Assessors of motion pictures who are adversely prejudiced against a genre ought to oblige their audiences by excusing themselves from critique of movies in said genre. Whether America's favorite petulant, celebrated, overfed hack hated horror movies because all their meanness perturbed his girlish sensibilities, their gore put him off his food (thus disrupting what was obviously his favorite activity), or he just reflexively loathed genuine fun the way your bitch mom does is a matter of debate. What isn't is that Roger Ebert ineptly professed to viewing Hellbound: Hellraiser II because yet another review garners more cash, more cash purchases provender, and fat boy must glut.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of nightmares: the kind that you actually have, and the kind they make into movies. Real nightmares usually involve frustration or public embarrassment. In the frustrating ones, a loved one is trying to tell you something and you can't understand them, or they're in danger and you can't help them. In the embarrassing ones, it's the day of the final exam and you forgot to attend the classes, or you're in front of a crowd and can't think of anything to say, or you wandered into the hotel lobby without any clothes on and nobody has noticed you yet - but they're about to.
Let me tell you what kind of mortifying nightmares Ebert never suffered: those in which anybody notices that he didn't actually watch a movie that he deprecated in print, because those might've forestalled this bullshit. Also, he probably never dreamed about a friend or relative staging an intervention on one of those nights when he's feverishly gnawing through his third or fourth pizza alone. On the other hand, the image of Roger Ebert's public nudity is probably more effective than any diet, and yet another testament to his absence of self-awareness. Any dream about Roger Ebert in the buff would be enough to suppress my appetite for a couple days. That he could wake from one of those, then immediately roll over to calm his nerves with a bedside drawer full of whipped cream and pastries really illustrates how outrageous a butterball has to be to author a review of a movie that he didn't watch.
Those are scary nightmares, all right, and sometimes they turn up in the movies. But "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" contains the kinds of nightmares that occur only in movies, because our real dreams have low budgets and we can't afford expensive special effects.
I don't know what it's like to be this oneirically boring, but I refuse to believe that Ebert's id didn't finance at least a few dozen feasts set in a swimming pool full of gravy.
The movie begins a few hours after the original "Hellbound" ended. A young girl named Kirsty has been placed in a hospital after a night in which she was tortured by the flayed corpses of her parents, who were under the supervision of the demons of hell. What this girl needs is a lot of rest and a set of those positive-thinking cassettes they advertise late at night on cable TV. But no such luck. The hospital is simply another manifestation of the underworld, hell is all around us, we are powerless in its grip, and before long Kristy and a newfound friend named Tiffany are hurtling down the corridors of the damned. Give or take a detail or two, that's the story.
Look, I could split hairs and complain that a nationally-syndicated columnist confused the title of Hellraiser with that of its sequel, or that he wasn't familiar with its story because he didn't watch it (either), or that he's funny in the way that Billy Crystal is just a gem to post-menopausal boomer crones who are thrilled to chance upon Comic Relief on streaming because their videotapes are shot, or that, "give or take a detail," he's just rephrasing a synopsis skimmed from the trailer, or that his editor didn't mention this to him or emend it before it was published, but I'm too preoccupied with the broader picture: this is a review indited from hearsay, because Roger Ebert didn't watch Hellbound.
"Hellbound: Hellraiser II" is like some kind of avant-garde film strip in which there is no beginning, no middle, no end, but simply a series of gruesome images that can be watched in any order. The images have been constructed with a certain amount of care and craftsmanship; the technical credits on this movie run to four single-spaced pages. We see lots of bodies that have been skinned alive, so that the blood still glistens on the exposed muscles. We see creatures who have been burned and mutilated and twisted into grotesque shapes and condemned for eternity to unspeakable and hopeless tortures.
Here's my theory: Ebert elected not to attend a pre-release screening because somebody, somewhere was hosting a dinner to which he was invited. He wakes the following afternoon, crapulous and so abdominally turgid that he's ruined his pants, his shirt and maybe his belt and socks. He staggers to his shitty, overpriced word processor and groggily pecks out a disdainful supposition of whatever he gleaned from his press kit; a petulant scowl creases the lower folds of his fat, fatuous face before he stifles a possible moment of remorse by slamming two to six boxes of doughnuts into that ugly, whining orifice. Fuck him.
We hear deep, rasping laughter as the denizens of hell chortle over the plight of the terrified girls. And we hear their desperate voices calling to each other. "Kirsty!" we hear. And "Tiffany!" And "Kirsty!!!" and "Tiffany!!!" And "Kirstiyyyyyyy!!!!!" And "Tiffanyyyyyyy!!!!!" I'm afraid this is another one of those movies that violates the First Rule of Repetition of Names, which states that when the same names are repeated in a movie more than four times a minute for more than three minutes in a row, the audience breaks out into sarcastic laughter, and some of the ruder members are likely to start shouting "Kirsty!" and "Tiffany!" at the screen.
