The 1988 sequel Hellbound picks up immediately where 1987's Hellraiser (based on Clive Barker's novel) left off, continuing the gory but somewhat campy descent into hell, complete with murderous stepmothers, the demonic Cenobites and all sorts of weird and twisted imagery. By far the best decision director Tony Randel made on the sequel was the choice to bring back composer Christopher Young, whose refreshingly full blooded orchestral score for the first film (replacing an effort by British band Coil) was one of its highlights. In establishing an operatic, creeping sense of dread above the usual tedious orchestral stingers (stylistic tendencies that continue in this sequel score), Young established himself as the finest new horror composer in Hollywood. Such a pithy description does little justice however to the blistering qualities of the music itself.
Beginning with a quite simply magnificent waltz-like theme for eight French horns, massed choir and large orchestra, Young immediately lays his cards on the table and grabs the listener's attention: hell is about to be sketched in the finest musical fashion possible. Slowing midway through to allow for a reprise of the lovely Hellbound Heart theme from the first film, another one of the score's major assets then becomes apparent: there is a carefully maintained balance between light and dark, beauty and terror, so that the listener is never too overwhelmed by the more horrific aspects of the music.
Whatever beauty that does exist though does well when placed alongside the genuinely unnerving atonal textures present in the rest of the score, which says something about Young's carefully gauged melodic writing. Dissonant clangs and bangs in tracks such as "Looking Through a Woman" and "Chemical Entertainment" are genuinely skin crawling, sitting alongside snarling brass and conjuring up all sorts of, yes, hellish, images. What is most impressive is how Young marshals all these disparate elements into a coherent whole, ensuring that the music always follows a clearly defined rhythm rather than drift off into tedious noise. The twisted "Hall of Mirrors" cue is a perfect example: a simple calliope rhythm is gradually joined by dissonance and off kilter percussion, gradually building into a genuinely eerie, if darkly comic, track.
A new theme on massive, doom laden brass is introduced in "Skin Her Alive", paying homage to the classic Golden Age horror scores; other elements worth mentioning are the chanting monks in "Leviathan" (pitted against a horn resounding "God" in Morse Code) and the icy piano work in "Obscene Kiss". The Hellbound Heart theme is reprised with a beautiful choir and thunderous orchestrals midway into "Headless Wizard" before mutating into the "Skin Her Alive" theme and then the main theme. The score ends on a disconcerting note with "What's Your Pleasure", beginning with an ominously calm rendition of the main theme before the unsettling calliope from the "Hall of Mirrors" cue returns, hinting at the horror to come in the next instalment of the series.
It can't be denied: Young is the finest horror composer currently in Hollywood, his melodic sense of the operatic making him far more accessible to the mainstream. Although he has received huge acclaim recently for branching out into both action (Ghost Rider) and adult drama (Creation), horror efforts such as Hellraiser II offer the composer at his most undiluted and enjoyable. Hellbound is one of the most important horror efforts to emerge from the decade, along with Jerry Goldsmith's "Poltergeist" and Howard Shore's "The Fly", honing a whole new sound for the genre.
This score is sadly rather sparse in availability although eagle-eyed consumers may spot it cropping up in the secondary market on Amazon. Here are the links for such a CD which combines "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" with music from the movie "Highpoint" - Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Alternatively check out our review of the Hellraiser collector's edition called Hellraiser: The Chronicles.