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Pinhead (Hellraiser)

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We have such sights to show you!
~ Pinhead

Pinhead is the main antagonist of the Hellraiser film series. He is the leader of The Order of the Gash, a sadomasochistic religion whose adherents are the demonic torturers known as the Cenobites. Aside from the iron pins jabbed in his skull, Pinhead is renowned in the slasher movie genre for being one of the very few villains who is eloquent and highly intelligent. He usually kills his victims by means of tearing them apart with hooked chains, but has also commanded an arsenal of demonic powers and is a master of torture who often prefers to drag his victims into an eternity of suffering rather than outright death. While in the first film he was largely neutral, Pinhead, as the series progressed, became a more standard horror villain and murdered more frequently.

Creation and Influences

While designing the setting for the Hellraiser universe, Clive Barker had openly expressed great dissatisfaction with the slasher genre, claiming it to be dull and boring. His assumption was that villains such as Michael MyersJason VoorheesFreddy Krueger, and others where not frightening since he believed them to be "dumb things" and that to him such characters could not get him to fear them. Instead Barker had claimed to have inspired Pinhead's overall attitude from Count Dracula, most notably the Christopher Lee version: "Part of the chill of Dracula surely lies in the fact that he is very clearly and articulately aware of what he is doing, you feel that this is a penetrating intelligence and I don’t find dumb things terribly scary, I find intelligence scary, particularly twisted intelligence; it’s one of the reasons why Hannibal Lecter is scary, isn’t it? It’s because you always feel that he’s going to be three jumps ahead of you." 

When describing Pinhead, actor Doug Bradley compares him to Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. When discussing the character over with Barker, Bradley was told to play the villain as he would "a cross between an administrator and a surgeon who's responsible which running a hospital where there are no wards, only operating theaters. As well as the man who wields the knife, he's the man who has to keep the timetable going."

Barker had designed the Cenobites, based off of punk fashion, Catholicism and sadomasochism. Barker drew inspiration for the latter thanks to his visits at S & M clubs in New York and Amsterdam. Pinhead had been distinctively designed to resemble African fetish sculptures, giving him a distinct shamanistic look, further illustrating his religious appearance. Initially, Pinhead was going to have navel piercings which would have implied the existence of genital piercings.

The first Hellraiser movie's credits had identified the Head Piercing Cenobite character as Lead Cenobite, a title which had been initially coined for the Eyelid Cenobite in The Hellbound Heart. Earlier drafts of the script had intended for the character to be named Priest. The name "Pinhead" was first used the Hellraiser makeup crew in charge which Dog Bradley's prosthetics, a simply means to identify the character. Barker expressed dislike towards "Pinhead" as he believed it to be undignified, an unsuitable name for an otherwise suave and refined character. Despite this objection the name had been loosely incorporated in the movie sequels, starting with Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, in which main protagonist, Joey Summerskill, shouts out "Pinhead" to the main villain. Also of note, in the eight movie installment, Hellworld, the name was used to identify the main boss villain for the eponymous MMORPG, based around the cenobite mythology.

Physical description

Pinhead's unique physical description has made him a radically notable figure in the eyes of the slasher-horror movie fan-community. Rather then a hulking brute, Pinhead's build is lean and thin, his musculature is that of an average soldier. While not massive, the cenobite lord is particularly tall, easily towering over his fellow adherents, as well most of the cenobite's victims.

As a cenobite, the being which would eventually become Pinhead had undergone drastic cosmetic surgery which had stript him of any remains of  his previous mammal self. He is completely hairless, having a fully shaved head. His skin has been bleached nearly entirely white, a product of either the blue blood circulating through his veins (within the movies), or due to the white ash doused over him (within the novella). Several scars can be noticed on his chest. His namesake is derived from the complex scarification and piercing of his entire head: a heavily detailed grid which had been either sliced over his head, according to the films, or tattooed, if we look at The Hellbound Heart. At every intersection of horizontal and vertical lines there has been rammed a jeweled pin. Within the Hellbound Heart, Pinhead's tongue has been similarly decorated.

Personality and motivations

Cold, calculating, relentless and unforgiving are the words which best describe the Cenobite Lord's behavior. As described by Clive Barker, Pinhead had been envisioned as being an insane intellectual well aware that all his actions are perverse and vile, yet goes out of his way to accomplish his deeds without ever second-guessing them. During the first movie of the franchise, when Pinhead confronts Kristy Cotton for the very first time he kindly asks her stop crying, claiming that she was wasting her emotions at the wrong moment. 

