Back in 1987, just after squalid, hedonistic thrill seeker Frank Cotton was done farting around with an ornate puzzle box he’d bought from a bazaar in Morocco, the world was subsequently introduced to Clive Barker’s most perverse creations: the Cenobites – an order of pain inflicting creatures who reside in Hell until summoned by wandering hands and out of control labidos.
Ever since we first saw the majestic Lead Cenobite (later dubbed Pinhead) stride onto the screen while the second in command Female rooted in human offal in order to retrieve the separate parts of a man’s face, the Cenobites still endure as possibly one if the most original creations ever to emerge from 80’s horror cinema, long after the quality of the franchise nosedived into direct to video Hell and beyond.
However, unlike the orgasmic trauma the Cenobites bring, salvation lay on the horizon for Hellraiser fans as we stand on the cusp of getting a brand new reboot that’s due to stick its hooks into fans this coming October thanks to Hulu.
But with the prospect of some brand new Cenobites to marvel and recoil at, who of all the original, maimed, leather clad followers of the floating, geometric thingamajig known as Leviathan is the most ” off the chain” of them all…?
5) C.D. (Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth – 1992)
Ok, now hear me out…
I’m well aware of the feelings of many hardcore Hellraiser fans about the appearance of the Neo-Cenobites, a new bunch of rag tag soldiers that Pinhead has cobbled together from various bric-a-brac he’s found lying around the club of herculean misogynist, J.P. Munroe. In fact, in some ways I heartily agree and that having a dude stomping around with an entire video camera fused into his eye socket somewhat violates the vision Clive Barker created in the original movie. However, two things kind of loophole me into being weirdly fond of these guys and the first is that Pinhead himself even describes the new guys as being “shadows of my former troops”.
The second is this guy.
I’m not entirely sure what it is about C.D. I find so endearing: is it the wide, bulldog type mouth; the odd little bondage mask that looks like it either barely fits or he’s wearing it wrong; or maybe it’s the fact that theres a good chance that Pinhead doesn’t even know what the hell a C.D. is and just figured that the glossy disc would look great lodged in a dudes noggin. The fact that the filmmakers also had the balls/nerve to have the fucker actually have a player embedded in his chest so he can eject an endless number of compact discs to throw at enemies is just the fucked up cherry on a misshapen cake.
But consider this, at the end of Hell On Earth, C.D. and the rest of his new brothers and sisters are transported back to Hell – do you really think the other denizens of the underworld are going to have the time of day for a homemade Cenobite who probably knows the all the lyrics to Jump Around by House Of Pain?
4) The Female (Hellraiser – 1987, Hellbound: Hellraiser II – 1988)
There’s been a few female Cenobites since the series started and with trans actress Jamie Clayton due to don the mantle of the lead Cenobite itself in the upcoming reboot, it seems that sexism and diversity isn’t exactly an issue in hell. But beating out such flayed femmes such as the perpetually horny Wire Twins, the tragic, oddly cigarette obsessed Dreamer Cenobite and the demonic Angelique is the Female Cenobite who proudly stood at Pinhead’s right hand in the first two movies. Initially dubbed the “Deep Throat” Cenobite due to her yawning neck wound before more prudish heads prevailed, unlike her other comrades, the Female not only has actual lines (some pretty cool ones too) but has quite the memorable introduction too as she makes strangled cat sounds while idly piecing together a makeshift jigsaw puzzle out of a man’s face – even in Hell, it seems, a hobby is fairly important.
Played both by Grace Kirby (Hellraiser) and Barbie Wilde (Hellraiser II), the Female may not be as stylishly memorable at her bloated and chattery work buddies, she makes up for it by having a legitimate personality that suggests that’s she’s a far more spiteful and mocking being than her nail-headed team leader.
A rare Cenobite that’s much more than just a breathtakingly guesome visage lurking in Pinhead’s peripheral, the female, with her facial piercings and shaved head even hints at the type of alt-culture fashions we see everywhere today proving that she is one slick sick chick.
3) Chanard (Hellbound: Hellraiser II – 1988)
This entry may provoke some metaphorical hooks being launched at me due to the fact that some Hellraiser purists will forever be disgruntled about a certain scene in Hellraiser II (which we’ll get to in just a moment), but when it comes to the sheer, out-there, “what the fuck is that” nature of some Cenobite designs, surely Kenneth Cranham’s Channard is the most extreme of all.
Previously on “Dr. Channard gets his horrific comeuppance”, the not-so-good Doc finds that all his efforts to raise the Hell-ravaged Julia Cotton back from the dead in order to gain entrance into the nether world to do some pervy sight seeing only to be fed into Leviathan’s Cenobite making machine. He emerges a fetching shade of blue with wire cutting into the flesh of his face and while he’s getting his bearings a giant, phallic worm with a whirring blade in its “mouth” attaches itself to his skull and becomes his syphilitic mode of transport for the rest of the movie – easier to control than a hoverboard, I guess. Aside from his veiny, penis-y way of getting around, Channard also sprouts a trio of snake-like protuberances from the palm of each hand which can grow a variety of things from the “mouths” such as blades, flowers and a beckoning finger.
However, his greatest triumph is the one thing that hasn’t exactly endeared himself to certain fans when his bloody rampage throughout his hospital ends with him taking on all four original Cenobites and soundly whipping their collective ass while barely breaking a sweat. While it’s true that it’s a little irksome that the guy can take out a quartet of Hell’s best and brightest despite being a Cenobite for barely five minutes.
Still, for looks alone, no Cenobite before or since has looked so epically insane.
