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Franchise / Hellraiser

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Demons to some, Angels to others.
From left to right: Butterball, Pinhead, the Female, and the Chatterer.

"Oh, no tears, please. It's a waste of good suffering."
Pinhead, Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser is a series based on Clive Barker's novella "The Hellbound Heart". The novella has a novel-length sequel, The Scarlet Gospels by Barker himself, but the movies based on the novella have garnered the most attention. The first film, an adaptation of the original novellas, has inspired many film sequels, only one of which (the second) had any direct involvement by Barker himself. It has also spun off into countless comic books, some of which have had input from Barker.

The series has at its heart a puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration, which when properly solved summons the Cenobites, a cadre of sadomasochistic Humanoid Abominations. The icon and representative of the series is the only recurring Cenobite after the second film, the iconic Pinhead, played by Doug Bradley. He was given a choice, when filming the first movie, to play either the Cenobite or a workman who showed up for all of ten seconds. Bet he's happy he went with the Cenobite. The Scarlet Gospels kills off the the character of Pinhead, though it doesn't share a continuity with anything else in the series bar the original novellas.

A "reimagining" of the franchise languished in Development Hell before finally being produced in 2021, featuring Barker as a producer, David Bruckner (The Ritual, The Night House) as director and Jamie Clayton portraying Pinhead; the film is set for a Hulu release in 2022.

Because it's a Clive Barker production, expect much Body Horror and gleefully fetishistic Fan Disservice.

Original novella:

Films of this series include:

Comic books of this series include:

This franchise provides examples of:

