Home > Reviews > HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II – Christopher Young

HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II – Christopher Young

January 10, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The 1987 film Hellraiser, based on the novella The Hellbound Heart by British horror author Clive Barker, was an unexpected critical and commercial success at the box office, and as such an immediate sequel was commissioned to cash in on the new popularity of Pinhead and his merry band of ‘cenobite’ demons, who live in a realm of hell where pleasure, pain, and suffering are one. The resulting film, titled Hellbound: Hellraiser II, takes place in the immediate aftermath of the first film, and finds protagonist Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) – having escaped from Pinhead (Doug Bradley) – recovering in a mental institution under the care of Dr Channard (Kenneth Cranham). However, it is revealed that Channard is secretly obsessed with cenobites, and has been searching for the ‘lament configuration’ puzzle box that summons them for years. Despite Kirsty’s desperate pleas, Channard recovers the bloody mattress that Kirsty’s stepmother Julia (Clare Higgins) died on in the last film, and uses it to resurrect her; so begins a gruesome, desperate game, as Channard and Julia explore the realms of hell together, while Kirsty tries to stop the cenobites once and for all. The film was written by Peter Atkins and is directed by journeyman Tony Randel, taking over duties from Barker.

There is a truly great horror film buried within Hellbound: Hellraiser II, which despite its low budget charms is unfortunately something of a mess. There are some fascinating ideas here, which explore the histories of the cenobites (Pinhead was once a British military captain named Elliot Spencer) and gives them depth and even a twisted sense of morality, while also delving into the concept that each individual’s hell is uniquely tailored to them. Some of the special effects makeup is deliciously grisly, and it’s wonderful to see Shakespearean thespians like Cranham hamming it up as an insane doctor looking for salvation in all the wrong places. However, the whole thing is hamstrung by its limited budget, a finale that feels rushed, an unimaginative depiction of hell as little more than a series of dusty corridors, and a truly woeful depiction of the leviathan – the Cenobite god – who appears as an enormous geometric shape floating in the air.

However disappointing some aspects of the film are, the one thing beyond reproach is the score, by Christopher Young. Despite having had a modicum of success writing music for films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street II, Young’s score for the first Hellraiser film was the one which arguably launched his career, but as good as that score was, the sequel is a bonafide masterpiece. Director Randel told Young that he wanted the score to be a ‘celebration of horror’ and instructed him to write music that was an ‘operatic’ response to the film’s on-screen carnage. Young’s resultant work is simply staggering in its scale and complexity; it makes use of the 110-piece Graunke Symphony Orchestra, including a significantly large brass section featuring a bank of eight French horns, a full choir, and a range of specialty instruments including a calliope for a scene set in a hellish circus, an array of electronic textures, and a ‘devil’s horn’ which acts as a singular representation of leviathan itself. Interwoven throughout the score are a number of themes, some of which are carried over from the original Hellraiser, but which are anchored by the brand new Hellbound theme that opens the score.

And what a theme it is; beginning with a cymbal clash and a throng of massed voices, Young introduces the theme almost immediately via the aforementioned horns, thick and throaty and utterly dominant. As this first cue, “Hellbound,” progresses over its first two minutes, it gradually increases in scope, adding in additional layers of contrapuntal brass, swirling strings, thunderous percussion hits, anvil clangs, and even more choral intensity, until it finally climaxes in a mass of devilish musical glory.

The second half of the first cue, “Second Sight Séance,” is calmer and more introspective, with soft strings, harp glissandi, and delicate flutes alluding to the innocent nature of the Tiffany character – a fellow inmate of Kirsty’s at the Channard Institute who is mute but has an innate skill for solving puzzles. This is the other side of Young’s writing I love almost as much as his bombast; this creepy-beautiful style would be present in much of his writing throughout the 1990s, through scores like Jennifer 8 and Copycat and Species. However, after the 4:00 mark, the music changes again, introducing a brand new 7-note theme for Pinhead, a mass of undulating strings and choir which becomes bolder and more overwhelming as it develops. When the melody switches from strings to brass – enormous fanfares for horns accompanied by metallic percussion – the effect is simply stunning. A final return to the main Hellbound theme ends the cue on a truly epic note – listen to those gargantuan rasping brasses at 6:53, and the way in which the choir falls away at the end, as if descending into hell itself. Christopher Young has written some truly tremendous music over the course of his career but – and I say this honestly – these seven-and-a-half minutes may represent the absolute musical pinnacle of his life. It’s that good.

After this monumental opening, one could almost be forgiven for expecting the rest of the score to pale in comparison, but to Young’s credit he maintains the intensity and the excellence throughout. The Hellbound theme and Tiffany’s theme both feature prominently, but there are many other scene-specific elements worth mentioning. Cues like “Looking Through A Woman” and the second half of the subsequent “Chemical Entertainment” combine moments of vicious orchestral chaos and dissonance with some frenetic action chase music that features an increased rhythmic core, much of which is generated from some unusual percussion items including what sounds like pots and pans, anvils and chimes, African tribal drums, and maybe even a didgeridoo.

Cleverly, Young does some interesting things to his main cluster of themes – listen for the way the Hellbound theme becomes distorted and twisted at the 2:27 mark of “Looking Through A Woman” when he plays it in a peculiar key, or when he allows the theme to take on an almost seductive quality when he re-orchestrates it for sonorous cellos in “Something To Think About” to match the tone of Tiffany’s theme. Later, in “Dead or Living,” Young changes the theme into something insidious and terrifying, with massed voices and expansive brass calls giving the music a nightmarish edge, while in “Sketch With Fire” the brasses performing the Hellbound theme are somewhat muted, but a new texture is added by way of harp glissandi.

