The HELLRAISER II Surgeon Scene and the Weird Mystique of “Lost” Footage

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SHOCK examines the legendary cut “surgery” scene from HELLRAISER II and other mythical excised horror scenes.

Released in 1988, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II managed to be that rarest form of sequel; one that remained faithful to the original while managing to expand on its premise and themes organically. The first two installments merge pretty seamlessly to tell one epic tale of horror and while HELLBOUND isn’t flawless by any means, it’s arguably the best movie in the franchise.

Like, way better than HELLWORLD.  

Despite the ever diminishing returns of the series it still has a die-hard fanbase, who remain captivated by Clive Barker’s demonic visions and rich mythology after all this time; and like any good fanbase, they can become obsessive over tiny details and production stories. HELLRAISER II had an absolute doozy, when an instantly iconic image surfaced of Pinhead and the Female Cenobite (“Deep Throat” to her friends) clad in bloody surgical gowns first appeared on a VHS cover.

For decades this still has become inseparable from the movie, which begs the question; why isn’t this scene in the actual movie?

In the dark period before the internet this topic inspired much debate among fans, who assumed the image was either from a promo shoot or a removed scene so gory and horrible it was simply too much for censors. The legend of the lost “Surgery Scene” would thus grow in horror circles, and even the explanation for its removal did little to cool the hype around it.

The scene itself took place during the third act, following Kirsty and Tiffany’s escape from The Labyrinth. They walk through the hospital and take an elevator down to the basement, where they are confronted by two masked surgeons. The surgeons warn them they can’t be in that area, and while they talk they slowly morph into Cenobites; blood stains appear on their gowns, and pins erupt from the head of the male doctor. They then give chase, following the ladies to an elevator that closes in the nick of time. When they reach the next floor, the Chatterer lunges at them, only to get trapped in the elevator when they dodge him. 

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So, not really an essential sequence storywise, but it does bridge the gap between the ladies arriving back and the hospital going – quite literally – to hell. The reason it was deleted became mudded over the years, mainly due to Pinhead actor Doug Bradley’s insistence it was never shot to start with.

Bradley would explain in numerous interviews – much to his chagrin, since he kept being asked about it – the scene was set up, but when it was being discussed they realized it didn’t work logically; if Pinhead eventually discovers his human origins later on, wouldn’t it be confusing to the audience if he appears in human form played by the same actor?

There was also the small matter of the effects not working properly, so – according to Bradley – they eventually abandoned the scene before the cameras rolled on it, but not before the picture circulating was taken by a still photographer.

Bradley’s statement was later contradicted by director Tony Randel and screenwriter Peter Atkins, who said the scene was shot but removed because the effects didn’t work out. They also advised fans not to lose sleep over the missing footage, which Atkins lovingly dismissed as “shit.”

The conflicting reports about whether or not the scene was even shot only added to the mystery and fans continued pouring over old trailers – which contained snippets of footage – and interviews for anything they could find out. For years it remained an urban legend, until suddenly in 2015 Arrow Films announced a workprint copy of the scene had been discovered, and would be featured on The Scarlet Box, a limited edition boxset containing the first three HELLRAISER movies.

Horror websites exploded with the news, reporting the infamous scene had finally been found and fans could experience it for the first time in nearly thirty years.  Now, the danger with a scene like this – much like the deleted “Cocooned Burke” scene from ALIENS – is that it’s been hyped and speculated on for so long, that when people finally see it they’ll only end up disappointed.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is the Surgeon Scene isn’t good. The workprint scene is presented in a raw condition; it lacks key special effects work, a music score or proper foley, but even with that in mind it falls flat.

It turns the Cenobites into lumbering monsters, and the ending with Chatterer getting his fingers sliced off is laughably poor. The scene is worth watching out of sheer curiosity, but decades of hype hasn’t t helped fans keep their expectations in check; in fact, they’ll likely just agree with Atkins assessment.

The curious thing is that now this legendary scene is out in the wild after so much speculation, is that nobody seems to care anymore. Reality has popped the bubble surrounding it, and the terrifying sequence people imagined has now been dispelled. This scene illustrates the power and ultimately the problem with missing footage; the anticipation can get built to insane levels, but the footage almost always disappoints.

After all, there’s usually a good reason they were removed to start with.