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    The series in general 
  • All There in the Manual: Blurbs on the packaging of the minor Cenobites' action figures give them backstories.
  • Artifact of Doom/Summoning Artifact: The Lament Configuration; leads to an Oh, Crap! moment at the conclusion of each of the first several sequels.
  • Ascended Meme: The "Lead Cenobite" of the first film was given the nickname of Pinhead by the film's fans. In the second film, Pinhead became his official name, and remained such through all the other sequels. Much to Clive Barker's irritation.
  • Badass Boast:
  • Bald of Evil: You'd be hard-pressed to find a Cenobite who isn't bald.
  • Beat Still, My Heart: The second and fourth films but started with the first. Frank's heart is still there, after all.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil:
    • The Cenobites have been literally turned into monsters by years of hellish torment.
    • Frank is a subversion. At first, it appears hes a jerk who turned evil because of what the cenobites did to him. But in actuality, not only was Frank a criminal, but also as the novella goes hes also heavily implied to be a rapist, even before that.
  • Big Bad: Pinhead is revered as the main antagonist of the series, although often another character functions as the main antagonist or the villain who kick starts the storyline. Julia was originally supposed to be the Big Bad for the series, but the actress declined to reprise the role after the first sequel. The producers, it turns out, dramatically underestimated Pinhead's popularity.
    • The original film has Frank Cotton, who the cenobites are on Earth to retrieve.
    • Hellbound has a Big Bad Duumvirate between Julia Cotton and Phillip Channard, although both double cross each other, but Channard comes out being the dominant threat.
    • Hell on Earth has Pinhead take the role as main antagonist, but technically it's the demonic spirit that separated from the soul of Elliot Spencer.
    • Bloodlines has Pinhead again, having usurped the role from Angelique.
    • Inferno has Joseph Thorne, whose sins kick start the plot and the alleged serial killer known as Engineer, who is in fact a manifestation of Thorne's own cruelty.
    • In Hellseeker, Trevor Gooden is technically this as it was his plot to have Kirsty Cotton killed that got the Cenobites following him. It can be argued that Kirsty is part of the Big Bad Ensemble, as she was the one who got the Cenobites following Trevor in retaliation.
    • Deader has Winter LeMarchand who is the leader of the Deader cult, and plans to take control of the Cenobites.
    • Hellworld, the Host.
    • Revelations, Niko Bradley
    • Judgment, Detective Sean Carter aka: The Preceptor
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Cenobites don't consider themselves evil, or good for that matter. All that matters to them is finding the ultimate experiences of sensation and sharing those experiences with others.
  • Body Horror: The Cenobites (and the series itself) run on this.
  • Bondage Is Bad: The Cenobites are literal extradimensional monsters (who were once human) dedicated to exploring the boundary between pleasure and pain on anyone stupid enough to summon them. Physically they look like leather-clad corpses with horrible bodily mutilations. This was made during the height of the '80's disapproval of bondage, and writer/director Clive Barker is very interested in the transgressive.
  • Breaking Speech: As time went on Pinhead became more and more prone to these; psychological pain instead of simply physical pain.
  • Breakout Villain: Pinhead.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Probably just a coincidence, but at one point in Bloodline it's mentioned John has a brother, and at the end of Deader it's revealed Winter is descended from Lemarchand...
    • The strange hobo from the first film. He's a demon and he takes the box back for himself.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Kirsty's boyfriend Steve survives the first film but is never mentioned again.
  • Continuity Creep: Inverted. The first four films follow a linear plotline, with each entry contributing to the series' mythology. Subsequent films have mostly Negative Continuity.
  • Darker and Edgier: Yes, even for a series which started off as it did.. The fifth (Inferno) and sixth (Hellseeker) films don't have the Gorn from the other films and are more psychological and deal with characters who have become ensnared by the box. Rather than immediately getting dragged in and ripped apart by Pinhead and his cronies, they live out a personal Hell with manifestations of their wrongdoings tormenting them. No happy endings are to be found here. At the end, Pinhead, who acts more like a judge, gives a Breaking Speech and drops a Laser-Guided Karma bomb on our Jerkass protagonists.
  • Dark Is Not Evil:
    • More evident in the first two films, in which the antagonists are invariably human and the Cenobites, despite being Demonic Invaders, are clearly only an interested third party. They assist The Protagonist in both films. Pinhead, in the first film, famously describes his group as "demons to some, angels to others".
    • Even more so in the novella, where (except for the soul rape you forever thing) the Cenobites are quite amiable, and do not renege on their deal with Kirsty as they do in the movie.
  • Dark World: The implicit setting after a character solves the puzzle box but before they're taken to the Labyrinth: the surroundings change to become deserted, blood-drenched and adorned with chains.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Pinhead, very much so.
  • Deal with the Devil: When it comes right down to it, this is what the whole series is about. The pursuit of ultimate pleasure or forbidden knowledge, wherein the seeker places their trust and fate in the hands of unknown entities of supernatural origin. The Cenobites deliver. It's just that, in true Deal With The Devil style, the ultimate pleasure that the seekers get is not usually the kind they want.
  • Death by Materialism: Everybody just has to have the Lament Configuration.
  • Demon of Human Origin: The Cenobites rule over a Hell-type dimension of pain and pleasure where they torture those who used the Lament configuration puzzle box that opens the door to their realm. Each Cenobite was once a human soul until their humanity was slowly chipped away. When they die they actually turn back into humans.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: Each installment between Bloodlines and Revelations started out as unrelated scripts which the studio bought and added Pinhead to them.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: There are significant differences between the first film and the rest—and more broadly between the first two films and the later ones:
