These Frightening Facts About Hellraiser Will Tear Your Soul Apart
1987 horror movie Hellraiser gave us one of the most memorable movie monsters of all time in Doug Bradley’s Pinhead. However, there’s a lot more to this blood-curdling dark fantasy than just its iconic bad guy. Writer-director Clive Barker’s film is one of the most celebrated horror movies of the 80s (if not ever). Here are some facts about the film you might not have known.
20. Clive Barker made his directorial debut on the film after refusing to let anyone else film his scripts
Hellraiser was the first feature film directed by Clive Barker, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart. Barker was already well known as an author thanks to his short story collections the Books of Blood and his novel The Damnation Game, and two films had previously been made based on his work: Underworld and Rawhead Rex.
Barker had been so disappointed with how both of these films turned out, he was determined to direct Hellraiser himself. He would go on to direct two more films based on his own stories: Nightbreed, adapted from his novel Cabal, and Lord of Illusions, from his short story The Last Illusion. After Hellraiser, Barker would be happy to let other directors adapt his stories, most famously in the case of 1992’s Candyman, based on his short story The Forbidden.
19. The film was originally set in Britain
Because central actors Andrew Robinson and Ashley Laurence are American, it might not be immediately obvious that Hellraiser is actually a British production. Nonetheless, Hellraiser was indeed shot in Britain with a largely local cast and crew – and when production first got underway, the film was set in the UK as well.
However, executives at US-based production company New World Pictures were impressed with the film’s early footage, and felt it would be easier to sell internationally if it were more Americanised. At their behest, Barker and company reworked certain scenes to make it appear that Hellraiser was set in the US. This mostly involved overdubbing the voices of some supporting actors.
18. The producers considered some outlandish alternative titles
The producers were concerned that the title of Barker’s original story, The Hellbound Heart, sounded too much like a romance, and insisted it be changed for the film. It took a while to settle on a new title: Barker initially felt Hellraiser sounded corny, and suggested either calling the film Hellbound or (more bizarrely) Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave.
Barker surveyed the crew for title ideas, and one woman on the production made the eye-opening suggestion, ‘What a Woman Will Go Through For a Good F***.’ This is because the film sees Clare Higgins’ Julia murder a series of men to help rebuild the body of her not-quite-dead lover Frank, after his shriveled remains are revived by a drop of blood.
17. ‘Pinhead’ is never referred to by that name in the film
Everyone remembers Doug Bradley’s antagonist as Pinhead, but this was not the character’s official moniker in the first film. Instead, Bradley is credited simply as the Lead Cenobite (the Cenobites being the inter-dimensional demons who Frank is on the run from). Originally, he was intended to be known as the Hell Priest.
Because of his distinctive nail-ridden cranium, the character was quickly nicknamed Pinhead during production, and this later caught on with the horror fanbase. Bradley would be listed by this name in the credits of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and was finally addressed as Pinhead in the dialogue of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.
16. Doug Bradley almost turned down Pinhead in favour of playing one of the movers
Doug Bradley became a major horror icon from playing Pinhead, but the actor has admitted he came very close to declining the role. Writer-director Clive Barker (a childhood friend of Bradley’s) let the actor choose between either playing the Lead Cenobite, or one of the movers bringing in the mattress in the film’s first few minutes.
Bradley has admitted he was conflicted about this decision at first, thinking it might be better for his career to play the mover because his face would not be obscured by heavy make-up. Happily he saw sense, and playing Pinhead launched his career. The role of the mover, meanwhile, would be taken by Oliver Parker (below left), who went on to a successful directing career with such films as St. Trinian’s and Dorian Grey.
15. Jennifer Tilly auditioned for the part of Kirsty
For the role of Kirsty, daughter of Andrew Robinson’s Larry and step-daughter of Clare Higgins’ Julia, the filmmakers met with a great many up-and-coming young actresses before deciding on Ashley Laurence (in what was her very first film role). However, another future big-name star also read for the role: Jennifer Tilly.
Still the lesser-known sister of fellow actress Meg Tilly at the time, Jennifer Tilly’s star would rise significantly in the years that followed, most notably when she landed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Bullets Over Broadway. Although she missed out on Kirsty in Hellraiser, Tilly would later landed an iconic horror role of her own: Tiffany in the Chucky movies.
14. Doug Bradley was upset when no one recognised him at the wrap party
Once production on Hellraiser was complete, Doug Bradley was dismayed that no one seemed to want to talk to him at the wrap party, and wondered what he’d done to offend them all. Eventually, Bradley realised it wasn’t that anyone was upset with him: it was simply that no one recognised him without his Pinhead make-up on.
