In 1186 King Richard the Lionheart (David Robb) charges through the Holy Land with a company of knights. His quest, to stop Satan's emissary, Prosatanos (Christopher Neame) sacrificing a baby prince to wrest control of the world away from God. Upon imprisoning Prosatanos inside a tomb, Richard destroys his magic sceptre. Thereafter holy men scatter the pieces across the globe. When, in 1951, foolish grave robbers set Prosatanos free he sets about tracking and reassembling the sceptre while gruesomely murdering rabbis entrusted its parts. Which brings us to Chicago, 1994 where Prosatanos disembowels the latest rabbi to take him on, retrieves another piece of his sceptre then - presumably for shits and giggles - flings a hapless hooker out a hotel window. The grisly result of which brings him face to face with karate-kicking cop Frank Shatter (Chuck Norris) and his wiseass partner Calvin Jackson (Calvin Levels) who are having none of this satanic crap.
That's right baby, Chuck Norris fought the Devil. Or at least a demonic minion played by Hammer horror veteran Christopher Neame dubbed with a silly bestial voice. As the last theatrical release distributed by the Cannon Group shortly before they went bankrupt, Hellbound marked the end of an era. Hereafter the hirsute karate kicker focused his energy on the direct-to-video market and television where he found success with the long-running Walker, Texas Ranger. Interestingly prior to pairing with Norris on that show, Sheree J. Wilson also served as his leading lady here. She plays Leslie, an attractive occultist know-it-all with a more prominent role in the plot than even she suspects. While Chuck dabbled in genre territory before with Silent Rage (1982), a sci-fi spin on the slasher craze, and the semi-mystical tomfoolery of Firewalker (1986), Hellbound slot into a Nineties trend fusing cop thrillers with the supernatural: e.g. The First Power (1990), Fallen (1998), End of Days (1999). Proving that for once Cannon were on the cusp of something innovative but too impoverished to do anything with it.
After an epic intro, complete with portentous Star Wars (1977) like title crawl, Hellbound gets off to a fairly promising first act. Chuck's brother and frequent creative force behind-the-scenes Aaron Norris directs with surprising skill, making neat use of modest but effective in-camera effects. Brazilian born cinematographer João Fernandes, who graduated from shooting famed pornos Deep Throat (1972) and The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) to horror films The Prowler (1981) and Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984) for director Joseph Zito (along with Zito's subsequent Norris vehicles for Cannon: Missing in Action (1984) and Invasion U.S.A (1985)), shoots the rabbi murders giallo-style, drenched in Dario Argento-esque moody red, orange and blue lighting. Alas, once the plot relocates Shatter (a ridiculous movie cop name if ever there was one) and Jackson to Jerusalem on the trail of elusive antiquities expert Professor Lockley, the film loses all momentum.
Instead of rip-roaring supernatural action-thriller we get a succession of wacky interludes presumably endorsed by the Israeli Tourist Board as our bickering buddy cops interact with a reckless taxi driver, curmudgeonly police captain and would-be adorable street urchin Bezi (Erez Atar) who keeps stealing Jackson's wallet. Chortle. Guffaw. Vomit. All while spied on by a mysterious individual with long hair and beard listed in the credits as 'prophet' but whom the film implies might be Jesus (?) Inexplicably Shatter and Jackson blunder around Jerusalem barging into people's homes and bullying suspects even though these two have no jurisdiction whatsoever outside Chicago. All of which is only slightly less strange than the script implying Chuck Norris can go days without having to eat. Saddled with an unfortunate Whoopi Goldberg hairdo, Calvin Levels' shrill, motor-mouthed sidekick is an embarrassing caricature. Meanwhile Chuck maintains the same pained expression throughout, whether romancing Sheree Wilson or facing down Neame's camp satanic baddie. Though Hellbound clearly does not have the budget to either maintain a heady pace nor climax with the epic confrontation between good and evil it seems to be building towards the film at least has the good sense to stage a handful of scenes where Chuck smacks up a couple of hooded cultists or proves even a hideous rubber faced demon is no match for his lethal spin-kicks.