    • The entire conception of what the Cenobite realm is changes significantly. In the first film, the realm is never directly called "Hell." The idea that it's a Hell-like place is arguably hinted at in the title and some of the dialogue, but it's never given as the realm's official name. The realm is simply an alternate dimension featuring monstrous creatures that torture people and reconstruct their bodies indefinitely; furthermore, the victims enter the realm voluntarily (even if they don't realize what they're getting themselves into), while alive. There is no suggestion that it's a place where people's souls go after death, and the central theme of the realm isn't punishment but sadomasochism. The Cenobites describe themselves as "explorers in the further regions of experience: demons to some, angels to others." This sentiment is echoed by Frank when he says the puzzle box opens "doors to the pleasures of Heaven or Hell" and that "The Cenobites gave me an experience beyond the limits: pain and pleasure, indivisible." Only by the second film do the Cenobites start to refer to the realm as "Hell," and as the series continues, the realm begins to more closely resemble the traditional Western concept of Hell. For example, in Hellraiser: Hellseeker we see that a character we know is in the Cenobite realm also has a corpse on Earth—implying his physical body never entered the Cenobite realm, only his spirit or soul did after he died. The first film never suggests the Cenobite realm isn't part of the physical, material world or that the victims didn't bring their actual physical bodies there. More broadly, the later films deal heavily with the theme of people paying for their sins, whereas the theme of sadomasochism is largely set aside.
    • In the first film, Pinhead is unnamed and simply described as "Lead Cenobite" in the credits. The name "Pinhead" was coined by the makeup crew and does not appear in the dialogue until the third film.
    • Pinhead had only brief appearances in the first two films and was not intended to be the series' primary villain. But due to the character's popularity with fans, he was upgraded to main character in the third and fourth film. Ironically, in the later, direct-to-video sequels he went back to cameo-sized appearances (a reflection of their being Dolled Up Installments, as mentioned earlier), although he is still implied to be the dominant figure among the Cenobites.
    • Pinhead's characterization and motives change from the Blue-and-Orange Morality of the first film to more outright evil. It is not until the third film that he's shown to be a mass murderer. The retcon explanation is that the separation between Pinhead and Eliot causes Pinhead's evil to be fully unbound, whereas their unification keeps Pinhead's evil in check. But this is quite different from the way he's presented in the first film, where it's heavily implied that Earth-like notions of good and evil are simply irrelevant to the Cenobites.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Leviathan is a deity in the Cenobite dimension, never seen directly because it's too weird.
  • Energy Weapon: Show up quite often, and not just in the film set in space.
  • Expanded Universe: A surprisingly large, detailed one, developed largely by comics in Marvel's Epic adult comics line.
  • Evil Is Visceral: Uses this trope in the extreme; lots of gorn and body horror.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Pinhead's signature deep voice. "WE'LL TEAR YOUR SOUL APART!"
  • Evil Versus Evil: Sadistic aliens/demons versus evil humans.
  • Fanservice: As the series went on, there seemed to be more and more topless women just for the sake of having topless women.
  • Final Girl: Played straight in the first three and Hellworld but subverted in Hellseeker. Kirsty lives, but she's murdered people to escape this time. Since her husband went to Hell partly due to his desire to murder her, this implies she's condemned herself.
  • Flaying Alive: Once someone is brought back to life, they are skinless. Only by killing others and stealing their flesh does the outside gets fixed.
  • Gainax Ending: Hellworld, and all the made-for-video sequels to some extent. Before that, the second film, with many a movie critic complaining that the climax didn't make sense. At the very least, figuring out what the Leviathan Configuration does, and what happened at the end when Tiffany resolved it will take some guesswork on the viewer's part.
  • Gothic Horror: A typical aspect considering it's the brainchild of Clive Barker after all.
  • Gorn: Lots of visceral and bloody; the cenobites are delivers of pain after all.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Leviathan, the god and creator of the Cenobites. It only appears in Hellbound, but is featured with much more prominence in the comics.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The word "cenobite" originally referred to a monastic living as part of a religious community. Since the release of Hellraiser and its sequels, however, the word now brings to mind pain-loving demons.
  • Hellseeker: There are several characters with this mindset, and for some of them it even kind of works out: they're turned into Cenobites, and enjoy it.
  • Hooks and Crooks: Cenobites attack their victims with hooks on chains.
  • Horror Hates a Rulebreaker: Anyone who solves the Lament Configuration will summon the Cenobites and be dragged into their dimension. While most people who seek the box are aware of its true purpose, the Cenobites don't care either way, as Kirsty finds out when her curiosity gets the better of her. The only reason they'd make an exception is if the person was forced into it by someone else, as it is desire that summons them, not hands.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Cenobites.
  • Infernal Fugitives: Any unfortunate soul who solves the Lament Configuration out of their own desires (or in some sequels, are unfortunate enough to be in the general vicinity) are Dragged Off to Hell, either to be converted into a cenobite, subjected to an Ironic Hell or to be used as flesh-based material of some kind in Hell's infrastructure. If fresh blood lands on a victim's eviscerated body, it regenerates their body enough to make them into The Undead, free on Leviathan's torments, as was the case with Frank Cotton in the first film and Niko in Hellraiser: Revelations. Unfortunately for them, escaping Hell seems to be a Berserk Button for Pinhead and the Order of Gash, who are willing to make a deal with any unfortunate soul who solves the puzzle box to lead them to their escaped victims.