As the Cenobite High Priest, Pinhead has been shown to be strictly loyal to the creed and lifestyle of the Order of the Gash.

The Hellbound Heart

Pinhead's portrayal within the novella is greatly different from his movie counterpart, appearing as a nameless follower of The Engineer alongside three other cenobites who in the movie would become Chatterer, Butterball and Female/Deep Throat. While retaining his signature grid with iron pins jabbed at the intersections, in the novella the grid is described as being tattooed rather then sliced on. Likewise, Pinhead's tongue is similarly decorated. Probably the most significant change is the fact that while in the movie series Pinhead is male, in the novella he is a gender ambiguous being, the clothing covering up his sexual organs. Also of note is the fact that while Pinhead bares a deep and eloquent masculine voice in the movies the novella's version has a breathy light voice, compared to that of a little girl.

Pinhead makes an appearance within the first chapter along side three other cenobites. They offer Frank Cotton their perverse form of pleasure before departing the room, taking with them the offerings he had laid for them on a shrine and amplifying his senses to maddening levels, leaving him in a state of shock and confusion before taking him to their world.

All four cenobites appear during the novella's last chapter where they tear Frank Cotton apart using hook chains. Afterwards they disappear, taking Frank away and respecting their agreement with Kristy, leaving the girl to run away.

During the earlier hospital scene in which Kirsty Cotton solves the puzzle box, she is confronted by The Lead Cenobite, whose lines would be used by Pinhead in Hellraiser, most notably: "No tears, please! It's a waste of good suffering!" as well as a variation of "We will tear your soul apart!"

Role in the films

Early life

"Pinhead was an English army officer in an unspecified place and time, though roughly in the Far East in the late 20's or early 30's. He was a very pucker Englishman, a public school type who went straight into the army. He felt terribly out of place and unfulfilled because he was only there through family tradition. So from his sterile viewpoint, what he hears of the Lament box is very appealing. I see him alone in his Nissen hut trying to solve the puzzle, which he obviously does, and is transformed into Pinhead.

"I don't see him as the first Cenobite. Of the four we know about, he is the leader, but the Cenobites have been around for centuries. To me, Pinhead is the chief Cenobite of the 20th Century.”

~ Doug Bradley in The Pride of Pinhead, by Philip Nutman, Fangoria No. 82, May of 1989

Pinhead was originally an Englishman, an educated soldier by the name Captain Elliott Spencer, who fought during World War I, serving under the British Expeditionary Force, his last battle having taken place during one of the Battles of Flanders. Barker describes Captain Elliott Spencer as being an old-fashioned British intellectual. After the war had ended, Captain Spencer was left traumatized by the experience and began developing both post traumatic stress disorder and survivor guilt. He subsequently lost all faith in humanity and in God, whom he believed had failed humanity.

Captain Spencer is left nihilistic and disillusioned, wandering the Earth and living a hedonistic life, committing acts that where considered taboo by most modern society. Sometime during the year 1921, captain Spencer travels to British India where he discovered the Lament Configuration and buys it from its current guardian. Solving the box inside his tent, Spencer is immediately afterwards impaled by hooked chains, dragged into the Labyrinth and then transformed into the cenobite Pinhead. In the decades that followed he obediently served Leviathan as the new leader of the cenobites, losing all memory of his past life as a human being in the process.


In Hellraiser, Pinhead makes his first appearance as a shadowy figure immediately torture Frank Cotton in his own attic after the latter had solved the Lament Configuration.

After tearing Frank apart in his own house, Pinhead picks up the puzzle box and uses it to teleport himself, his entourage, Frank's remains and their tools back to the Labyrinth, the attic appearing as if nothing had ever taken place to begin with.

Shortly after their departure, Frank had escaped his captors after his brother Larry's blood fell on the spot where he had died.

The blood had seemingly allowed him to reconstruct his body one layer of organs at a time. In the week that followed Frank had convinced Julia, Larry's cheating wife, into helping him gain more blood so he could obtain full human form. It was during this time that Frank continued fearing the return of the cenobites.