Ebert's gay rules can't even apply when he's speculating about what didn't happen during the movie (that he didn't watch); Imogen Boorman's character couldn't call to Ashley Laurence's repeatedly because she's mute for the nigh-totality of the film, literally uttering not a dozen lines, all of which are vocalized in the movie's last fifteen minutes, and not one of which is a vociferation bespeaking her co-star. Ebert substituted pettish conjecture for actual evaluation because he indiscriminately hates horror movies and didn't even watch this one.
But this movie violates more rules than the First Rule of Repetition.
What's with these "rules?" Nothing's as evidential of impotence than the compulsion to propound arbitrary rules pertaining to a medium rather than simply assessing a work's quality and idiom on their own terms. When I watch something awful (exerting more effort than Ebert did here when he didn't watch Hellbound), I don't contextualize its failings as discord from a legal code I've devised, for every infraction of which I issue demerits and shit, all of which is probably exhausting (and possibly yet another excuse for him to take a break and binge).
It also violates a basic convention of story construction, which suggests that we should get at least a vague idea of where the story began and where it might be headed. This movie has no plot in a conventional sense. It is simply a series of ugly and bloody episodes strung together one after another like a demo tape by a perverted special-effects man. There is nothing the heroines can do to understand or change their plight and no way we can get involved in their story.
Not one clause of this paragraph is true, largely because Ebert never promulgated a rule that reviewers need to watch movies before reviewing them. To invect this from another angle: how does the body positivity movement expect to foster credibility when one of their own can't even be bothered to sit and stare at a screen?
That makes "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" an ideal movie for audiences with little taste
To put this suggestively self-styled arbiter of taste into perspective, Ebert lauded The Women, Home Alone 3, Clash of the Titans, Cars 2, Escape From L.A. and Knowing, and famously panned A Clockwork Orange, Blue Velvet, The Flower of My Secret, The Tenant, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Taste of Cherry. Attendees at Comic-Con who swarm Marvel's booths there have better cinematic taste than this cake vacuum.
and atrophied attention spans who want to glance at the screen occasionally and ascertain that something is still happening up there.
Before I get back to Ebert's egregious dereliction of occupational responsibility, here's another surmisal: he's inadvertently denouncing the inattention of whoever he paid to visit the screening in his stead (during which, in case this isn't clear, he didn't watch it), but didn't mention that this guy was glancing at the screen because he was gorging himself with concessions that Roger jealously wasn't.
If you fit that description, you have probably not read this far, but what the heck, we believe in full-service reviews around here.
Imagine being so corrupt, obese, obliviously self-satisfied, and disdainful of your audience that you insult them by misrepresenting a movie that you clearly didn't watch with a scant, sophomoric review that you describe as "full-service," before collecting a paycheck for this stupid dupery. That might qualify as American journalism, but it isn't respectable critique in any way, shape or form, even if you're joking.
Personally, I love Hellbound, but can't deny that it's deeply flawed: its continuity is a shambles (especially in discrepance from its predecessor); production design and effects alike are inspired but fashioned and executed with slipshod inconsistency; good performances are squandered on dialogue of equally varied quality, and the entire undertaking was obviously festinated to capitalize on Barker's hit. Ebert couldn't advert to one of these glaring faults because he didn't even watch the movie. Who the shit doesn't even watch a movie they're going to slam?!
Journalistic integrity has always been marginal to the profession, but prior to the advent of the Internet, expectations of relatively frivolous fare were probably lower and subject to less scrutiny, which forces me to admit that something is better now than it was in the '80s. Imagine the deluge of denouncement against Ebert, his diet, his physique, and the Chicago Sun-Times typed by furious horror geeks that would've flooded the paper's servers if this were published ten to fifteen years later. Sure, missives that started with, "Hey you lazy pig fuck" would've been discarded, thereby halving the flood of fulmination, but what matters is that readers would've had mediums where they could discuss Roger Ebert's fondness for comestibles over responsibility or honesty. Nobody on BBSes or USENET in '88 was going to hold Roger Ebert's feet to the fire; they were too busy enthusing over Hitchhiker's Guide, arguing over the relative merits of Xenix and QNX, combing burger crumbs out of their beards, and not getting laid, ever, at all. The discerning, analytical middlebrow who faithfully watched every Trek series, MST3K and MonsterVision, subscribed to Fangoria and/or Starlog, hosted private Trek marathons, and actually cared enough to complain about movie reviews wasn't yet a fixture on these forums in significant numbers.
Now that the Internet's been crawling with fanboys for over a quarter-century, standards for qualitative criticism are higher than ever -- not that Hollywood noticed, since they keep churning out trash the way certain autistics produce hundreds of crudely contoured animals crafted with Play-Doh. Unfortunately, the majority of online cinephiles are dupable dopes who actually pay money to see audiovisual sewage like Disney Wars or whatever else major studios are defecating into elaborate production. As western civilization declines, whole classes of people accordingly devolve into decerebrate creatures, which remind me of all those hilarious pictures of Roger Ebert (that I'm actually not supposed to laugh at) after Allah fucked him way up to make him look as stupid as he reads. Look at that and tell me that you're still an atheist.
© 2017 Robert Buchanan
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