Pinhead isn’t Pinhead. Any Clive Barker fan will be quick to point out that the iconic character from the beloved adaptation of the novel The Hellbound Heart is credited as Lead Cenobite, and known in the fiction as “the Priest,” a devotee of a dark, arcane religion. But in an era of gimmicky slashers like Freddy, Leatherface, and Jason, the Priest needed a catchier sobriquet, and so he was dubbed Pinhead, much to Barker’s chagrin. But even as it became increasingly standard, the name always seemed like an ill-fitting title for the elegant character portrayed by Doug Bradley.
For those reasons, director David Bruckner had no qualms about casting Jamie Clayton as the Priest for his Hellraiser reboot, which comes to Hulu on October 7. “We always knew that [a female Pinhead] made sense given the history of the franchise and the kinds of fans that have embraced it,” Bruckner told The Hollywood Reporter. For Bruckner, the decision has its roots in Barker’s work, as The Hellbound Heart “was suggestive of a female Pinhead, and the comic books also explored the idea.” Bruckner also points to fan art of female and non-binary versions of The Priest as sources of inspiration. “We were never afraid of it,” he declared.
Furthermore, the gender change allowed Clayton freedom away from previous film takes. “It was also a way for us to not replicate Doug Bradley’s incredible, iconic performance,” explained Bruckner. Bradley first played Pinhead in the 1987 original Hellraiser, directed by Barker, and continued in the role for the seven movies that followed, finally replaced by Stephan Smith Collins (with Fred Tatasciore providing Pinhead’s voice) for 2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations and by Paul T. Taylor for 2018’s Hellraiser: Judgement. Bradley also portrayed Pinhead’s pre-Lament Configuration human form Captain Elliot Spencer in Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III.
Set loose from the expectation to match Bradley, Clayton brought new layers to the Priest, which opened up surprising storytelling avenues for Bruckner. “Jamie came out with something that was much more sensual,” he explained. “There’s a curiosity to the character. She seems very, very intrigued by the inner workings of her subjects and what makes them tick, and given what she has on offer, her engagement is rather terrifying.”
That last line should be a note of relief for Hellraiser fans. Despite getting lumped in with 80s slashers, the Cenobites are unique among horror monsters. They don’t arrive to merely kill, nor to even terrorize. They arrive only to those who call them, those who wish to experience the sublime mingling of pain and pleasure they offer.
Based on Bruckner’s comments, Clayton clearly understands that the Priest should not be a mere boogeywoman, but an explorer, curious about any sights she can see. According to Bruckner, this version of the Priest no longer knows who she was as a human. “She has long been engaged in her pursuit of extreme experience and bestowing that upon others, so I think that’s where her mind resides,” he revealed.
Hellraiser comes to Hulu on October 7. Until then, we can all speculate about who should play a reimagined CD.