When Larry's daughter, Kristy, had stolen the puzzle box from Frank, she easily solved it and summoned Pinhead alongside his entourage. As the cult prepares to take Kristy away the girl convinces them to exchange her soul for Frank's, to which they seemingly accept, but only and so long as Frank himself confesses to have escaped their world. Pinhead is left somewhat skeptical and threatens to cruelly punish Kristy should she attempt to fool them. In the end, Pinhead did tore Frank apart once again, using hooked chains. Despite their earlier agreement the Cenobites - Chatterer, Butterball, and the Female Cenobite - chased after Kristy anyway, with Pinhead showing great delight in taking her to their home realm. However, Kristy successfully managed to utilize the Lament Configuration and sent the demon cult back to Hell.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II

In this movie, Pinhead's former life as a human is explored, the opening scene revealing Elliott Spencer's transformation into a cenobite.

The movie's main antagonists, the psychotic psychiatrist Dr. Phillip Channard and Julia (who was killed by Frank, captured by the cenobites and later resurrected by Channard, using the blood of one of his patients) trick the mentally disturbed girl, named Tiffany, into solving the Lament Configuration. A portal had been opened with which the Doctor and Julia used to enter Hell. Pinhead saves Tiffany from being killed by the other cenobites, realizing that Channard had been merely using the girl as a means to solve the puzzle box and enter Hell without the fear of cenobites attacking him. Channard was eventually turned into a Cenobite by Leviathan.

Within the Labyrinth, Pinhead reunites with Kristy and expresses delight in torturing her. He is not, however, in a hurry to do so and allows the girl to freely roam the cenobite home realm. Later on, when Kristy discovered that Pinhead had once been Elliot Spencer, she reminded him of this by showing him a picture of his past life as an army man. Reluctant at first, the other cenobites also begin remembering their own past lives, showing confusion and fear for the first time. Pinhead and his entourage defended Tiffany and Kristy from the newborn Cenobite Channard, with Pinhead using his hooks in order to restrain him. After killing the other Cenobites, Channard transformed Pinhead back into Elliot Spencer and slit his throat with one of his tentacles, seemingly killing him. Before dying, Spencer had smiled at Kristy as a sign of thanks.

After Tiffany had reshuffled the diamond shaped Lament Configuration back into its rectangular shape Leviathan is somehow forced to release countless souls from Hell and imprisons his servants (Julia included). From this point on Pinhead's light and dark sides were separated; Elliott Spencer became a benevolent spirit, while Pinhead's sadistic soul became trapped inside the Pillar of Souls along side Julia, what appeared to be The Engineer, the Lament Configuration, several other spirits and The Puzzle Guardian in vagrant form.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

For the first time Pinhead takes on the role of main antagonist in Hellraiser III. He is resurrected when nightclub owner, JP Monroe, was bitten by a rat, his blood having landed on the Pillar of Souls. Pinhead absorbs a girl named Brittany Virtue, then fools Monroe into bringing him more victims to consume, promising the disturbed young club owner a the chance in expressing himself in the most artistic means possible, through torture. Pinhead then persuades Monroe's girlfriend, Terri, in helping him escape from the pillar and even ends up killing Monroe, absorbing enough of his energy to return to full power and escapes his imprisonment. No longer trapped inside the statue, Pinhead killed around 150 people at Monroe's nightclub, The Boiler Room.

Meanwhile, a young TV reporter named Joey Summerskill makes contact with the spirit of Captain Elliott Spencer. Having lost her father to the Vietnam War, Spencer and Joey appear together on a desolated battlefield, a manifestation of their regrets. The Captain tells Joey his origin, how he has come to be a ghost and then tasks the young reporter with retrieving the Lament Configuration and banishing Pinhead back to Hell.

Meeting at the nightclub, Pinhead tried taking the Lament Configuration from Joey Sommerskill so that he could keep the door to Hell open, but was unable to take it; the box had to be given to him willingly by another person. Pinhead had transformed the corpses of a handful of victims into Cenobites and tried killing the reporter, but she successfully banished all of them back to Hell. Later on, while disguised as her dead father, Pinhead tricked Joey into giving him the box and then attempted to transform the girl into a cenobite. He misses this opportunity as he is confronted by Elliott Spencer, who merged with his evil half. Joey is released and stabs Pinhead with the Lament Configuration (once again in the form of a lozenge) and banishes the cenobite from Earth. Having defeated all the cenobites, Joey then buries the puzzle box in the wet cement of a nearby construction site. When the building is completed it is revealed to have been bizarrely modeled in the image of the Lament Configuration.

