Hellraiser: Pinhead and the Cenobites, explained

Pinhead in the original HellraiserEntertainment Film Distributors

They have such sights to show you: ahead of Hellraiser hitting Hulu, here’s everything you need to know about Pinhead and the Cenobites, “demons to some, angels to others.”

A number of horror villains have entered the pop-cultural subconscious: Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street, Jason from the Friday the 13th series, and Michael Myers from Halloween, to name a few.

These are big-hitting franchises, all still a mainstay of kids’ sleepovers and spooky season re-watches to this day. Halloween Ends is even due for release this month.

However, Pinhead is a bit of an oddity, especially as the Hellraiser franchise could be considered a bit niche – yet, everyone recognizes them, and could probably name the movie without having ever seen it or knowing its story. So, let’s break down Pinhead and their unholy band of Cenobites.

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Hellraiser: Who is Pinhead?

Pinhead is the main villain of the Hellraiser franchise. They’re also known as The Hell Priest, and didn’t take on the name “Pinhead” until Hellbound: Hellraiser II.

The name, as you can probably guess, came from a nickname the production crew gave the character due to his bald head studded with nails, and it quickly caught on with fans.

Hilariously, Clive Barker – the author of The Hellbound Heart, the novella on which the first film is based – isn’t a fan of the name, but it’s eclipsed the franchise itself now.

Jamie Clayton as Pinhead in Hellraiser 2022 rebootHulu
Jamie Clayton as Pinhead in the new Hellraiser.

In the book, Pinhead and the other Cenobites are pretty androgynous. “Its voice, unlike that of its companion, was light and breathy-the voice of an excited girl,” Barker wrote.

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“Every inch of its head had been tattooed with an intricate grid, and at every intersection of horizontal and vertical axes a jeweled pin driven through to the bone. Its tongue was similarly decorated.”

Pinhead was first played by Doug Bradley, who remained in the role through to Hellraiser: Hellworld. Stephan Smith Collins took over for Hellraiser: Revelations, before Paul T. Taylor played the villain in Hellraiser: Judgement.

Jamie Clayton will play Pinhead in the upcoming Hellraiser reboot coming to Hulu this Friday, October 7.

Hellraiser: Who are the Cenobites?

The Cenobites are a group of extra-dimensional, demonic beings, also known as The Order of the Gash. Pinhead is the leader of the Cenobites.

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Once human, they have since been tortured, mutilated, and transformed into nightmarish, grotesque creatures who serve the Leviathan, the god of the Labyrinth.

They’re summoned when humans open one of the Lemarchand’s Boxes. The most notable puzzle box is the Lament Configuration. When someone solves this box, the Cenobites rip through their dimension and tear their souls apart by any means necessary.

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The box is often sought out by hedonistic individuals bored of their everyday sexual folly. As Pinhead describes them, they’re “explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some, angels to others.”

Most people are murdered by the Cenobites, but if they’re deemed worthy, they’re transported to Hell and transformed into a Cenobite by the Engineer, a process by which their blood and memories are removed from their body.

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Cenobites aren’t all bad, though. They are evil, but they have rules: the Cenobites can only exact their twisted practices on those who open the box, and they have to open it with the knowledge of what’s to come. For example, in Hellraiser II, Pinhead orders the Cenobites not to touch a young girl tricked into opening the Lament Configuration.

Humans can’t hurt Cenobites, but they can return them from whence they came by reversing the puzzle box. However, other Cenobites can harm one another, and the Leviathan can punish them. If a Cenobite dies, they return to their human form.

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Hellraiser: How did Pinhead become Pinhead?

In the movies, Pinhead was once known as Elliot Spencer. He was born in England during the Victorian Era in 1887, and he later served in World War I. His experiences on the frontline left him traumatized, and even lost his faith in God after seeing man’s inhumanity to man on such a horrifying scale.

When he returned home, he began suffering from PTSD. Elliot started exploring a hedonistic lifestyle, and ended up stumbling upon the Lament Configuration in India in the 1920s. He solved the box, and a legend was born.

It’s unclear whether the Hellraiser reboot will follow any past established canon or forge its own origins for Pinhead. While it’s inspired by The Hellbound Heart and Clive Barker was directly involved in its development, it’s also been described as a “reimagining.”

Hellraiser hits Hulu on Friday, October 7. You can read our review here.