Released just over a year after the original, HELLRAISER II picks up right where the last one ended. But with Clive Barker releasing a majority of creative control (he still receives a "story by" credit) to screenwriter friend Pete Atkins and first time director Tony Randel, the end result is a film that faithfully echoes Barker's earlier work yet also undermines it.
The film's biggest problem is the script which relies too much on coincidence. For example, new character Dr. Channard has a deep and previously existing interest in the Lament Configuration. And Kirsty's neighbor in the mental ward just happens to be a mute girl who is really good at solving puzzles. Things like this exist solely to move the plot from point A to B and so on, something the original HELLRAISER lacked in its confined dysfunctional family storyline. To Atkin's credit, the script does effectively introduce the back story of Pinhead and features some appropriately bleak dialogue (including perhaps the series best line: "Your suffering will be legendary, even in hell.").
In their attempt to deliver something bigger and better than the original, the filmmakers further damage themselves when it comes to Kirsty's adversaries. The sequel has two great foes for Kirsty to battle Julia and Pinhead but the script makes them secondary and shifts the focus to the ridiculous Dr. Channard. While in human form he is a fearsome villain but once he becomes a Cenobite, all that goes out the window in favor of a guy who delivers one liners ("The Doctor
in!"). At this point in the series, even Pinhead hadn't sunk that low. On top of all that, Atkins actually has the Cenobite Channard dispatch the lead Cenobites in a battle that is so trivializing that it makes you wonder why anyone feared these guys in the first place.
Tony Randel handles the film well visually with his two best sequences taking place in hell. One is when mute Tiffany experiences her own surreal vision of hell that includes everything from deranged clowns to a clever giallo tribute. The other is when Kirsty confronts her Uncle Frank in a fiery tomb housing floating slabs that carry moaning, bloody bodies. These visions of hell are certainly unique to the film world but ultimately the film doesn't have the budget to properly convey this. Instead of a sweeping landscape, we get characters traveling what seems to be the same tunnel over and over and a few MC Escher style matte paintings. Most disappointing is the unveiling of Leviathan as an amorphous black blur emitting from a large version of the box.
Outside of those uneven effects, the rest of the film's effects work is really well done. Bob Keen and his crew return from the original film and deliver an abundant amount of blood, making sure that the standard of delivering cinematic images beyond belief continues. The bloody resurrection of Julia and the transformation of Dr. Channard are the film's FX highlights. Obviously the unrated version is the way to go. In addition to these striking images, HELLBOUND contains the world's first male/skinless female kiss.
And for a film with such taboo images, it features some consistently great acting. Lead Ashley Laurence (was she really in her teens when this was filmed) is actually better than she was in the first film. New faces Kenneth Cranham and William Hope are both good as the bad doctor and good doctor respectively. Doug Bradley, graduating from "Lead Cenobite" to a full fledged Pinhead, maintains his wicked demeanor as a hell's no. 1 agent while projecting the right amount of emotion when reminded of his human form. However, if HELLRAISER II truly belongs to anyone, it is Claire Higgins as the evil stepmother Julia Cotton. With a cold manner dipped in extra bitchy-ness, Higgins is almost too good for the proceedings.
New World's efforts for the low budget follow up paid off with the film earning just under ($12 million) what the original grossed ($14.5 million). Sadly, the next time Pinhead and his brethren appeared on screen, they were firmly in the claws of Miramx's Dimension line. This move resulted in a succession of sequels that, while passable, moved the series further away from Clive Barker's groundbreaking original.