I was going to make a Zippy the Pinhead joke in the title, but that’s kind of obscure even for me. Today, we’re talking about Pinhead, the most iconic of the Cenobites from the Hellraiser franchise.
The Cenobites are probably the most unique creation that we’ve discussed so far in the Month of the Macabre. These extra-dimensional creatures were created by author Clive Barker, first being featured in the 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart. The Cenobites seem to exist purely to torture any human they come across.
In the original book, the Cenobites had a more sexual nature than they had in the later films. They were never sexy, mind you, but the “experiments” that they would perform on their human victims always had a sexual nature to them. Kind of like the early depiction of vampires in a way.
An interesting fact is that, despite the name of the book and the film franchise, the Cenobites are specifically not from Hell. The references to Hell are merely to indicate what the victims of the Cenobites are feeling. At least, that was the original intention. Later movies distinctly refer to the Cenobite dimension as Hell, but I won’t be doing that since I know better.
The book follows Frank Cotton, a man that is obsessed with sexual pleasure. He ends up buying a magical puzzle box because of the rumors of it being connected to a dimension dedicated to sexual pleasure. Frank solves the puzzle and gets sucked into the dimension of the Cenobites, who proceed to torture him relentlessly.
Years later, Frank’s brother Rory moves into the same house with his wife Julia. Rory accidentally cuts himself, and his blood ends up releasing Frank from the Cenobite dimension. The torture that he has endured under the Cenobites has left his body looking like a corpse, but Julia vows to revive him. Julia had slept with Frank before she married Rory, and has apparently been obsessed with Frank ever since.
Julia proceeds to lure men to the house, where Frank kills and devours them. This allows Frank to regenerate himself. Huh, I guess I used the vampire analogy too soon. A woman named Kirsty tries to catch Julia cheating on Rory, but has to run for her life to avoid being killed by Frank. She manages to steal the puzzle box on her way out. When she solves the puzzle, she tells the Cenobites about Frank, and they proceed to drag Frank and Julia back to their dimension.
The book doesn’t really depict the Cenobites as villains, even though their definition of sexual pleasure goes way beyond what we would consider to be sadomasochism. The real villains of the book are Frank and Julia. Their obsessions with sex lead them to murdering countless people, including Rory, who is never described as doing anything to deserve being brutally murdered.
The 1987 movie Hellraiser is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book. Due to the fact that it is a film, a lot of the sexual imagery and tones from the book are left out. Another change is that Kirsty, who was in love with Rory in the book, is now the daughter of Larry (the character that replaces Rory). Also, the book ends with Kirsty keeping the puzzle box because she thinks she can bring Rory back, while the film has Kirsty try to burn the box before it is reclaimed by a demonic looking entity.
1988’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II both continues the story of the original film and gives some backstory. The film shows a British army officer finding the puzzle box and being taken to the Cenobite dimension, where he gets transformed into the Cenobite known as Pinhead. The movie then shows Kirsty in a mental hospital after the events of the first film. The psychiatrist that is examining her turns out to be obsessed with the Cenobites, and uses her accounts to try to find a way to bring them to our dimension.
The psychiatrist manages to free Julia, who comes back without her skin. The psychiatrist brings patients for her to feed on, and then proceeds to use the puzzle box to enter the Cenobite dimension with her. Kirsty follows in order to save one of her fellow patients. The psychiatrist actually manages to kill Pinhead and absorb his power, but is ultimately defeated when Kirsty gets the puzzle box and solves it again, which somehow kills the psychiatrist and lets Kirsty and her friend return home.
1992’s Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth starts with Pinhead getting split into two beings: the British army officer he was before, and the Cenobite that he became. Pinhead is shown to be trapped in something called the Pillar of Souls. A man named Joey sees a videotape where Kirsty explains that the puzzle box is the only thing that can send Pinhead back to the Cenobite dimension. Through a series of confrontations in Limbo, the British army officer merges with Pinhead once again, allowing Joey the chance to use the box to send Pinhead back to the Cenobite dimension.
1996’s Hellraiser IV: Bloodline is an interesting film. The movie spans three different time periods, following the Merchant family through the ages and detailing the history of the puzzle box.