Yet they still hold a curious mystique; since we now live in a time where just about anything is available online there’s very little mystery left, so the idea there’s some mind-blowing footage from a famous  movie that has been lost or is being withheld is always going to pique curiosity.

Maybe the ultimate example of this is the lost Spider Pit scene from the original KING KONG, a deleted sequence which detailed the grisly fate of the poor sailors shaken off the log by Kong.

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The original cut saw them fall into a chasm filled with nightmarish creatures, who quickly surround and consume them. The scene was said to be so shocking for an audience in 1933 people walked out of a test screening, which led to the scene being cut.

That’s where the urban legends start to come in; some people say the scene was planned but never shot, that the producer took it out because it slowed the story down while author Ray Bradbury even claimed to have seen the sequence during the film’s original cinema run.

For years the scene has been like a Holy Grail for genre fans, but if it ever existed it’s been lost to time, where the legend will only continue to grow. Kong super-fan Peter Jackson introduced a whole new generation to the Spider Pit with his remake, which contained a grisly homage to it.

He also created a black and white short movie that tried to recreate what the scene could have looked like, using stop motion effects. In all likelihood if the sequence was rediscovered now it would end up majorly disappointing people, but the hunger to find it will always be there.

It’s the same thing with other lost scenes through genre cinema such as the missing epilogue to THE SHINING, which showed Danny and Wendy recovering in hospital following their escape, and learning Jack’s body has vanished. Kubrick himself personally pulled this scene after the movie had opened in cinemas, and is said to have destroyed the footage; it only lives on through some grainy stills. The same fate befell the pie fight ending to DR. STRANGELOVE.

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Elsewhere there’s the super gory workprint of EVENT HORIZON – featuring uncut versions of the already notorious Visions of Hell and Log Video scenes – which has been lost despite the movie being less than two decades old; there’s the original nightmare ending of FRIDAY THE 13TH Part III and the original cut of Michael Mann’s immensely underrated THE KEEP

There’s even a small subculture built around rumored “phantom” deleted scene that probably never existed to start with. One example is the alleged “Brussels Cut” of THE RING, which is said to have been shown to a select audience during a film festival in 1999. The only difference in this cut is that Sadako’s victims are said to have extremely narrow, vertical slits for mouths, instead of the slack jawed expression of horror seen in the final version.

Several people swear they’ve seen this “creepier” version and – in kind of a Meta way – rumors of rare VHS copies of are said to be floating around. No solid proof of its existence has ever been found though, and director Hideo Nakata maintains it doesn’t exist.

There’s also supposed to be an R-rated TV cut of JAWS 2, featuring the gory deaths of several characters. A vocal fanbase has built up around this rumoured version, with the most spectacular shot said to have been the death of Marge; as seen in the movie the shark rises from behind and demolishes her off-screen,  but this cut is said to contain a disturbing head-on shot of her being chewed up inside the shark’s mouth while screaming for help.

Many claim to have seen this version in their youth, but again no stills have emerged and the filmmakers say no such footage was shot, since the movie was made with a PG rating in mind; even so, this discussion continues to thrive in online forums.

In a curious way the concept of lost footage plays into the whole J.J. Abrams Mystery Box formula, while also highlighting the major flaw with it; people might be excited by the long tease, but if the eventual reveal is anything less than spectacular audiences are bound to get heartbroken.

With that in mind there have been examples of lost footage actually living up to the hype, where the long fabled extended versions of NIGHTBREED, DARK CITY and ALIEN 3 took flawed movies and gave them the extra nudge they needed to become great, thanks to additional footage fans had longed to see for years.

The likelihood is the more something is withheld, the more demand to see it will just grow bigger. Just look at the case of THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED. This was a deeply personal project for comedian Jerry Lee Lewis that he was ultimately so ashamed of he hid it away; and in doing so, accidentally created one of the biggest marketing campaigns in the history of cinema.

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It’s almost certainly a terrible movie – or at least deeply misguided – but it sounds like a fascinating one, and every still image or piece of footage that gets released is consumed with gusto. It has multiple websites and articles dedicated to it, and despite Lewis’ intention to keep it contained the cultural discussion around it only grows by the year.

The recent news that audiences might finally be able to see it in 2025 – a full 53 years after production – has gotten film fans very excited, but if there’s any lesson to be learned from the HELLBOUND Surgery Scene – or any famous lost footage in general – it must be this; sometimes the anticipation is much, MUCH better than the reality.