Hellraiser: Bloodline

Pinhead returned when the demon "princess" Angelique summoned him. They planned to have John Merchant (descendant of the 17th century toymaker Phillip Lemarchand, who built the Lament Configuration) use his new design, the Elysium Configuration, to keep the portal to Hell open so that the cenobites could come and leave at their own will. However, the plan had backfired, causing an enraged Pinhead into killings John Merchant, stabbing him in the threat. Merchant's wife. Bobbi. banishes the cenobite lord, Angelique, Chatter Beast, and the Siamese Cenobite (two twin security guards transformed by Pinhead) to Hell.

In year 2127, John's descendant, Paul Merchant, summoned Pinhead with the Lament Configuration on board the Space Station Minos, which was in fact the Elysium Configuration, a machine built in order to permanently to trap and destroy the cenobites. Pinhead, Chatter Beast, Twin Cenobite, and Angelique (now a modern Cenobite) killed most of the guards, but Paul and the remaining guard, Rimmer, escaped in a shuttle. After tricking Pinhead with a hologram, Paul activated the Elysium Configuration, reflecting rays of light off of mirrors and closing the space station/Configuration into a giant Lemerchand's box. The perpetual light began to decay Pinhead, pinning him to a wall. Before it exploded, the Elysium Configuration completely destroyed, and or, imprisoned Pinhead and the other Cenobites.

Pinhead in popular culture: homages, lampoons and cameos

Pinhead has become a relatively well known figure in popular culture, and as such has been the subject of the occasional cameo, parody and homage.

  • He is spoofed in the film Transylvania Twist, in which he steps out of an Acupuncture acupuncturist]'s office and says, "I don't care what anyone says — this hurts!".
  • In Wizard magazine, Pinhead gained 9th place in the greatest film villain poll.
  • During the second issue of the Spawn spin-off miniseries, The Violator, the the titular character makes an illusion to Pinhead. While describing his master, Malebolgia, as being a classical demon in appearance he briefly brings up the new age demons who have fish hooks sticking out of their heads.
  • Pinhead appears in The Simpsons episodes Treehouse of Horror V and Stop, or My Dog Will Shoot!.
  • Pinhead appeared in an episode of Family Guy where he unscrewed a salt shaker.
  • Pinhead appears in several comic crossovers such as Pinhead vs Marshal Law: Law in Hell and Hellraiser Nightbreed: Jihad.
  • He also appeared in Robot Chicken. In one episode, he got the pins in his head arranged into a mohawk. In another, he was competing in the Big Brother show alongside Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Ghostface, and Leatherface. Michael pulled pins out of his head. Pinhead said that if he won the chance to call home on a cell phone he would have called his mother, as it was her birthday.
  • A parody of Pinhead appeared in the spoof movie Stan Helsing. He wears a black Matrix style robe and he is named Needlehead. He was killed when Stan grabbed two of the needles on his head (his main weakness), disintegrating him.
  • Some fans would compare Pinhead to Mesogog from the Power Rangers franchise. Both their appearances hides most of the anatomy with long black leather (with the exception of the hands and head). Their personality's both show a cold, no-nonsense demeanor and when they separate from their humanity, become more sadistic and unruly.
  • A parody of Pinhead, named Pinface, appears in the first episode of sixth season of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, voiced by John Kassir. Pinface also has a grid tattooed on his head, but with bowling pins jabbed at the intersections, his clothing resembled cenobite attire, and was summoned by Billy using a magical Rubix Cube, V-Cube 7. This character, like so many of the show's villains, harbored a personal grudge against Grim.
  • The 2012 horror-comedy movie The Cabin in the Woods makes on homage to Pinhead, in the form of Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain, a demonic humanoid (Hell Lord) who could be summoned via a spherical puzzle box found in the cabin's basement. He is depicted as a poise man dressed in cenobite leather clothing and with circular saw blades having been stuck in his shaved head.
  • Ilgishin, a villain from GARO: Makai no Hana, is depicted to be "part Pinhead" due to its host, Harima, has passion on horror films includes Hellraiser. The proof of this was in his true form, Ilgishin has spikes all over his face in the similar manner with Pinhead's.


  • In early drafts of the crossover film Freddy vs. Jason, Pinhead was written to make an appearance at the end of the movie where he asks Freddy and Jason what seems to be the problem after they both died and went to Hell. This was later cut from the film and a new ending was added when the makers couldn't get the rights to Pinhead.

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