By Jerome Reuter
As I’ve stated before, this is where the Hellraiser franchise should have ended. I use the word franchise for a very specific reason. I feel that the first two entries in the series, as well as Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, established a mythology. Barker has always stated that his fiction is his confession. The Hellbound Heart is a very personal statement, regarding Barker’s interest in sadomasochism. With the many sequels that followed Hellbound: Hellraiser II, it simply became a vehicle to generate money. Mythologies and folklore have been re-imagined for generations. In this case, the other entries strayed farther and farther from Barker’s original vision. Over time, the gothic atmosphere faded away almost completely. Many of the later entries were poorly written straight-to-video horror flicks, with Pinhead cleverly inserted in for fan service.
So why do I consider this film to be the completion to a mythology? I’ll gladly explain. The first aspect of the mythology is the Cenobites themselves. In the first film, they’re part of the story, but not the focus. They serve mainly as a plot device, as they did in the book. The main focus was on Julia’s desire to resurrect her dead lover Frank. We knew very little about them, other than that they were demons summoned by the Lament Configuration. In Hellbound, we learn of the origins of Pinhead, (credited as “Lead Cenobite” in Hellraiser) and that the other Cenobites were also once human beings. We also witness their redemption at the film’s conclusion, as well as their demise. We have origin, existence, and death. A strong arc is essential, for any mythology.
The second aspect is the continuity of the other characters from the first film. Julia returns, much as the same way Frank did in Hellraiser. Kirsty Cotton, the heroine form the first film returns to once again save the day. In an interesting homage to Titus Andronicus, Frank is done in by his former lover, Julia. Displaying a never ending cycle of revenge. New characters such as Channard, a doctor obsessed with the cenobites are introduced as well. This helps continue the original story, and take it in a new direction.
It’s the setting in Hellbound however, that gives it its greatest strength. In the first film, the terror was set in an isolated location: a house. Here, the audience is taken to Hell itself. Not only building upon the mythology, but the terror itself. What’s more terrifying than being in a foreign place, completely unaware of your surroundings? We’re finally able to see the ethereal plain that the Cenobites exist in, a surreal world, reminiscent of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch.
The film even concludes with the Lament Configuration, being given to a new owner. Like a modern Greek tragedy, the mythology starts and concludes, at the exact same moment in time. If this really were the end, it would be perfect. Sadly, this is far from it, just the beginning chapters of a franchise.