  • Interquel: All the movies released after Bloodline take place in between the 1996 and 2127 segments of that film.
  • Legacy Character: The Lemarchand family, though the Chatterer's more visible and continuously invoked.
  • Mind Rape / Mind Screw: To put it mildly, once somebody opens that puzzle box, they will never get to experience normality again.
  • Motive Decay:
    • Originally, Pinhead's goal was to claim whoever opened the box (with the twist being that he was open to compromise and making deals with his victims to spare them, at least temporarily) and bring them pleasure via intensely violent and gore-filled sadomasochism. By the third film, he's a general of a Hell dimension and the box, rather than being a tool for pleasure/pain, is nothing more than a cursed object used by Pinhead to ensnare fresh victims to turn into lackeys to swell the ranks of his unholy army. It is implied that having his orderly half split off at the end of the second film is largely to blame for this.
    • Pinhead vs. Marshall Law, which came out during a period when Clive Barker attempted to launch a Pinhead-centric comic book for Marvel, attempts to Retool Pinhead within the context of the then-pending third film by suggesting that while the Cenobites are agents of Hell, they believe in order over chaos and that Pinhead's various schemes to conquer Earth are all an elaborate plan to scare humanity, make them stronger, and ultimately more fearful of evil.
    • Hellraiser IV did this far more blatantly. While there was at least an explanation for Pinhead's decay in III, in IV he had been re-merged with his human half. In this one Pinhead seems to start off very blatantly pursuing the Bloodline that opened a portal to Hell but never paid but yet he was AGAIN trying to plunge the entire world into hell during the process. Talk about Disproportionate Retribution.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Pinhead's human self, Captain Elliot Spencer... and Pinhead himself. As mentioned earlier, the fanservice and fan disservice is zombie?
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Nice job restoring Pinhead's humanity, Kirsty. Too bad that his evil side no longer follows his rules.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: The Cenobites, but also most of the people who knowingly use the box. The latter tend to regret the choice, however.
  • No Name Given:
    • "Pinhead" was referred to as "Priest" in scripts and "Lead Cenobite" in the credits of the films. It wasn't until the third film (when a backstory for the character was given) that it was revealed that the name he had when he was human was Elliott Spenser. Barker revealed his actual name as a Cenobite in the novel The Scarlet Gospels: Hell Priest.
    • The same can be said for the members of Pinhead's entourage that appeared in the first two films. None of them were referred to by name. (The credits billed them as "Butterball", "Chatterer", and "Female Cenobite", which were more descriptions than names.)
  • Ominous Cube: The Lament Configuration is a puzzle box that, when solved, opens a Hellgate that the Cenobites can pass through.
  • Religion of Evil: The Cenobites themselves in the original novella, as servants of the Order of Gash (the word Cenobite means a monk or nun in a convent).
  • Romanticized Abuse: The Hellraiser films have this as a component, creeping most viewers out even further. "We have such sights to show you". The novel version The Hellbound Heart has the initial description of the female Cenobite invoke piercing fetishism.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Lament Configuration again, and the pillar in the third film, plus the floorboards and the mattress in the first and second films. All of them contain cenobites in one form or another.
  • Sense Freak: The Cenobites. Albeit to a very, very extreme degree.
  • Slasher Movie: At least from the third movie onwards.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: As the series went on, Pinhead starts to give these speeches to the people he tortures.
  • The Power of Blood: The first three films have Frank, Julia and Pinhead coming back via blood.
  • This Was His True Form: The Cenobites, demons who were once human summoned by the Lament Configuration, turn back into their human form if they're killed. This is first shown happening to Pinhead and his entourage in Hellbound: Hellraiser II when Channard turns on them.
  • Variable-Length Chain: Pinhead's specialty is shooting out chained hooks from nowhere with no indication on how long they are.
  • Villain Decay: The Cenobites and especially Pinhead undergo this from the third movie onwards. Rather ironically this happened by making them more evil from Hell On Earth onwards, which meant they lost a lot of the mystery and complexity of their characterisation from the first two movies and made them a lot less interesting as a result. Not helping matters was how gimmicky new Cenobites became from this point on as well, such as the infamous "CD" and "Camera" Cenobites.
  • Villain Exclusivity Clause: Pinhead is the Big Bad in every movie (though his role and contributions vary).
  • Villains Out Shopping: All the films after Bloodline involve Pinhead just performing his day job. It's still evil, but contributes nothing to the series' overall mythos.
  • The Voiceless: Every Cenobite (except Pinhead) that appears after Bloodline.
  • Was Once a Man: Every Cenobite was once human, which would later become an inspiration for one Kentaro Miura. Also, when a Cenobite dies, his or her body returns to its original form.
  • Welcome to Hell: Literally, in this case.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Most of the Cenobites, when you understand that all of them were created from severe, unyielding emotional pain.
  • Words Do Not Make The Magic:
    • One character in the second film solves puzzles reflexively, as she has a psychological detachment that forces her to do so whether she wants to or not. She's given the Lament Configuration so that someone else can sacrifice her to the Cenobites, while he can safely watch what happens. The Cenobites ignore her, and proceed to hunt him — his was the desire that led to the box opening.
    Pinhead: It is not hands that summon us. It is desire.
    • In Revelations, Niko tries the same trick and also fails, although Pinhead doesn't bother spelling it out this time.
    • In Bloodline the same trick is used again, but with a robot. It works because the robot, being programmed to open the box, does want to in a sense close enough to draw the Cenobites to it. They are able to move through the station afterwards, once the room the box was opened in is opened.