The ‘Lament Configuration’ theme from the first Hellraiser score, a twisted waltz often heard on a deceptively sweet music box, makes a welcome return towards the end of “Looking Through A Woman,” buried under a mass of bitter and tormented piano chords and eerie metallic dissonance. In addition, “Skin Her Alive” offers a grander and more imposing version of the Resurrection Waltz from the first score to underscore Julia’s blood-soaked return from beyond the grave.

Once Kirsty ventures into hell, the final recurring theme in the score emerges: for the Leviathan. Despite the disappointing nature of the entity as it is seen in the film itself, Young clearly saw a much grander visage in his mind’s eye when he was writing its music; the “Leviathan” cue reverberates with the enormous sound of a devil’s horn (a primitive instrument usually made from the horn of a ram or a goat), the rhythm of which spells out the word G-O-D in Morse code. Rattling chains, distorted anguished voices which seem to be chanting some sort of devilish incantation, and tolling bells simply add to the aural onslaught. Some of the score’s few electronic textures underpin the first half of “Chemical Entertainment,” the scene were Julia betrays Channard to the Leviathan and has him transformed into Hell’s newest cenobite. The music is as disturbing as one would expect it to be considering the context.

Young’s long-standing love of musique concrète – the method of using the recorded sounds of nature, or otherwise ‘found’ sounds, in addition to more traditional instruments – is also clearly heard in several of the score’s more challenging sequences, which reverberate to long periods of chaotic pounding and brutal intensity. Cues such as “Stringing the Puppet” and “Hall of Mirrors” are especially vivid examples of this unique and demanding style; in the latter, Young offsets the musique concrète against some truly demented circus music, mutating it beyond it’s familiar sound, to add to the disorientating nature of the score. By the end of the cue the music is shifting backwards and forwards across the stereo sound mix, a frenzied mass of fairground calliopes, the liturgical voices, snippets of the Lament Configuration theme, and clattering, anarchic percussion.

The finale of the score begins with “Headless Wizard,” in which Young underpins the main Hellbound theme with some tremendous frantic string passages, adding a sense of breathless tension, energy, and movement to the already imposing music. Explosions of brass led ferocity and choral majesty, a magnificent reprise of the new Pinhead theme underpinned with rolling pianos, yearning strings, trumpets that seem to be crying out in anguish. The first few moments of the conclusive “What’s Your Pleasure?” provide one of the score’s few respites from the madness, a relieved and near-angelic choral offering; the Leviathan has been defeated, Captain Spencer has been released from purgatory. Pinhead has been vanquished, Julia has been consigned to hell for good, and normality appears to have been restored. But, of course, the cenobites are never truly gone as long as there are hedonistic explorers seeking the delights and torments hidden inside the lament configuration puzzle box – and Young illustrates this madness with a final reprise of the circus calliope music, underscoring the appearance of Pinhead’s disembodied face on a grotesque pillar of souls. You can’t keep a good demon down for long.

The soundtrack for Hellbound: Hellraiser II has been released multiple times in multiple sets in different parts of the world – by GNP Crescendo Records in the United States in 1988 alongside Young’s score for the 1982 film Highpoint, as an 11 minute suite on a release of Young’s music for the film Judas Kiss in 2000, as part of a 3-CD set released by Silva Screen in 2003, and by BSX Records in a 2-CD set with the score for Hellraiser in 2012. To acknowledge the 30th anniversary of the film Lakeshore Records has recently released a new vinyl edition, overseen by Young himself, which has been re-mixed and re-mastered from the original 24-track 2-inch reel-to-reel analog tapes. As was the case with their similar release of Hellraiser last year, the sound quality on the new version is reportedly spectacular, revealing the depth and quality of Young’s orchestrations in a whole new light; for those of you who don’t own an LP record player, the upcoming CD version is absolutely recommended, even if you already own the score in one of its previous iterations.

Looking back at his career with thirty years of hindsight, it’s easy to see how Christopher Young got pigeonholed into scoring horror and thriller films for almost two decades in the aftermath of this masterwork. It’s not that he can’t do other genres – he is, in fact, a superb composer across the board – but the magnitude and brilliance of Hellbound: Hellraiser II stood apart as something so truly special, that every single major horror and thriller director immediately came calling, each wanting Young to bring to their film the genius he brought to this one. His subsequent work in the genre includes some tremendous scores, including The Fly II, The Dark Half, Species, Bless the Child, and more recent works like Drag Me to Hell and Priest, but Hellbound: Hellraiser II remains the crowning glory of his explorations of horror. It’s one of the best five scores of 1988, and is in the conversation to be considered one of the greatest horror scores in the history of cinema.

Buy the Hellbound: Hellraiser II soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Hellbound/Second Sight Séance (7:29)
  • Looking Through A Woman (5:30)
  • Something to Think About (4:26)
  • Skin Her Alive (1:47)
  • Stringing the Puppet (4:56)
  • Hall of Mirrors (7:47)
  • Dead or Living? (2:51)
  • Leviathan (3:25)
  • Sketch With Fire (2:56)
  • Chemical Entertainment (6:36)
  • Obscene Kiss (5:00)
  • Headless Wizard (5:33)
  • What’s Your Pleasure? (3:11)

Running Time: 61 minutes 23 seconds

GNP Crescendo Records GNPD-8015 (1988)

Music composed by Christopher Young. Conducted by Alan Wilson. Performed by the Graunke Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Christopher Young. Recorded and mixed by Eric Tomlinson. Album produced by Christopher Young and Ford A. Thaxton.

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