The Legacy of Hellraiser
I have seen the future of horror fiction, and his name is Clive Barker” – Stephen King
Hellraiser is my favorite horror film of all time. I saw this film on television when I was really young and it inspired me to become a writer of horror fiction. What really intrigued me about the film was that I never saw anything like it before. Its depiction of combining the grotesque with the beautiful was truly original. The film inspired me so much that I sought out and read the original novel The Hellbound Heart. I fell in love with how the writer, Clive Barker, told the story through a poetry of pain like how I fell in love with the images he shot for his screen adaptation.
Barker stated in an interview that the first movie you make is out of sheer luck. Barker lived in England and was friends with fellow producers Oliver Parker, Allen Parker and Chris Figg. There were all inexperienced but wanted to make a movie. Allen put up some money so they could put a package together and get investors interested. Clive adapted the Hellraiser script from his novel, drew up some drawings of the villains, and wrote up some loglines for the package. Figg and Barker flew to Los Angeles hoping to pitch their project around town. They wouldn’t have to go far because the first company they pitched to, New World Pictures, wanted to make the film. And so, in 1987, Hellraiser was born.
Barker was set to direct the film with a tiny budget of only $900,000. Everyone who was part of the film thought of it as a steppingstone and had no idea of what it would become. The entire cast and crew decided to push horror as hard as they could in this film. At this moment in Barker’s life, he was interested in shocking the audience and breaking boundaries in the genre. In a 2001 interview, the lead actress, Ashley Laurence, recalled auditioning directly with Barker. She said that Barker gave off a nice, creative, and understanding work environment.
The villains of the story are the cenobites, demons that are masters of pain set free by man’s desire and curiosity. These characters are truly memorable because they encapsulate Barker’s vision of beings that are so grotesque that they are beautiful. The actors playing the cenobites would have to show up on set at 4am for make up. The masks were skin tight and molded to the actors’ faces, so they would require 2-3 make up artists to apply simultaneously. Some of the make up required 4-6 hours to apply. The actors would then have to stay in make up for 12-14 hour shoot days.
Barker had no clue that the film would explode with horror fans, yet the most memorable aspect of Hellraiser was the Pinhead character. Pinhead, the leader of the cenobites, was covered with pins nailed to his cranium. He was a villain that horror fans never encountered before and future generations of horror fans will never forget. Doug Bradley was the actor who played Pinhead and Hellraiser was his first film. He was given the option of either playing a moving man or a cenobite. He chose to play a cenobite because he wanted to be recognizable. In an interview, Bradley stated that if he were offered a lead character, he would have taken it, and would’ve been wrong in his choice since Pinhead became a horror icon.
The Pinhead character had a very original and distinct look but most of the appeal was how Bradley played the character. The character was very general-like with his sense of control and his presence when he delivered his menacing lines such as, “we have such sights to show you.” Pinhead connected to fans because he fulfilled some void no villain had before, being both disturbing yet beautiful. Horror filmmaker, Bill Condon, said in an interview that Hellraiser truly disturbed and terrified audiences. He made the point that the 1960s had Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby, the 1970s had The Exorcist, and the 1980s had A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser.
Barker created a legacy in Hellraiser that can be felt on contemporary horror filmmakers today. Certainly I wouldn’t have chosen this profession if it wasn’t for Barker’s work in Hellraiser. As coincidence would have it, Barker and my paths seem to be permanently intertwined.
In 2006, a horror screenplay I had written under professor Jule Selbo’s tutelage placed as finalist at Screamfest Horror Film Festival, which is the biggest horror film festival in the world. That night was the first time I met my lifetime hero in person because he was there accepting an award for lifetime achievement.
As luck would have it my book agent/editor Clark Jones, whom I owe my entire publishing career to, used to work with Barker in the 1980s. I’m sure Barker and my path will cross many more times, but no experience is more profound than the inspiration and the gift he gave to me, and horror fans like me, in Hellraiser.
Barker, Clive. The Hellbound Heart. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1991.
Burke, Fred. Clive Barker Illustrator. Forestville: Eclipse Books, 1990.
Hellraiser Resurrection. Dir. Christian Levatino & Victor Mendoza. DVD. Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc. 2001.
Jones, Stephen. Clive Barker’s A-Z of Horror. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1997.
Jones, Stephen. The Hellraiser Chronicles. London: Titan Books Ltd, 1992.