It’s fair to assume this didn’t happen on the Hellraiser sequels, which saw Bradley’s Pinhead really become the figurehead of the franchise. Sequels Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth also gave the actor a number of scenes without the make-up, in which he portrayed Elliot Spencer, the World War I soldier who would later become Pinhead.
13. A number of cuts had to be made for the film to get an R rating
As Hellraiser blurs the lines between the horrific and the sexual, it proved very troubling to the Motion Picture Association of America. Initially the ratings board threatened the film with an adults-only X rating, until a number of cuts were made to some of the film’s grislier and more provocative moments to secure the more commercially viable R.
In its native Britain, Hellraiser was passed uncut for its cinema release, but its earliest UK video editions were censored. The moments the censors insisted on removing included gory impact wounds from the murder scenes, a more explicit sex scene between Julia and Frank and more shots of Frank’s gruesome, explosive demise in the climax.
12. Clive Barker wanted Julia to come back in the sequels instead of Pinhead
Hellraiser was a huge hit with horror fans, and proved to be an enduring franchise with nine sequels made to date. Pinhead returns in all of these films, but this wasn’t always the plan: Clive Barker had originally wanted the sequels to centre on Clare Higgins as Julia, establishing her as a female answer to all the long-standing male movie monsters.
However, while Julia did indeed return in Hellbound: Hellraiser II, neither the fans nor Higgins herself were interested in her being the main villain going forward. As such, Pinhead became the franchise figurehead instead. In the years since, Higgins has worked more extensively in theatre and TV rather than film; her most recent big screen credits include a small role in Ready Player One.
11. Doug Bradley would reprise Pinhead in seven out of the nine Hellraiser sequels
Hellraiser’s first sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, was made almost immediately after the first film in 1988, with most of the same cast and crew, whilst third film Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth would be the first film in the series made in America in 1992. Clive Barker remained as executive producer on those two films, but afterwards the Hellraiser creator had no involvement in the franchise.
Actor Doug Bradley wound up being the one common element in the later Hellraiser sequels, all of which went direct to video/DVD. Bradley played Pinhead in eight of the ten Hellraiser movies made to date, but opted out of appearing in 2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations and 2018’s Hellraiser: Judgment, mainly because the actor had serious doubts about the quality of the material (concerns which fans of the series would share).
10. Industrial band Coil composed a musical score that the studio rejected as “too harsh”
Hellraiser’s haunting orchestral score seems to perfectly complement the film’s visuals, so it’s hard to imagine the film playing out to different music. However, writer-director Clive Barker originally commissioned the British industrial music act Coil to compose and perform a very different, electronic score for the film.
Barker was happy with the music Coil came up with, colourfully remarking that it “made my bowels churn.” However, executives at New World Pictures weren’t as impressed, feeling the score was too harsh. To this end, producers hired American composer Christopher Young to provide the more traditional score that would ultimately be used in the film.
9. Clive Barker resisted pressure to make Pinhead a wisecracking Freddy Krueger figure
Doug Bradley’s performance in Hellraiser, combined with the iconic make-up, helped make Pinhead one of the great horror icons of the 80s. A big part of the character’s appeal is his intense lack of emotion and eloquent speech – but early on, the filmmakers were pushed by executives at New World Pictures to make him more like that other 80s horror icon Freddy Krueger.
The recurring antagonist of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Freddy was portrayed through multiple films by American actor Robert Englund, becoming as the series progressed more of a wisecracker and less of an object of fear. Clive Barker was adamant that Pinhead wouldn’t take this path on his watch, insisting the character remain sober, intelligent and thoroughly intimidating.
8. Pinhead wasn’t originally meant to appear on the poster
The original poster art for Hellraiser instantly became one of the most iconic images in horror, centred on the fearsome Pinhead clutching the pivotal puzzle box. This wasn’t always the plan, however. Barker had wanted the poster to instead feature the character he considered to be the film’s true monster, the skinless Frank Cotton.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Barker was informed that this would not be allowed as the image of Frank without his skin was simply too grotesque to hang up in the windows and lobbies of movie theatres. It was decided that Pinhead would be the next best thing, and this helped convey the notion that Doug Bradley’s character was Hellraiser’s lead, even if that isn’t necessarily true.
7. The silent cenobites originally had dialogue as well
Only two of Hellraiser’s cenobites are gifted with the power of speech: Doug Bradley’s Pinhead, and Grace Kirby’s female cenobite. This wasn’t how things were in either Barker’s source novella The Hellbound Heart, nor in the original Hellraiser screenplay: here, the other two cenobites – nicknamed Butterball and Chatterer – also had dialogue.
