Clive Barker’s marauding band of Cenobites has been happily plying their trade of filleting boundary-adjacent pleasure seekers and making them get off on it for around 35 years give or take and from the dizzying highs of Barker’s original movie to the sickening lows of the franchise’s decent into it’s own direct to video hell, we’ve witnessed a plethora of gruesomely horny torments.
So, with a much needed reboot coming over the horizon courtesy of Hulu, it’s the perfect time to cast an appraising eye over the handiwork of the Cenobites like one of the judges of a particularly maniacal addition of the Great British Bake Off (Great British Skin Off, anyone?) and pass judgement over the various inhuman treatment the franchise has delivered over the years – we do indeed have such sights to show you.
So to paraphrase Cenobite MVP, Pinhead: This article; you opened it, we came…
5) Double Your Fun… (Hellraiser: Bloodline – 1996)
From this entry in the franchise onward, the Hellraiser series faced a noticable dip in quality as Miramax’s horror themed production arm, Dimension, progressively mismanaged Barker’s potentially limitless universe into oblivion. However, inbetween the sparse production values, ropey plots and rubbery gore, the odd bit of gold would float to the surface on this near continuous river of shit in the form of a randomly cool Cenobite design or an impressive spot of torment.
It’s with this in mind, we start with this particular scene that sees an unlikely duo of security guards (Twin brothers, working the exact same night shift at the exact same job? Cut the cord, guys) fall foul of Pinhead as he searches for the ancestor who first crafted the Lament Configuration puzzle box. Understandably shaken by the sight of mutilated hell-folk chilling out on their rounds, the two guard pull their guns, only to be ensnared by numerous chains that hold them in place while the Lead Cenobite indulges in some typically verbose musings.
“Please, don’t separate me from my brother.” empathizes Pinhead and then summarily grants their plea as he decides to fuse them together to make the two headed Twin Cenobite. As a device uses hooks to twist their faces together, we’re treated to an extra messy example of “two become one” as the brother are crushed, rent and twisted together to become a brand new Cenobite who, if I’m being honest, looks more than a little awkward.
4) Hitting The Club (Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth – 1992)
Opinions are divided on the way director Anthony Hickox utilised Clive Barker’s Cenobites back in 1992 and while the nay sayers have something of a point (the newly created Neo-Cenobites being a bit silly, Pinhead reduced to a more generic heavy), you can’t deny that the levels of gore hardly suffered at all. The most obvious example of this is a newly reborn Pinhead, freed from his human half that presumably was the part of him that stuck to the rules, unleashes an orgy of death and murder upon the patrons of J.P. Monroe’s hip and happening club, The Boiler Room. As numerous, 90’s party types fall beneath numerous creative uses for hooked chains and general weird shit, we’re forced to pay attention as ol’ nail noggin gets to play – behold as a guy is hooked into the air by his scalp, watch as another has his tongue snagged by another one of Pinhead’s weapon of choice and look on confused as woman’s drink floats out of her glass, takes the form of Pinhead’s visage and the become an icicle that spears her right through the fucking mouth. Bit weird, right?
Anyway, during the chaos in which we see both the C.D. and Barbie Cenobites created as the DJ and barman are mutilated, there’s a single shot of sublime subtlety that brings all the overexcited bloodletting into focus – as the survivors pile toward the sealed fire exit (naughty, naughty, Pinhead, that’s a fire hazard) we get a reverse shot of the crack at the bottom of the door and as we hear the sickening thwacks of chains hitting flesh, rivers of blood pool from under the egress, our imaginations do more than Hickox’s overexcited special effects crew ever could.
3) A Syphilitic Penis Worm A Day Keeps The Doctor Away (Hellbound: Hellraiser II – 1988)
We’ve already dealt with one Cenobite transformation with the nasty creation of the Twins, but the first time we ever saw Hell’s recruiting method was during the ambitious sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Yes, the movie opens with curious World War I Captain Elliot Spencer getting nailed in the worst way as he becomes the Pinhead we all know and love, but the scene I’m referring to is the betrayal and transformation of obsessive hell-perv Dr. Phillip Chanard.
Finding a back door into hell with the help of a revived Julia Cotton, the ocult obsessed medical deviate finds he’s merely a fish on a hook in the worst way when, after coming face to face with Cenobite deity Leviathan, Julia feeds him into a giant box-like structure that essentially creates Cenobites.
As fleshy claws give him a hell-priest make-over by wrapping piano wire around his face and pumping him full of blue liquid, the not-so-good doctor emerges a changed man who seemingly revels in his mangled new form (“And to think, I hesitated.”). However, his supernatural glow up isn’t over yet and the finishing touches are applied by a giant phallic worm with a whirring blade for a mouth that attaches itself to the back of the newly minted Cenobite’s head and becomes his new mode of transport.
Nothing like a slimy cock-worm coated in syphilis to really finish off the look.
2) Judas Priest (Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth – 1992)
For a string of movies that deal with Hell, lust, demonic deals and punishment, the Hellraiser franchise has weirdly stayed away from being out right blasphemous, keeping the realms of heaven separate from the various situations created by the opening of the Lament Configuration. However, Hellraiser III had no such qualms and during it’s most memorable scene we see an unchained Pinhead decide to give a hapless priest a piece of his mind.
Terrified TV reporter Joey Sumerskill takes refuge in a local church while Pinhead’s earthly rampage causes a few shop fronts to explode, but as she desperately tries to explain her plight to a kindly man of god, Pinhead, ever the diva, bursts into the place of worship and starts throwing his hellish weight around. After first melting a silver crucifix with merely a glance, Pinhead then really goes on the offensive – key word being offence. Pulling out some nails from his skull, the Lead Cenobite puts them through his hands in a perverse mockery of the crucifixion which obviously pisses of the priest plenty, but after overpowering the man of the cloth, the vindictive Cenobite enacts the Last Supper by feeding his victim chunks of his own, inhuman flesh while shamelessly quoting Jesus to the man.
“This is my body, this is my blood.” – To quote Homer Simpson “Mmmmm…. Sacrilicious.”
1) Splitsville (Hellraiser – 1987)
As a wise man once said, you never forget your first time and that counts as doubly true to our premium experience at seeing what the Cenobites are truly capable of.
Colossal super-pervert Frank Cotton has escaped from hell and with the help of his duplicitous sister-in-law Julia, has murdered his own brother, Larry and donned his skin in a macabre attempt to go incognito as popping on some sunglasses and a fake moustache simply isn’t going to cut it here. However, after the meddling of Larry’s daughter Kirsty outs him to the disgruntled members of Hell’s elite greeting team, Pinhead and the gang unleash the full fury of what their flying chained hooks can do as Frank is gruesomely strung up like a bloody marionette. As the hooks tear, gouge and pull ever tighter, Frank’s visage is stretched to grotesque extremes and he has time for one last leer at his niece and a killer farewell (“Jesus wept!”) before his body tears like wet toilet paper under the strain and he bursts all over the spare room like an offal stuffed piñata.
Haunting, shocking and oh so satisfying, the Cenobites takedown of Frank has been copied many times in the franchise since, but it’s never come close to being equalled.
In other words, a ripping good time.
Hellraiser will be released on the 7th October on Hulu.