The film shows an 18th century toymaker build the puzzle box. When he finds out that solving the box opens up the Cenobite dimension, he starts working on a second box that will negate and destroy the first box. He tries to steal the box, but ends up being killed by a female Cenobite.
The movie jump to the then-current year of 1996. The toymaker’s descendant, an architect, has just finished construction on a building that looks like the puzzle box. The Cenobite that killed the toymaker tricks a security guard into solving the puzzle box, and they proceed to hunt down the architect to stop him from using the toymaker’s second box. The architect manages to use the second box, but it fails and he is killed. The architect’s wife does manage to get the original puzzle box, and uses it to send the Cenobites back to their dimension.
The movie then jumps all the way to 2127. The architect’s descendant, an engineer, has activated the original puzzle box, releasing the Cenobites. However, it is revealed that the space station that they are on is actually a large scale version of the second box, and activating it seals the Cenobites back in their dimension “forever”.
I put “forever” in quotes, because of course there were more films in the series. 2000’s Hellraiser: Inferno sees police detective Joseph Thorne finding the puzzle box and solving it. He proceeds to have nightmarish hallucinations that trouble him badly enough that he starts going to therapy.
The doctor that he sees turns out to be Pinhead in disguise. It is revealed the Joseph was pulled into the Cenobite dimension the moment he solved the box, and that the Cenobites have been psychologically torturing him. The movie ends with Joseph trapped in the Cenobite dimension to face an eternity of torment.
2002’s Hellraiser: Hellseeker brings Kirsty back to the franchise. The film starts with Kirsty and her husband Trevor getting into a car accident. Kirsty dies, but Trevor manages to survive. He proceeds to go from one nightmarish situation after another before the truth is revealed to him. Apparently, he was cheating on Kirsty and tried to murder her by having her solve the puzzle box, but Kirsty made a deal with Pinhead to have Trevor sent to the Cenobite dimension instead. The film ends with Kirsty walking away from the car wreck, taking the puzzle box with her.
2005’s Hellraiser: Deader, along with having the worst name in the franchise, also brings back a previous character…sort of. The film features a cult known as “the Deaders” that worship the puzzle box and the Cenobites. The leader of the cult turns out to be a descendant of the toymaker from Hellraiser: Bloodline. The Deaders attempt to use the puzzle box to get control over the Cenobites, but they fail and are killed by the Cenobites.
2005 also had another film in the series, Hellraiser: Hellworld. I think I should apologize to Hellraiser: Deader for calling it the worst name in the franchise. The film starts with a bunch of kids playing a video game based on the Hellraiser franchise called Hellworld, which makes it seem like we’re back in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare territory. The story of the film has a man torturing the kids for not preventing his son’s suicide. At the end of the film, it turns out that the man’s son had the puzzle box, and the Cenobites kill the man shortly after being summoned.
2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations is quite possibly the darkest film in the series so far, and that’s saying something. Two teenage boys disappear while traveling in Mexico. A year later, Emma, the sister of one teen and the girlfriend of the other, watches a videotape they left behind. The videotape shows them picking up a girl that they later killed. The movie reveals that the teens found the box, and one of the boys opened it. The other boy started murdering women to bring his friend back, but ended up being killed himself. The film ends with all of Emma’s family either killed or taken by the Cenobites, with Emma reaching for the box.
The last (so far) film in the series was 2018’s Hellraiser: Judgment. This film has three detectives (Sean, David, and Christine) investigating a series of murders based on the Ten Commandments. One of the detectives, Sean, ends up in the Cenobite dimension but manages to escape with a puzzle box. Sean is then revealed as the killer before knocking out Christine and forcing David and Sean’s wife to open the puzzle box, killing them. In the end, Pinhead manages to get Sean killed but is then turned into a human and stuck on Earth.
The Hellraiser franchise is one of those franchises that seemed to indicate the problem with making more than one film in the series. As they were originally written, the Cenobites were not supposed to actually be from Hell. Instead, they were supposed to just not understand that what they were doing was extremely harmful to humans. As the series went on, they went from being extra-dimensional beings to being full on demons from Hell. Personally, I liked the extra-dimensional versions of them better.
That closes out the puzzle box on the Cenobites. Tomorrow we’ll head into more futuristic territory with one of the classic horror/science fiction franchises: Alien.