Over the years, dozens, if not hundreds, of horror films have slashed their way through the American Film Market, but few have left as indelible an impression — not to mention an almost never-ending string of sequels and reboots — as 1987’s Hellraiser, horror novelist Clive Barker’s journey to hell and back.
Based on Barker’s 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, the film revolves around a mysterious puzzle box that, when unlocked, calls forth the Cenobites, sadomasochists from another dimension, whose leader resembles a human pincushion. Played by British actor Doug Bradley, the character was nameless in the original film, but cast and crew nicknamed him Pinhead, and that moniker stuck after it was enthusiastically embraced by fans.
Making his directorial debut — he insisted on directing after disliking earlier film adaptations of his work — Barker secured a bare-bones $900,000 budget from New World Pictures.
“The look of the Cenobites, such as the pins in their leader’s head, was inspired by S&M clubs,” he later explained in an interview with The Guardian. “Sex is a great leveler. It made me want to tell a story about good and evil in which sexuality was the connective tissue. Most English and American horror movies were not sexual, or coquettishly so — a bunch of teenagers having sex and then getting killed. Hellraiser, the story of a man driven to seek the ultimate sensual experience, has a much more twisted sense of sexuality.” So much so that the final edit required several cuts to tone down its sex and violence to avoid an X rating from the MPAA’s rating board.
Released in September 1987, Hellraiser grossed $14.6 million in North America and another $757,000 in the U.K. It would go on to spawn nine sequels — and in October, it got a major reboot: Directed by David Bruckner and making its debut on Hulu, it stars trans actress Jamie Clayton (Sense8) as a reimagined Pinhead, whose distinctive visage is as prickly as ever.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Nov. 4 daily issue at the American Film Market.
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