Lamenting a Horror Icon
Cenobites. Isn't just the name almost delicious? More than zombie or werewolf, bigger than dream-stalking killers, Cenobites are almost the royalty of horror movies from the mighty 1980s. And their king was, of course, Pinhead.
The 80s was an amazingly creative time. It seems, with both music and movies, this particular decade produced some of the ultimate icons, which continue to entertain us so many years later. Spoofs, spin-offs and copies have followed, but the originals still stand head and shoulders (though sometimes that head is decapitated) above the rest. Pinhead and his Hellraiser films (though I suppose they're Clive Barker's Hellraiser films but who want to argue with a demon?) grabbed me from the beginning. I loved the imagery and the ideas, but, most of all, I thought Pinhead was an inspired creation. No horror film has really scared me, apart from once when I watched a werewolf movie in the dark many years ago, alone at midnight, sitting in a chair in the middle of a long room. That fear wasn't from the creatures but from the exposed feeling I had. I did feel as if something might reach out and grab me. Not a werewolf, but... something. If I'd watched Hellraiser in those circumstances, I'd have been worried about hooks flying out at me, ensnaring me and either ripping me apart or dragging me into hell. Hellraiser didn't scare me, no, but it did make me uneasy. Even something such as a Rubik's Cube has puzzle connotations and made solving it (something I could do in about 18 seconds back in the day) not as appealing as it might previously have been. It wasn't the sadomasochistic tendencies or references or, even, the hooks or blood. It was Pinhead's manner. He was pleasant. Calm. Intelligent. You knew the futility of your plight and it was all matter of factly laid out to you. Pinhead was someone who, ignoring the mutilations and the intention to subject you to unspeakable horrors for all eternity, you could have around for dinner. He was eloquent and, I'm sure, had many a tale to tell. Pinhead I think this made him creepier. He didn't have a blade fingered glove or hide behind a hockey mask. He had less 'popcorn' about him. With Pinhead, Clive Barker had created a character that was inherently evil. Though Pinhead's agenda changed over the years and mediums (film, book or comic), he was always a gentleman among demons. He didn't want to just kill you. He wasn't out for revenge. Earlier on in his existence, in fact, he wanted to let you experience unheard of pleasures - it was just the fact he'd forgotten how fine a line there was between absolute gratification and unadulterated torment. Later, his desires became more base. He was going to drag you to hell. He was going to torture you for as long as he lived and, by his own admission, he was "forever!" Even further on, he would bargain with you for souls in exchange for your own life or his release from his own existence - but it was all done with the same calm, demeanor. You were his. He knew it and, though you might try to prove otherwise, you knew it too. I wondered, writing this, if I would still be affected by the film. I didn't think I would - after all; I'm a grown man. I'm rational and I daily write stories that turn others' stomachs (I was told as much by someone only a couple of days ago). When I was asked to write this piece, I decided to revisit some of the films (of which there's nine!). The effects are dated, of course, but the atmosphere is still all there. Pinhead is still his usual composed, reassuring in the face of eternal damnation self. After watching the fourth film, which would make it about 11:30pm, I went out to put my wife's car in the garage. Some ribbon was in the little pocket in the door handle you grab to pull it shut. As I opened the door to get out of the car, the ribbon fell on the floor so, naturally, I picked it up and went to return it. The ribbon had unraveled a little - perhaps a foot or so, so I tried to get the dangling end in the pocket first and then would put the rest in. The swinging end refused, initially, to go where I wanted it. I tried again and again (rather than admit defeat and roll it up in my hand). As I was doing it, my mind revisited Pinhead, the box and the movie I'd just watched. Getting the ribbon in, it occurred to me, was becoming a puzzle in itself. Just as I thought this, I managed it. The free end of the ribbon dropped nicely into the door handle. Erm... Ok... Slightly freaked out by that pure coincidence. Needless to say, I half expected (well a lot less than half but it entered my head) to see the man himself, with his Cenobite companions, The Woman, The Chatterer and Butterball, watching me having to duck the hooks flying from the corners of the garage. They weren't, luckily, but I would maybe have asked them in for a cuppa, just to chew the fat with Pinhead before it was torn from my body. I mentioned I write horror - or I hope you gathered the inference from my comment about my stories turning people's stomachs and didn't think, instead, that I wrote drivel. Do I think Pinhead influenced my work? I have to say yes, I think it has. His bearing has found its way into my own characters. In many cases, the main characters are dead, dying, and already dead but not realizing it or killing people. The thing is, they accept it. They take it in their stride. Yes, other characters can panic, scream, be running amok and die screaming, but the main one generally just deals with it. They accept their fate and try to do something about it. I myself am much like this - not that I'm necessarily attributing this to the writings of Clive Barker, of course. If something happens, I rarely panic. I just get on and get it sorted. Pinhead, Sin and I, and all the others, share that laid back attitude. I'm going to die. Damn. I'm going to kill you. Go figure. So why the lamentation of the title? Well, apparently Clive Barker is killing his epic creation off. In the follow up to Hellbound Heart, the Scarlet Gospels, Pinhead is to die, finally and in a manner where we, the reader, say "Good!" That we're revisiting the world of the Lament Configuration again is wonderful, and I have it loaded on my ereader ready to read as soon as I've finished the story I'm currently writing. But, that Pinhead could very well be no more is reason to be sad. He's a classic, unique creation. I, for one, won't be saying "good!" As an afterword, I have read that Clive Barker is working on a remake of the first movie. This is going to be a reworking of the original rather than a Hellraiser 10 and apparently will star, once again, Doug Bradley as Pinhead. This means there is hope for Pinhead's future. I mean, he's the Priest of Hell. If anyone can return from the dead, surely it's him?