Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
I'm very surprised to say this is one of those rare pieces of horror cinema where, for me, the sequel utilises all of the already establised character development and story and makes a sequel that is a vast improvement on its predecessor. There are only a handful of films within this genre that I can honestly say have managed to achieve this, yet, Hellraiser II sits top amongst that group.
The film opens with an almost 30 minutes summary from the previous film. Firstly, one for the audience, and then secondly one from returning final girl Ashley Laurence - as Kirsty explaining the events to the doctor at the psychology ward. I'm not sure why the second recap was as equally descriptive and visually represented as the first. That being said, it was nice to see some of the main highlights from first installment playing out again in quick succession. Considering the dense mythology that comes with this franchise, I didn't find this opening exposition unwarranted like I tend to in most sequels.
With a large portion of the film now gone in recaps, we finally start to see something resembling a plot for this sequel. I found having Clair Higgins as Julia return as our main antagonist this time around to be a wise decision. Having her take on a similar arc to Franks from the first installment helped with the relatablity and familiarity to the storyline that was established in the first film, whilst still managing to keep things fresh. Consideing the way things concluded previously, it was a pleasant suprise to see her return in such a creative way this time around.
Having Clive Barker take a step back from the directors chair is also another one of the better decisions made with the sequel. Not only looking better and sharper, but I felt Tony Randel as the director managed to bring out the best performances from the cast, with all of the returning cast from the first being much stronger and more convincing with their delivery. This is something Barker didn't quite accomplish with the first film in the series.
The effects department certainly managed to step up the quality this time around with the practical and make-up effects looking to a much higher standard. That is t to say I wasn't a fan of the low budget aesthetics of the first, to me that is part of its charm. Considering this was made in 1988, it still holds up against some of the more recent films I have seen release in the past 5 years. The stop-motion animation used within the introduction of the Doctor Cenobite with a particular highlight of mine. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the attempted use of CGI and green screen sets. That being said, the drawn artwork style sets do provide some nostalgic enjoyment for me.
As much as I slightly prefer this to the original, it definitely feels more of a direct continuation rather than its own installment. I guess this makes more for a superior companion piece as opposed to a separate sequel in a franchise. I would recommend this as a marathon back-to-back watch, alongside the Hellraiser one.