Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) dreams of a man solving a puzzle box and being violently transformed into a Cenobite - a demon of pain. She awakes with a start in a psychiatric hospital, and realises that she has been placed there because of an encounter with the Cenobites and her uncle Frank who had tried to kill her. Her doctor is Channard (Kenneth Cranham), who is intrigued by Kirsty's tale, particularly when she tells the detective investigating that they must destroy the bloody mattress found in her house, because leaving it intact just might provide a way for her stepmother to return to the world, which would not be a good idea...
This quickly produced sequel to the cult favourite Hellraiser was scripted by Peter Atkins from original creator Clive Barker's story, and took things to a grander scale than its predecessor. This time we are allowed to see the realms of Hell where the Cenobites hail from, but before we get there this film has a very strong first half indeed. Continuing the gruesome tone, Hellbound is once again a special effects showcase, with a lot of gory makeup and elaborate design to fashion a memorable look. However, the novelty of the first film (of which we have two lengthy flashbacks) wears off at some point into the second, and there's not enough to sustain it without that safety net.
We can tell that Channard is a nasty piece of work when we see him taking the lift to the level below the basement and his own private bedlam where he keeps the more extreme patients of the asylum locked up in padded cells. But Channard isn't only interested in the madness of this world, he's also interested in the insanity of the next, and has been investigating the puzzle boxes, of which he keeps a collection. What he hasn't done is figure out how to open them, and luckily for him there is a mute teenage girl, Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) who has a real talent for these things - you can imagine her solving a Rubik's Cube in record time.
First, though, Julia must be resurrected, and in much the same way that Frank from the original film was. So, in the nastiest part of the story, he takes one of his furthest gone patients and sits him on the mattress, then allows him to obsessively cut himself open, providing the blood for Julia's rebirth. Now she has made a comeback, Channard wraps her in bandages and she seduces him, all the better for returning to her old self. One thing that Cranham brings to the role is the realisation that you would have to be mad to want to enter into the Hellraiser universe, and despite his intellect Channard is worse than his patients, a latter day Doctor Frankenstein.
It's a pity there wasn't a revival of British horror movies during the nineties, because Cranham would have been a great genre star. It's his scenes which stand out once Kirsty has managed to follow Channard and Julia into Hell, especially as Julia becomes a conventional villain, muttering vague intents about bringing as many souls back with her as possible. Hellbound loses its sense of purpose once the labyrinth shows up, with too much of Kirsty and Tiffany running about, and not enough plot. The Cenobites are disappointingly revealed as ex-humans, with does nothing for their mystique, and they are overshadowed by Channard. Still, the effects are good, and it's nowhere near the disaster that certain sequels turn out to be. Music, once more, by Christopher Young.
[Hellbound has been released along with the Hellraiser and Hellraiser III by Anchor Bay as part of a special edition box set, including interviews, trailers and two commentaries, one with writer Peter Atkins and director Tony Randel and another where they are joined by star Ashley Laurence.]