“Do…do you know a man called Frank Cotton?”
The Archangel seems to pause. The Stomach gurgles with pleasure at his shoulder.
“Oh yes,” hisses the aggressor, the Throat.
“He…” sobs Kirsty Cotton, struggling against her captor, the Teeth, “he escaped you—“
“Nobody escapes us,” corrects the Archangel.
Kirsty sees her chance and flings herself at it. “He did! I’ve seen him, I’ve seen him—He’s alive!”
“Suppose he had escaped us,” booms the Archangel. “What has that to do with you?”
“I can lead you to him,” she pleads, “and you can take him back instead of me.”
“Suppose we’d prefer you,” says the Throat with a sneer.
“I want to hear him confess himself,” snaps the archangel, suddenly hungry with the possibility. “Then, maybe…” The pins lining his face bristle. “Maybe…”
The host considers her offering, find it pleasing to their palates. A pact is quietly made.
“But if you cheat us,” warns the Throat.
The Archangel stares deep into Kirsty Cotton’s hellbound heart, his eyes smoldering with light.
“We’ll tear your soul apart.”
Though other horror icons have since surpassed them in my mind, the Cenobites will always be my first love. Despite their supernatural tendencies, the central figures of the slasher era are killing machines, satisfied with mere punishment and bloodshed. The Cenobites are more than that. They are who Kruger and Voorhees pray to for strength and resolve. They are the slasher gods.
1987’s Hellraiser was a perfect confluence of great timing, talented performances, vague source material, and incredible character design. The novella on which the film was based, Clive Barker’s ‘The Hellbound Heart’, is a simple story about a man who returns from Hell and the demons that follow him. But while Barker’s Cenobites are creepy—they belong to the Order of Gash, and Pinhead is briefly described—they are vague monstrosities, described in abstract terms—“the flesh, the hooks”.
Meanwhile, by ’87 the Satanic Panic was in full swing, with parents around the world afraid their children were being sexually abused by devil-worshippers. The worst of these monsters? Heavy metal fans, leather-clad footsoldiers of darkness who enjoyed hobbies like S&M and body modification. That these monsters had a higher order of supernatural beings they might aspire to was a given.
But these creatures aren’t born from warmth—pentagrams, candles, spilt blood, these matter not to the Cenobites. What’s needed is a cold intellect and a sense of curiosity. Your desire to know all must control you past passion, driving it to the point of obsession. Thankfully, there is a way to weed out the amateurs. The Lament Configuration, a beautifully-designed puzzle box, exists as a conduit for those who would dare work for their own eternal damnation.
Pinhead’s true power comes from his inherent order. Unlike his disfigured cohorts, Pinhead is not haphazardly mutilated. The grid and pins that adorn his skull must have taken time, effort, precision. He does not wield a blade, but commands it with a flicker of his black eyes. He does not need to learn your darkest desires, because he already knows them.
But Pinhead’s iconic image was also his downfall. In Hellraiser, the Cenobites aren’t truly the antagonists, but rather the supporting police of Hell that come to hunt down their quarry. By Hellbound: Hellraiser II, it became clear that fans wanted more of Pinhead. Barker’s attempts at broadening his world to include the abyssal Labyrinth and the hypersexual Dr. Chanard were impressive, but made less intellectually-inclined fans sneer and beg for Pinhead.
As such, we got Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, a straightforward slasher movie where heavy metal fans are made into Cenobites at random; and Hellraiser: Bloodline, an ambitious but often misguided film that tells the origin of the Configuration and then puts Pinhead in space. Both movies have their merits, but possess little of the artistic merit of the original two films.
What has become of the series since is a tragedy. Pinhead has been turned into just another B-movie killer, tossing out catchphrases and taglines as he enters stories that otherwise have nothing to do with him. Doug Bradley, the brilliant actor behind the role, was misused until he was eventually replaced. The lush demoniacal darkness and promise of a world of hurt that came with the original Hellraiser soon fell prey to horror clichés and the desire to make a quick buck.
Hellraiser deserves more than this. Like A Nightmare On Elm Street, it was a horror film that dared to think beyond masks and machetes, to explore what we truly fear. It is infuriating how often horror fans complain about unoriginality while letting one of the most original franchises in the genre’s history fall by the wayside.
So I urge you, fearmongers: make it known. Sign petitions, write your local studio head, do whatever it takes, but take Hellraiser back. They want to feed you a pay-per-view version of evil that goes down easy. Spit it out. Take your time, open the puzzle, and unleash Hell.