Horror’s Icons: Pinhead


In the 1980’s, the horror genre was loaded with slashers from all over. The slasher films were plentiful and gave audiences a wide array of killers. However, most fit into one of two categories. They were either silent, hulking killers or wise-cracking psychopaths. Pinhead was not silent but also didn’t serve up one-liners to make the audience laugh. Instead, he spoke with purpose and brought an intellect in villains that was reminiscent of Dracula.

Pinhead is the leader of the Cenobites, former humans that are now creatures from another dimension. They travel to Earth when someone plays with a puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration. After arriving, they collect human souls and show people the difference between pleasure and pain. But the end result is always torture for the humans.


Pinhead and Two-Head

Clive Barker wrote and directed the original Hellraiser in 1987. It was based off his novella “The Hellbound Heart”. The movie begins with Frank Cotton, a man that was killed by the Cenobites, escaping their grasp when his brother, Larry, spills his own blood on the spot where Frank originally died. After coming back to Earth, Frank’s body begins to regenerate with the blood of others that are killed by Larry’s wife Julia. Larry’s daughter Kirsty accidentally unleashes Pinhead and company when she plays with the Lament Configuration. When they arrive on Earth, she makes a deal with them to lead them to Frank in exchange for her survival. But once they get Frank back, they try to kill Kirsty also until she sends them back to Hell by solving the puzzle box.

The Cenobites would return to Earth again though a year later in the sequel Hellbound: Hellraiser II. This time, Dr. Philip Channard resurrects Julia while the Cenobites pull Kirsty into their world. She learns of their previous human lives and this helps her to survive and eventually get her freedom. But when the Cenobites get ready to free Kirsty, they are killed by Channard who has now become a Cenobite himself. Tiffany, a girl in the hospital that opened the puzzle box, eventually helps Kirsty and both escape the Cenobite world and then close the gateway afterwards.

That's gonna be a mess to clean

That’s gonna be a mess to clean

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth would be released in 1994 and saw Pinhead try to establish a new group of Cenobites and create, um, well Hell on Earth. Pinhead would eventually be sent back to Hell and the puzzle box was buried in wet cement. Two years later, Hellraiser: Bloodline was released and focuses on the Lament Configuration’s creator. After a request from a wealthy man that was into the dark arts, Philip Lemarchand created the puzzle box. The movie however begins in the future and traces the creation of the box to its beginnings and how the Lemarchand family has been trying to destroy the box after finding out why it was built. Eventually, a Dr. Paul Merchant creates the Elysium Configuration, a space station capable to closing the gateway to Hell that the puzzle box opens. Pinhead and the puzzle box are destroyed once locked in the Elysium Configuration.

Pinhead would lay dormant for a while after that film but would eventually return in more direct-to-video sequels. The first was 2000’s Hellraiser: Inferno where Pinhead would enter the life of a corrupt cop and his personal Hell. Then in Hellraiser: Hellseeker, Kirsty would return to the series also and have to deal with the Cenobites once again. Hellraiser: Deader revolved around a reporter investigating a cult that claims they can control the puzzle box and the Cenobites. And in 2005’s Hellraiser: Hellworld the franchise took the “real world” approach where the films’ success spawned an online game and the lines between real and fake get blurry for a group of gamers.

Those four movies all seemed a bit different and out of place and there is good reason for it. After Dimension Studios gained the rights to the franchise, they did not have any new Hellraiser scripts. So, instead of taking the time to write a new story, the studio placed the Pinhead character and the rest of the Cenobites into unrelated horror scripts that the company owned. Dimension was able to save money by doing this and pop out four films in the series in a six year span. And while the films plots suffered greatly from this, it gave fans more chances to see Pinhead do what he does best.

They should have put a fork in this Pinhead

They should have put a fork in this Pinhead

Pinhead did however return with a new Hellraiser script in 2011 with Hellraiser: Revelations. But that didn’t mean it should have been released. Supposedly released so that the studio could keep the franchise rights while waiting to do a remake, the film simply follows two friends who find the puzzle box that unleashes Pinhead and friends and the results that follow. Not only was the story weak, but Pinhead was recast for the first time in the series with Stephan Smith Collins replacing veteran Doug Bradley. And the new look Pinhead (above) looks more like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man lost a lot of weight and failed carpentry class. That’s all I got on this film and that is more than it deserves. Let’s move on.


Pinhead and friends

Pinhead and friends

Pinhead was once a human named Elliott Spenser. He was a captain in the British Expeditionary Force and his wartime experiences had made him lose his faith in humanity and, eventually, God. Feeling God failed humanity, Spenser wandered Earth seeking gratification and pleasure. He found the Lament Configuration in British India in 1921 and would then become Pinhead, the Cenobite with spikes throughout his head. But Pinhead was not the only villain in the Hellraiser series. He was often flanked by other Cenobites that had their own unique looks.

In the first two film, there were three other Cenobites. There was Butterball, a large Cenobite with a huge cut in his abdomen. The Female had a piece of metal going through her neck. And Chatterer had a disfigured face with constantly chattering teeth. There was also the Dr. Channard cenobite created in the second film.

Pinhead created his own Cenobites on Earth in the third film. He would create those known as Dreamer, Pistonhead, Barbie, Skinless, and CD. In the other films, Cenobites featured would include Angelique, Siamese Twins, and a female Chatterer. But no matter how many Cenobites appeared in the series, only Pinhead was a constant and became a horror icon. And, with the exception of the ill-fated last movie, only one man is the face of that character: Doug Bradley.


Does he really need a posse?

Does he really need a posse?

Doug Bradley has been an active actor and writer since 1973. And although he has been in previous films, he is known worldwide as Pinhead. The 58 year-old actor made Pinhead into an intellectual villain the likes of which had virtually disappeared. In a time when almost any actor could be put behind make-up or a mask, Bradley breathed life into the Pinhead character. No amount of make-up were able to hide the impact Bradley gave to Pinhead.

And not just Pinhead. He played the former human form of Pinhead, Elliott Spenser. He gave Pinhead a human side that made him reach audiences in a new way. The portrayal of Spenser made people remember that Pinhead was once human too and gave the character a small amount of sympathy that he didn’t have before.


Talks to a Hellraiser remake have been ongoing for years. The recent remake trend makes the possibility highly likely but nothing has come to light yet. But, as I stated earlier, the last film was apparently released so that the studio could maintain the rights to the franchise for a remake. So the possibility is definitely out there but then again that film was released two years ago. And no new news has really been released. I’m sure that as with most remakes there are people that want to see it and don’t want to see it, so there is still hope for both sides here.

Not your typical Rubik's cube

Not your typical Rubik’s cube

Well, there is another Horror’s Icons down but plenty more to come. Pinhead was an interesting character and one that is often overlooked with the pop statuses of Jason and Freddy. But he is one of the smartest and deadliest villains the horror genre has seen and deserves to be recognized as such. But next time, we are going to look at another big time villain. We go from the heats of Hell to the heats of Texas to look at Leatherface. He may not be as smart and well-spoken as Pinhead, but he’s definitely just as deadly. See you next time folks.


the D