    The comic books 
  • Bad with the Bone: Refugees from the Labyrinth in the Hellraiser Summer Special craft the bones of one of their dead members into weapons to battle the Legions of Hell, since only something "of Hell" can harm something else "of Hell".
  • Broad Strokes: Word of God has stated the Boom! Studios comics will be taking this approach to the post-Hellbound sequels.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: One comic featured one of these. She summons the Cenobites and agrees to go with them willingly if they help her take revenge on the neighbor who had been capturing and torturing her cats to death.
  • Depraved Kids' Show Host: Clown from the comic series was originally a Saturday morning show host named Winky Dink who wound up becoming a Pseudo-Cenobite, charged with keeping the children who wind up in The Labyrinth occupied so they don't run amok, causing chaos. He does so through pretty disgusting ways (not entirely by choice though, since Leviathan punishes him if he does anything remotely pleasant). A later story reveals he'd been upgraded to a complete, overly-sadistic Cenobite at some point, having finally gotten his "routine" right.
  • Fartillery: The Harrowers, a shortly-lived Spin-Off, has Ovid. A cherub who serves the goddess of life and chaos. One of his powers is anti-demon farts.
  • Hand of Glory: Balberith, Hell's Librarian created a Hand from the man who summoned her that turned her invisible.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: It's stated that Leviathan abhors humanity, viewing it as chaotic and disgusting.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: The comics had the series crossover with Marshal Law and Nightbreed.
  • Jack the Ripper: One comic reveals that The Ripper became a Cenobite.
  • King of the Homeless: One comic has a literal King of the Homeless, holding court in the sewers.
  • Monster Clown: The comics gave us the Clown Cenobite (aka Winky Dink).
  • Order Versus Chaos: According to the comics, the Cenobites are order. In one of the more comedic stories, an obnoxious, lazy office worker spends all his time tinkering with one of the puzzle boxes, distracting his fellow employees and annoying his borderline Clock King boss, who easily solves the puzzle for him, summoning some Cenobites. The Cenobites prepare to take the boss to the Labyrinth, only to be told off by him; the boss says he only solved the puzzle because it was disrupting the order, productivity and perfectionism he constantly strove for, which the Cenobites are now doing. The Cenobites mull this over for a bit, eventually decide the boss is essentially "doing Leviathan's work" and decide to take the employee, who the boss had earlier described as "a gear that has become misaligned", in his place.
  • Sense Loss Sadness: In the comics, Pinhead wishes to become human again because all Cenobites experience Sense Loss Sadness when they are transformed, and he is sick of it. But to do that, he needs to find a suitable replacement...
  • Time Travel: The Pinhead miniseries from 1993 has Pinhead being send into different time periods to stop a plot that threatens the existence of his lord Leviathan and the order that he represents.