September 2, 2008

Seen Between Fingers -- Chris Kelly Returns to Hell, Fires Decorator

For this new regular feature, wimp and noted horror non-enthusiast Chris Kelly will be reporting back with his first-impressions of memorable scary movies. Two weeks ago Hellraiser left him cold. Considering how crazy-bananas the sequel is, I figured one bad turn deserves another...

OK, horror fans, you’ve officially lost me.

It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal of a trashy movie, a scary movie, a gross movie, or even an outright terrible movie. All of these indulgences have their place. What I don’t understand is how anyone could willingly subject themselves to a viewing of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, which is easily one of the crappiest pieces of so-called entertainment I have ever seen. That it was chosen for me as viewing material suggests that it enjoys continued popularity despite being an unsalvageable mess. So incoherent is the work that I cannot review it. I give you, instead, a list of completely unanswerable questions suggested by the events depicted (which I hesitate to dignify with the term “plot”).

1. What’s so terrifying about flying hooks?

Is anyone going to defend the blatant overuse of this completely un-scary tactic? This movie starts out pretty much exactly like the last one (ignoring, of course, the rehash of the first film’s ending, which must have looked dated even to audiences seeing it only a year later). It’s less thrilling the second time around. Sure, they added nails, but we’ve already seen Pinhead, and it’s otherwise pretty much the same flesh-fishing as before. Later, the Cenobites punctuate their interrogation of Kirsty with a little menacing swing of the chain, and interestingly, we learn that Pinhead pre-gores his hooks: even though he only hits the wall, his weapon still drips blood. It’s more odd than it is creepy. Then there’s the disappointing showdown nearer to the end of the movie -- all it takes to kill a Cenobite is a flying hook? Within ten seconds, the movie’s four most ominous characters are neatly dispatched with the same tool that one uses to lure a cod to its pan-seared grave. The law of diminishing returns has rarely been so effectively illustrated.

2. How much murder-blood does it take to rebuild a human body?

This is a question from both movies, really, but Hellbound in particular seems to make inefficient use of its resources. To resurrect Julia from the mattress, Dr. Channard brings home a mental patient and allows him to mutilate himself in the most awful scene of the film (it goes on forever and I’ll admit to fast-forwarding through half of it). Before the dude is even close to dead, his plasma has provided enough material for our favorite ‘80s antivixen to build an entire skeleton, including cartilage and supporting muscle structure. Six murders later, however, she’s still missing quite a bit of flesh. What gives? How much blood does it take to create a square inch of skin? We’re eight bodies deep before she’s fully formed. I feel like that’s just wasteful.

3. Where did Dr. Channard learn to decorate?

The time spent at chez Channard fills the viewer with disquiet, and not only because he has fallen in lust with an undead mass of viscera (more on that later). Let’s examine his choices as an interior designer. His study is painted in lush forest green, populated with tasteful wooden furniture, lined with books and pictures, and generally adorned in an austere-yet-homey fashion. That is, if one can ignore the old soiled mattress he eventually hauls into the center of the room. The rest of his house, on the other hand, is white and empty -- literally. I don’t think I saw a single piece of furniture anywhere else in the place, despite the fact that the external shots clearly establish it as a veritable estate. Does he really spend so much time in that one room that he never felt the need to furnish the rest of his living space? Sure, that left him with plenty of open area in which to savage his patients, but he can’t have planned for that when he moved in. Better still: at the end, there’s suddenly shit everywhere to pack up. Where did the moving men find all those chairs? What’s in all those boxes? This house was a wasteland.

4. Why is Julia so irresistible?

Yes, the scene where Channard bandages her is kind of arty and unnerving, but really? His first interaction with her was to watch her bloody, half-formed corpse wriggle across the room to eat a mutilated lunatic alive. Even his unhealthy obsession with Hell doesn’t quite make it plausible that he’d be sexually compelled by a woman whose entire body is a gaping wound. She does look less icy this time around, but then again, maybe that’s just because it’s such a relief when we finally see her with skin.

5. What were the writers thinking?

It was nearly impossible for me to write this column because of Hellbound’s exceptionally low level of quality. It makes no fucking sense at all. It’s long, and it clearly doesn’t need to be. The most nauseating bits, namely the inmate’s self-inflicted razor wounds and Julia’s mummification, are dispensed early: it’s beyond me why they didn’t just clock this one at 75 minutes and call it a day. I’m also still completely in the dark about the purpose of that cube. Sometimes it calls Cenobites, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you need it to enter Hell, while at other times you can just go there because you feel like it. Sometimes it’s a different shape, which makes people act as if life is suddenly more difficult, though nothing seems immediately worse. Oh, and how did Channard manage to keep a basement full of filthy howling nightmare people secret for so long? Where did he learn to drape a bedsheet like a Grecian dress? Since when is it possible to wear someone else’s skin as a convincing disguise? God, I could go on and on.

I’m disappointed that this is considered a classic of the genre. It does not give me high hopes for my future assignments.

Next week: Dario Argento's Suspiria

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