Originally Published May 30, 2015 on rue-morgue.com
“Do you understand?’ the figure beside the first speaker demanded. Its voice, unlike that of its companion, was light and breathy – the voice of an excited girl. Every inch of its head had been tattooed with an intricate grid, and at every intersection of horizontal and vertical axes, a jewelled pin driven through to the bone. Its tongue was similarly decorated. ‘Do you even know who we are?’ it asked.
‘Yes,’ Frank said at last. ‘I know.”
–The Hellbound Heart
It was only a passing reference, but in those four sentences Clive Barker would sow an idea that would result in the creation of one of the horror genre’s greatest and most enduring icons: Pinhead. From that first appearance in Barker’s 1986 story, the Prince of Pain and his monstrous merchants of suffering – the Cenobites – would go on to become monsters of cinema in Hellraiser and its numerous sequels and spin-offs.
Pinhead premiered on the big screen in 1987’s Hellraiser, Barker’s own adaptation of his novella where the author-turned filmmaker set out to create a more elegant and articulate villain than his other cinematic contemporaries. Adding to the character’s gravitas was the man under the makeup: actor and long time collaborator Doug Bradley, who donned the mantle of “Lead Cenobite” (as credited in the film), envisioning a cold and sterile cross between Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde; sophisticated, intelligent and ruthlessly efficient in his role.
And yet, nearly 30 years since Pinhead’s first appearance, Barker is finally saying goodbye to the character who has been so intertwined with his own history. The Scarlet Gospels, which Barker promises will be “the last Pinhead story” is Barker’s final word on the Hellraiser mythos.
“I wanted this bastard to go out with an undignified end,” says Barker, “and I mean that. I did not want him to be given some clever, rhetorical ending. I wanted him to get the end that he deserves. He’s a villain, let’s not forget this. I’ve heard some people say, ‘Oh, he’s doing some really nasty things in this book. Why does he have to do such nasty things?’ He’s a bad guy, for fuck’s sake! He does bad things because he’s a bad sonofabitch and he’s now going to get his comeuppance.”
While Barker has been tangentially involved in many of the franchise’s sequels and spin-offs, Gospels marks the first time since 1988’s Hellraiser that has written for Pinhead. While there are traces of the Head Cenobite’s cinematic DNA in Gospels, the story is not a continuation of any of the mythology set up in the film series or any of his multiple incarnations in comics. In Barker’s view, sticking to canon has never been a concern, specifically when it comes to transitioning between adaptations.
“When I was writing the stories these characters first appeared in, I was limited only by the words in my head,” he says. “When adapting them for the screen, other questions came into play: budget, location, etc. From those moments on, the mandate given to me by the respective forms dictated that each medium has its own continuity. And it continues to be that way.”
Barker’s greatest strengths as an artist and writer is his ability to build a world, and The Scarlet Gospels is a grand testament to that skill. Hell is very much a complete and fully-realized world with its own geography, varied life forms, cultures and political struggles, of which the Cenobites are only a small part. It is a much more expansive vision of Hell that the Labyrinth of Hellraiser II even hinted at.
“I’ve always wanted to share this vision of Hell,” asserts Barker. “I’ve never liked the Dantean vision of Hell as a place which has nine circles, each of which has its own self-serving function. That kind of organized apocalypse did not appeal to me.”