As the leader of the Cenobites in the Hellraiser franchise, Pinhead is a major horror icon; but there’s a lot you might not know about Hell’s High Priest. While Clive Barker may have lost control of the film series, his work in comics, graphic novels, and literature has allowed for expansive exploration of Leviathan’s domain; we also know quite a bit about Pinhead’s existence, both before and after events in the movies.
From the moment he first appeared (along with “The Order of the Gash”) in Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, Pinhead has captivated genre enthusiasts like few others. In the 1980’s, the articulate, intelligent villain stood in stark contrast to mute brutes (like Jason and Michael) and wise-crackers (like Freddy). The concepts he embodies (like sadomasochism and the extremes of pleasure and pain) remain complex and controversial. So get to know Pinhead better by acquainting yourself with some lesser known facts below.
“We have such sights to show you.”
Pinhead May Have Been a Woman
Pinhead looked and acted very different in The Hellbound Heart; he was subservient to a female Lead Cenobite, and his description implies he was the most feminine member of The Order: “Its voice, unlike that of its companion, was light and breathy–the voice of an excited girl. Every inch of its head had been tattooed with an intricate grid, and at every intersection of horizontal and vertical axes a jeweled pin driven through to the bone. Its tongue was similarly decorated.” The picture above illustrates a sexually ambiguous Pinhead, more in line with Barker’s original vision.
Pinhead was Never Meant to Be a Leader or an Icon
In the script for the original Hellraiser, dialog was evenly split among all four Cenobites. The masks used for the Chatterer and Butterball Cenobites (Played by Nicholas Vince and Simon Bamford respectively), however, made speaking impossible. For this reason, their lines were given to Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and the Female Cenobite (Grace Kirby). Bradley’s impactful delivery cemented the perception that he was the Lead Cenobite.
Doug Bradley Didn’t Want to Be Pinhead
Hellraiser was Doug Bradley’s first feature film, so when Barker gave him a choice of parts (a Cenobite or a mattress mover) he thought it wiser to accept the role that showed his face. Unfortunately (but fortunately) the role of the mover went to Oliver Parker, and the rest is history. Ironically, Parker would go on to be unrecognizable as Peloquin in Nightbreed, Barker’s third film. But considering Pinhead made Bradley a horror icon, I doubt the actor regrets the outcome (and Parker may be kicking himself!)
Julia Almost Became the Next Pinhead
In an early draft of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, the script ended with Julia (Clare Higgins) rising from the bloody mattress as the new Pinhead (Bradley’s Pinhead having been previously murdered by the Channard Cenobite). Essentially, Julia was set up to be the main antagonist of the Hellraiser franchise moving forward. It was the unexpected and overwhelmingly positive response to Bradley’s Pinhead, however, that persuaded Barker to and company to rework the story.
Pinhead Fought in the Battle of Somme
Before he was Hell’s High Priest, Pinhead was Captain Elliot Spencer, a disillusioned WWI veteran who lost all faith in humanity after witnessing countless atrocities. Before a hedonistic, sadomasochistic bender led him to India (where he purchased the Lament Configuration from a mysterious merchant), he fought in the infamous Battle of Somme in France, 1916. It was an especially brutal offensive where more than 1 million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. This gives us a lot to consider when pondering Spencer’s shattered, pre-Pinhead psyche.
Pinhead Has Genital Piercings
In Hellraiser’s early design stages, Clive Barker imagined Pinhead with an extremely evocative modification: A navel piercing with chains that went “down below” hinting at additional genital mutilations. Whether Pinhead had a Prince Albert or something even more outlandish is left to the imagination!
Pinhead Battles Sherlock Holmes
Paul Kane’s novel Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell finds London’s most famous sleuth going to some truly terrifying lengths so solve his case: All the way into the Abyss! Holmes and Watson cross paths with “a shadowy organization talked about in whispers and known only as ‘The Order of the Gash’.” In other words: They face off against Pinhead and his pals! Fans can investigate this unlikely mash-up when Servants of Hell hits the streets on July 12.
That Time Pinhead Played Poker with Lemmy
Music fans wept when legendary rocker Lemmy passed away on December 28th; it was a loss that also resonated profoundly with horror fans, including Doug Bradley who worked with Lemmy on the video for Motörhead’s Hellraiser (included on the soundtrack to Hell on Earth). Here’s Bradley’s response to news of the legend’s death: “Icon is a word perhaps thrown around too easily-Lemmy fits it like a glove. I said that as someone who was not much of a fan of Motörhead, though I stepped aboard his Silver Machine with great pleasure 40 years and more ago.”
Pinhead vs Freddy vs Jason
“Gentlemen, what seems to be the problem?”
An unused version of Damian Shannon and Mark Swift’s script for Freddy vs Jason (2003) saw the waring duo coming face-to-face with Hell’s High Priest at the film’s climax. The implication being, of course, that we’d see a three way crossover in a future installment. The idea was scrapped, though, when New Line was unable to negotiate the rights to Pinhead from Dimension Films. Still, I think we can all agree that it would’ve been really fucking cool! Check out the directors discussing other proposed endings in the video above.
Pinhead’s Brushes with Jackson, del Toro, Gordon
Over the years, several prominent directors have been offered a chance to helm various Hellraiser installments. Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame passed on an offer to direct Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. Both Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak) and Guillermo de Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage, Hellboy) turned-down a chance to helm Bloodline (the last Hellraiser film to receive a theatrical release). Probably for the best considering Kevin Yagher, who eventually took the job, was so disappointed with the final product he disavowed the film. Still, it’s fun to imagine how these films might have turned out in the hands of such exceptionally skilled directors.
Pinhead’s Unlikely Predecessors
Clive Barker oversaw a series of graphic novels, produced by BOOM!, that greatly expanded on Hellraiser’s mythology, focusing on Pinhead. There, we find Hell’s High Priest in a state of perpetual melancholy; so forlorn, in fact, he bargains with Leviathan for a chance to return to human form. Before he can be released, however, he must find a predecessor—and he chooses an extremely ironic replacement: Kristy Cotton! It’s worth noting that before she can rule the Cenobites, she must endure the same ritualistic mutilations as Elliot Spencer; this suggests the trademark grid and nails are actually an indication of rank/title. Much later in the BOOM! series, Kristy passes the unholy torch to Harry D’Amour, the paranormal detective who features prominently in Lord of Illusions and The Scarlet Gospel; he, too, dons the nails.
Pinhead’s Cartoon Cameos
You know you’ve become a pop-cultural icon when you start appearing in cartoons, especially The Simpsons; so far, Pinhead has appeared in 3 episodes: Treehouse of Horrors V, Stop or My Dog Will Shoot, and The Falcon and the D’ohman. He’s also had cameos in Family Guy, where he unscrews the lid of a salt shaker, and in South Park where, as part of the evil army in the Imaginationland Trilogy, Pinhead battles Jesus Christ himself (the satirical implication being that both characters are fictional).
Pinhead Reads Edgar Allan Poe
Doug Bradley is a devout fan of Edgar Allan Poe, and he pays tribute in a series of audiobooks from Spinchillers (available: HERE). While the actor’s voice lacks the artificial depth and resonance that Pinhead’s known for, it’s still appropriately frightening. Check out Bradley reading The Raven in the video above.