Pinhead Origins (Hellraiser)
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
We're diving deep into the origins of this horrifying movie villain. For this video, we're going over the iconic Cenobite's horror history from page to screen, including the backstory and terrifying characterization. We'll include Pinhead's brutal breakthrough, eerie evolution, and what's still to come for this otherworldly character.
Pinhead Origins: Hellraiser
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re discussing the origins of Pinhead from the “Hellraiser” franchise.
For this video, we’re going over the iconic Cenobite’s horror history from page to screen, including the backstory and terrifying characterization.
What’s your favorite Pinhead quote? Let us know in the comments!
It bears noting that the version of Pinhead that made it to the screen in 1987’s “Hellraiser” is a bit different from Clive Barker’s original source material. This falls in line with the reimagining Pinhead has received once again in the latest Hulu reboot, but first thing’s first: let’s start at the beginning.
The character of Pinhead actually isn’t named as such within Barker’s novella, “The Hellbound Heart.” This is despite much of the book’s plot translating rather well to the author’s adapted screenplay. The “Hellbound Heart” iteration of Pinhead is nameless, before later earning the title of “Hell Priest.” This latter moniker isn’t canonized until 2015’s “The Scarlet Gospels” novel, however, as the “Pinhead” nickname was actually something developed on-set by crew, and soon popularized amongst fans. Barker himself reportedly hated the nickname, feeling that it detracted from his intended depiction of this Lead Cenobite as something truly menacing, far removed from cliché horror tropes of the day.
In fact, Pinhead isn’t even the leader of the Cenobites in “The Hellbound Heart,” but instead beholden to the rule of the Engineer, the only otherworldly being given a name in this original novel. Pinhead’s description is also a bit different, with its face and tongue being adorned with jeweled pins , as opposed to the nails that would be popularized in the film version. Additionally, Pinhead is described as having a “light and breathy” voice, like that of “an excited girl.”
This literary description of Pinhead stands in stark contrast to the actor who would eventually become synonymous with the role on-screen, Doug Bradley. Bradley’s booming, British voice is commanding, a stately and authoritarian presence that gives Pinhead a certain regality. Barker, when directing “Hellraiser,” was said to have been inspired by Christopher Lee’s iconic portrayal of Count Dracula for Hammer Studios. As a result, Bradley and Barker created a Pinhead with an austere and slightly seductive presence that doesn’t come across, at least immediately, with emotional malice. The Cenobites, particularly in the first two films, are presented this way, possessing a certain moral ambiguity where their violence is directed primarily at those who desirously summon them via the Lament Configuration puzzle box. This construction, also known as the LeMarchand Configuration, summons Pinhead and the Cenobites to collect their victims and reveal to them the outer limits of pain and pleasure. To quote Pinhead himself: “It is not hands that call us, it is desire.”
It isn’t until “Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth” where Pinhead is described on-screen with his famous moniker. This is also the film where the character takes a true turn for wickedness, causing chaos and destruction right from the jump. This is due to Pinhead’s backstory being expanded in the franchise’s first sequel, “Hellbound: Hellraiser II.” It’s revealed here that Pinhead was a World War I captain named Elliott Spencer, who first summoned the Cenobites with the puzzle box in order to join their ranks. Spencer / Pinhead is given redemption at the finale of “Hellbound,” but this is short-lived, and this “new” Pinhead for “Hell on Earth” has been stripped of Spencer’s moral compass.
It’s with this third entry that Pinhead and the Cenobites begin to enter the “slasher villain” conversation. They become recurring presences that lack the motivational depth of the first two films, and instead serve as background forces pushing on in each unrelated sequel. The “Hellraiser” franchise would only see one more film receiving a theatrical release, “Hellraiser: Bloodline,” with further sequels going direct-to-video. Bradley would reprise the role of Pinhead in many of these sequels, but not all, with 2011’s “Hellraiser: Revelations” and 2018’s “Hellraiser: Judgment” featuring other actors doing their best to walk in Bradley’s shoes. This has proven difficult, as most “Hellraiser” fans associate the character of Pinhead very closely with Bradley, to the point where the pair feels nearly inseparable. It’s very much a Robert Englund / Freddy Krueger sort of situation, where the makeup and the man have gone on to define their respective characters.
Still, the casting of actress Jamie Clayton as Pinhead for the 2022 adaptation of “The Hellbound Heart” fits with the description of the character in the novella. So does the new aesthetic, which returns to the original idea of pins, rather than nails. Barker was reportedly inspired by early punk rock from the 1970s when designing Pinhead; a devilish mixture of safety-pin fetishes and body modification culture that Barker witnessed while traveling in America and the Netherlands. The exposed flesh around the neck of Jamie Clayton’s version also recalls the Female Cenobite in the earlier films, who had an open gash in her throat. Doug Bradley has said he’s “blown away” by the redesign.
It remains to be seen whether or not fans will ever truly accept anyone other than Doug Bradley as Pinhead. The character, unlike Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, cannot hide behind a mask. Yet, at the same time, nothing lasts forever, not even our horror heroes. New generations will always rise up and try to do something different, while hopefully honoring the past. Bradley may always be Pinhead to the legions of “Hellraiser” fans out there, but it’s the character’s origins as an insidiously inspired icon of horror that remains eternal.