Last night I got it into my head that I wanted to watch the Hellraiser movies again. There are eight such movies out now, with varying degrees of suckitude (the rule of thumb with such film franchises is that the higher the number of the film, the lower the quality; Nightmare on Elm Street 5 was worse than Nightmare on Elm Street 4, which was worse than Nightmare on Elmstreet 3, and so on). I’d seen the eighth film, Hellraiser: Hellworld on the Sci Fi Channel recently, so I knew what sort of depths the franchise descends to. Not even the presence of Lance Henrickson in that film could make it enjoyable. On the whole though, I remembered the films as being an interesting examination of pain, pleasure, morality, and so on.
So I watched Hellraiser, the original film. It was tolerable. The special effects were cheesy, as were the costumes and hairstyles, but it was made in 1987, so what the hell. Some elements made me uncomfortable — not in a "Wow, this is disturbing imagery" sort of way, but more in a "Wow, I sure hope my neighbors don’t catch me watching this" sort of way. Nothing really bad, you know, but I did just move into a new neighborhood and I’d rather wait awhile before my reputation as a freak has a chance to settle in.
But most of the time watching Hellraiser, I was thinking about Hellbound: Hellraiser 2. I’d seen that film when it came out and a couple of times since, but it’s been easily ten years or more since I saw it last. I just remembered that I had enjoyed the film, that I’d thought the imagery was more intense, the storyline better, and so on. I was, in short, remembering it as a pretty good film.
Man, I don’t know what I was thinking.
Hellbound, in case you don’t recall, starts off almost immediately after the events of the first Hellraiser film. At some point after attempting to burn the puzzle box in a vacant lot, Kirsty Cotton was picked up by the police and dumped in the Channard Institute; her boyfriend, Steve, who only had a one film contract, was able to convince the police that even though he, too, had just come from a house full of mutilated bodies and was raving about demonic beings, he was perfectly sane and quite able to go home.
It turns out that the Channard Institute is run by an evil psychiatrist, who’s not above allowing incurably psychotic patients mutilate themselves if it helps him summon up demons that can take him to hell to experience pain or whatever (Channard’s motivations are never entirely clear). He does this once, in fact, summoning up Kirsty’s demonic stepmother, Julia, who for some reason made a pact with Leviathan, God of the Underworld, to return to Earth (the motivations of both Julia and Leviathan are also left as an exercise for the viewer, apparently). Channard then brings another patient from the Institute, a young woman who has a penchant for solving puzzles (we’re never told why she has this quirk, but she’s insane, so I guess that’s okay), and this woman, Tiffany, solves the puzzle box and opens the gate to Hell. The Cenobites are summoned again, and instead of going after Tiffany, they go after Dr. Channard. Pinhead intones, "It is not hands that summon us, but desire." Of course that did nothing to stop them from going after Kirsty in the first film, or anyone else who might have found the puzzle box and opened it by accident. It’s just that Channard was evil or something.
Meanwhile, Kirsty goes through the same doorway back to Hell to rescue her father, who was murdered in the first film. She doesn’t find her father, but her father’s murderer, the heinous Uncle Frank, who is being tormented for all his crimes. And…
Well, it all kind of goes like that for awhile.
The special effects are better in this film, true, but the film is hampered by a cast of characters, human and demonic, who just sort of wander around doing things with no real motivation. Oh, it also includes the most boring supernaturally charged fight scene in the history of horror filmmaking. Channard, transformed into a monstrous Cenobite, shows up and encounters Pinhead and his crew. "Oh, good," Channard says, "a fight." Then Pinhead and his crew all stand silently and are killed one by one without even putting up a fight. It annoyed me; if I was among a group of people who were being killed off one by one, I’m smart enough to at least run away, and I’m not even a demonic pain entity from beyond Hell. Oh, and such entities can apparently be killed, which sort of takes the threat out of them.
It’s a bad movie. I suspect it was always a bad movie. So why did I remember it as a good movie, one of those rare instances when the sequel was superior to the original film? I have no idea.
Has this ever happened to any of you? Have you rented a movie that you remembered as being really awesome, only to be blown away by its sheer badness? Share your experiences.