It became evident that this would be a problem as soon as the make-up designs for the characters were complete. Actors Nicholas Vince and Simon Bamford could not be clearly heard through the make-up, which stifled their facial movement. This is why the bulk of the dialogue was instead given to Bradley, with a smaller percentage also allocated to Kirby.
6. The visual effects in the final scenes were hand animated by Clive Barker himself, because there was no money left to hire anyone
Hellraiser may be considered a classic today, but it was a long way from being a major production at the time. The budget was somewhere in the region of $1 million, and considering how ambitious the film is, that money had to be stretched pretty far. Indeed, by the time the production team got to work on the reality-blurring finale, they’d pretty much spent the lot.
For this reason, Clive Barker had to downscale his original vision for those final scenes. When it came to the moments of Kirsty using the puzzle box to send the cenobites back where they came from, Barker took a simple, cost-effective approach: with the assistance of a friend willing to work without pay, the light beams which surround the box and the cenobites were animated by hand.
5. Andrew Robinson ad-libbed some of his creepiest lines
After an already unsettling first hour, Hellraiser gets thoroughly unhinged in the final act when (spoiler alert!) Frank winds up killing his brother Larry, then wearing Larry’s skin as his own. This presented actor Andrew Robinson with the opportunity to play two very different characters indeed – and when he changed from the sheepish Larry to the psychotic Frank, Robinson really went for it.
Robinson (previously best known as deranged killer Scorpio in Dirty Harry) made some significant contributions to the character of Larry-Frank, suggesting two lines of dialogue which wound up in the final movie. Firstly, when Kirsty realise that Frank is not in fact her father, Robinson came up with, “so much for the cat-and-mouse s***.” Most memorably, Robinson suggested Frank’s final words, “Jesus wept,” for which Barker had originally had him simply say, “f*** you.”
4. The cenobite costumes were inspired by S&M fashions
Perhaps the key reason Hellraiser attracted a feverish cult following, whilst also falling afoul of the censors and more conservative critics, was its unconventional take on sexuality. As Frank tells us, the cenobites exist in a dimension where “pain and pleasure [are] indivisible.” This isn’t a notion that went over well with more prudish viewers, but it was warmly embraced by the S&M scene.
Barker has stated that one of the key influences behind the distinctive look of the cenobites was fashions he had seen in S&M clubs in Amsterdam and New York. Fetishistic leather and rubber clothing, tattoos and body piercing had not been embraced by the mainstream at this point, and Hellraiser and its sequels are often cited as having broken new ground for that subculture.
3. A real house in North London was used for 55 Lodovico Street
Although Hellraiser’s narrative crosses dimensions, the bulk of the film’s action takes place in one house, 55 Lodovico Street. It’s commonplace for real houses to be used in movies, but more often than not the building is only used for the exterior shots, with the rooms inside the house instead brought to life on a specially constructed studio set.
This was not the case on Hellraiser. Unusually, all the scenes that take place inside the house were shot in the very same building we see in the exterior shots. The house was in Cricklewood, North London, just up the road from the studio facilities where the production was based. It’s still there today, but has been significantly refurbished from the state of disrepair it was in when Hellraiser was shot.
2. The film got very mixed reviews on release
Hellraiser may be widely regarded one of the all-time great horror movies today, but opinion was a lot more divided when the film first hit screens back in September 1987. Some critics heaped praise on the film: Time Out London described it as “astonishing… a serious, intelligent and disturbing horror film.” Music magazine Melody Maker went further, declaring it “the best horror film ever to be made in Britain.”
Other reviews were far less enthusiastic. The influential US critic Roger Ebert despised Hellraiser, blasting it as “a movie without wit, style or reason… [which displays] a bankruptcy of imagination.” Barry Norman, the UK’s most famous critic of the time, was similarly scathing, describing Hellraiser as “a nasty little film which I watched with… a genuine loathing.”
1. Clive Barker considers Hellraiser to be a love story
It may frequently be mentioned in the same breath as such teen-friendly 80s horror movies as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but at heart Hellraiser is a very different, far more adult-oriented film which centres not on a psychotic killer, but a doomed romance. Clive Barker has often argued that the film is less a slasher movie than it is a love story, with Clare Higgins’ Julia as the romantic lead.
The writer-director remarked at the time that Julia is “the Lady Macbeth of the film. We did a bunch of things with the way Claire Higgins was made up, the way her hair was done and the way she was costumed to suggest that she was more beautiful the more she committed murder. And she’s not committing murder in the way that Jason is in the Friday the 13th films commits murder – just for the sake of blood-letting – she’s doing it for love. So there is a sympathetic quality about her, enhanced hugely in my estimation by the fact that Claire Higgins does it so well.”