2) Chatterer (Hellraiser – 1987, Hellbound: Hellraiser II – 1988, Hellraiser: Bloodline – 1996, Hellraiser: Inferno – 2000, Hellraiser: Hellseeker – 2002, Hellraiser: Deader – 2005, Hellraiser: Hellworld – 2005, Hellraiser: Revelations – 2011, Hellraiser: Judgement – 1018)
Even though Pinhead is the undeniably striking face of the Hellraiser franchise, if the series was to have a mascot it would undoubtedly be the unfeasibly popular Chatterer, the gang’s chief supply of muscle. While the other Cenobites are content to stand around, looking magnificent, Chatterer gets stuck in with the grunt-work, getting physical when flying meat hooks prove to be too extreme for the job in hand and when it comes to sheer awesomeness, the clickity-clack of the creature’s dental work is as memorable thing as anything else in the entire saga.
In fact, if anything, Chatterer may arguably be too popular as some iteration or variation of the character has turned up in almost every movie in the series to date. In Hellraiser II he gets an inferior makeover (a Chatterer with eyes, c’mon guys that’s cheating) and is revealed to have been a child back in his human days (named Jim thanks to a comic book origin story), whereas in the fourth movie there’s a dog version named the Chatterbeast (did a pooch solve the Lament Configuration or something?) and the fifth movie there’s a legless apparition that crawls up a flight of stairs – but the original version, bravely played by a near blind Nicholas Vince, is by far the most superior and has remained a firm favorite ever since his unforgettable debut sticking his fingers into Kirsty Cotton’s mouth.
In fact, its weirdly soothing to know that the Chatterer legacy is due to continue as yet another version is destined to show up in the upcoming reboot as a spindly 6 foot 9 inch giant thereby proving the toothy worth of the eyeless, gummy bastard for a whole new generation.
Simply put, the other Cenobites may be horribly beautiful, but the Chatterer is fucking metal.
1) Pinhead (Hellraiser – 1987, Hellbound: Hellraiser II – 1988, Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth – 1992, Hellraiser: Bloodline – 1996, Hellraiser: Inferno – 2000, Hellraiser: Hellseeker – 2002, Hellraiser: Deader – 2005, Hellraiser: Hellworld – 2005, Hellraiser: Revelations – 2011, Hellraiser: Judgement – 2018)
Of course Pinhead is number one, what, are you crazy?
If you need any proof of this (and after all these years you really, really shouldn’t) just consider the fact that not only is Pinhead not the main villain in the original Hellraiser, but he’s not even a main character, having precious little runtime in the final movie. But during his limited exposure Pinhead actor Doug Bradley fucking makes them count, forging a genuine horror superstar virtually overnight thanks to the studio wisely slapping him on the poster.
Evoking the regal nature of Christopher Lee’s Dracula or Vincent Price’s Dr. Phibes, the eloquent Pinhead radiated almost a regal persona while the other horror heroes of the 80’s were more blue collar types (Freddy was a janitor for Christ’s sake) or flat out mute.
As the series went on, we found out Pinhead’s origin (originally a captain in the First World War named Elliot Spencer), saw him graduate to full villain status and then saw his role reduced to that of a kind of book ending status as the budgets got progressively lower and the quality dropped further and further. It’s to Bradley’s credit that he stayed with the character as long as he did and you can tell that he loved playing the character, however, in the franchise’s lowest blow, the actor was replaced in 2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations and again in 2018 as Miramax simply kept making bargin bin entries simply to keep a hold of the movie rights. The results were, predictably, awful, but to give Steven Smith Collins, Paul T. Taylor and the voice of Fred Tatasciore their due, it was an impossible set of pins to fill and somehow, even after all the hellish, low budget dreck the character has been forced to endure, Bradley’s distinct performance has endured.
Hope also endures thanks to new Pinhead, Jamie Clayton, whose frankly stunning new look and raspy voice could restore the character back to it’s former heights, but it’s Bradley and Clive Barker’s original vision that cemented a brand new horror legend than no one had ever seen before while everyone else was simply trying to copy Freddy Krueger.
Honorable Mention: The Engineer (Hellraiser – 1987)
I’ve never really been too sure of what the Engineer is supposed to be, I mean it’s definately not a Cenobite in the classical sense, but to paraphrase Moe Sizlack, instead of telling us what it ain’t, how about telling us what it am? Is there some intelligence going on inside that misshapen head and that chomping, ripped out fireplace of a mouth? Does he perform some higher purpose – like being sort of Hell’s version of mall security? Or is he merely some sort of malformed wildlife that flourishes in Hell’s otherworldly ecosystem that could technically class as a pest, like a raccoon or a possum?
Whatever the Hell he is, the Engineer certainly knows how to make an entrance and while his mottled, rubbery appearance certainly screams 80’s special effects, he’s a monster that looks quite unlike anything we’ve ever seen before or since thanks to the innovative work of monster man Bob Keen and the surreal imagination of Clive Barker.
Essentially an angry fetus crossed with a scorpion, the Engineer uses its hind legs to propel itself through the endless alleyways of the Cenobite’s domain while its withered arms grasp for its victims as it takes a pot shot at Hellraiser’s chief protagonist, Kirsty Cotton, not once, but twice as it proves to be one last obstacle before out heroine can escape into the night. He’s such a memorable fellow it’s a legitimate surprise that he never showed up in the franchise again aside from a deleted scene in Hellraiser II, especially considering that the fourth movie gave us a Chatterer dog that essentially does the exact same thing.
Whether we’ll ever see the likes of the Engineer again is something we may never know, but this creepily cool creature really does deserves another shot and the fact he can throw a surprisingly effective right jab (much to Kirsty’s boyfriend’s dismay) means that this enigmatic beastie has layers than your average, hellish, wall scrambler that’s miles better than the faceless serial killer from Hellraiser: Inferno that shares the same name.
Hellraiser is released on Hulu October 8th