appropriates Julia's slutty seduction skills and proves herself her stepmother's superior.

(I note in passing that Channard's demise in the film is its weakest moment.  In the early draft I read, Tiffany's solving of the puzzle-box causes Channard to get disconnected from Leviathan and brings about the doctor's death: the death-scene in the film is more muddled and clumsy by far.)

This brings me back to my Freud-Jung point. In a purely Freudian film, Kirsty's quasi-seduction of Channard would simply be a recapitulation of her Oedipal feelings for her father. But in this essay on my literary blog, I attempted to demonstrate that Jung managed to refute his mentor Freud's tendency to explain all psychological processes through what Jung called "physiological concepts."  Jung asserts that the physical factors influencing the psyche are less significant than "superordinate ideas," a rough parallel to his theory of the archetypes. In HELLBOUND, the principal menace is not simply the physical nature of the "bad father." Rather, it is the IDEA of the "bad father," which idea enfolds not only physical threats but also moral and intellectual threats. Thus Channard, the physician obsessed with "knowing," replaces the lust-filled Frank as the immediate villain, and a series of labyrinths, filled with a ghastly menagerie of symbolic images, takes place of the two-floor house of HELLRAISER.  Again, while I know that the first film made its setting-choices due to budgetary limitations, I believe that HELLBOUND's scripter chose a more ambitious setting not just because the project had better funding, but as a rejection of the original film's limitations on the conceptual as well as the physical level.

Regardless of these theoretical arguments, HELLBOUND, while far from a perfect film, expanded on the Cenobite mythology originated by Barker, and arguably, it is the Randel-Atkins mythology that has been most fruitful in other adaptations of the franchise.

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