The 2022 reboot of the cult classic "Hellraiser" franchise, the bizarre erotic nightmare horror from the mind of Clive Barker, is streaming on Hulu. The film joins the long line of "Hellraiser" films (of drastically varying quality) with a brand new Pinhead brought to hellish life by Jamie Clayton. The world of "Hellraiser" is filled with all sorts of horrors and dark delights, mind-bending sights that will "tear your soul apart." Anyone who gets their hands on the franchise’s infamous puzzle box and manages to solve it is in for a world of hurt at the hands of Pinhead and their sadomasochistic companions.
From people being flayed alive to the living dead crawling up from under the floorboards, to all sorts of stomach-churning supernatural body modifications, it’s difficult to pin down (pun intended) which moments from the "Hellraiser" universe are the most gruesome and horrible. In a series that’s all about creative suffering and punishment — from the films to the comics as well as Clive Barker’s original novella "The Hellbound Heart" — there is quite a lot of material to choose from. But a few particular moments really stood a (pin)head above the rest. Here are some of the worst things that have happened in the "Hellraiser" universe.
Razor blade piano (Songs of Metal and Flesh)
"Hellraiser" veteran Peter Atkins contributed the story "Songs of Metal and Flesh" to Epic Comics’ "Hellraiser #3." It centers around Jason Marlowe, who lost his sight as a child but experienced a heightening of his other senses as a result. He also developed an impressive talent for music, and the ability to pick out "hidden melodies, those mysterious harmonies that I knew circled somewhere between our world and the next."
Jason’s jealous rival attaches razor blades to his piano, tricking Jason into destroying his hands when he sits down to play. With music taken away from him, Jason begins a downward spiral into the depths of Hell, desperate to regain the sensation, the life, and the connectivity that music once brought him. Though the Cenobites were not responsible for this bit of mutilation, the fact that human jealousy and greed were responsible makes it all the more horrifying. It is not the most violent delight to occur in the story, but it is a reminder of the capacity for cruelty that exists here on Earth with no hellish intervention.
The Chatterer’s tortured origin
The mysterious, grotesque-yet-stylish Cenobites are one of the most memorable parts of the "Hellraiser" series. Some Cenobites are created over the course of a film, appearing as human first before they are transformed by their dealings with the emissaries of Hell. Others, however, are only seen in their final form. What happened to them? Where did they come from? The "Hellraiser" comics provide greater context on many of the series’ elements (including the complex history of the Lament Configuration), and the Cenobites are no exception.
Chatterer, one of the Cenobites featured in the first "Hellraiser" film and easily recognized by his constantly chattering teeth, was once a deeply troubled teenage boy named Jim. After framing his mother for the murder of his abusive father, he was sent to an orphanage and taught that he would be useless to society. When he turned 16, he began engaging in sex work, horrified by the compliments he received on his appearance, and wishing only to be loved for who he truly was on the inside. A client gifted him the puzzle box, and, after a fraught confrontation with his former lover, the boy was finally forcibly disfigured by the God of Pain and Pleasure. From the very beginning, Jim never stood a chance, his human tragedy leading to an inhuman transformation.
If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.
Aparius and the Cenobite Bees (Clive Barker’s Hellraiser #19)
Clive Barker’s "Hellraiser #19" follows a man named Robert Johnson who opened the Lament Configuration, followed by his parents offering themselves in his place in order to save his life. However, they went back on their deal and attempted to flee the wrath of Hell. In retribution, the Johnson family was cursed, marked with the Sign of Leviathan, which doomed every member of their bloodline to be dragged into hell as soon as they turned 25.
The Johnson family souls were then given to Aparius, who minded the Elder Tree and the Cenobite Bees. These demonic bees existed to torment the Johnsons, living in a hollow filled with their souls. The bees then used the members of the family to make their honey, causing them constant agony. Every day Aparius would harvest the bloody honey from the bodies of the suffering Johnsons. Their souls were eventually freed from this nightmare, but not before experiencing enough bee-based horror to last a lifetime.
Bug hallucination and self-mutilation (Hellbound: Hellraiser II)
"Hellbound: Hellraiser II" introduces fans to the wicked Dr. Channard, who is determined to unlock the secrets of the puzzle box and Hell itself by any means necessary. This includes subjecting his patients, who are in his custody for mental healthcare, to a variety of inhumane experiments. No patient suffers more at Dr. Channard’s unethical hands than poor, poor Browning. Browning suffers from delusional parasitosis, believing that there are maggots crawling in and underneath his skin. The appropriate way to handle this condition would be to give him comprehensive mental health treatment, but of course, Dr. Channard doesn’t care about treating his patients, only using them.
In one of the hardest scenes to watch in the entire "Hellraiser" film series, Dr. Channard releases Browning from his cell and leads him to the stained mattress where Julia Cotton died. There, Browning continues to panic and claw at his skin, hoping to dig out the infestation. Dr. Channard offers him a razor, and Browning accepts, slashing at his own chest to get to the maggots as Dr. Channard watches. After an uncomfortable amount of time, Julia is awakened by the blood dripping onto the mattress. Things only get worse for Browning from there, because Dr. Channard is the least helpful doctor of all time.
Frank Cotton gets hooked (Hellraiser)
Frank Cotton is the primary antagonist of "Hellraiser," and what an antagonist he is. He seduced his brother’s wife, opened the gateway contained in the Lament Configuration, and after being torn apart, came back from the dead to cause even more trouble. He roped Julia into his murderous scheme to regrow his old body, attacked his niece, and killed his own brother to steal his skin. At the end of it all, Julia was rewarded for her loyalty with Frank stabbing her and absorbing her flesh to repair himself.
But what goes around comes around, and escaping Hell is not that easy. The Cenobites reappear to take back what’s theirs and rip Frank apart in a truly vicious way. They sink metal hooks into him and use chains to pull at his flesh from every direction, tearing him to pieces as he groans in agony and finally remarks: "Jesus wept."
Sculptress takes her lover apart (With My Lips)
In the comic "With My Lips," the Sculptress is a Cenobite who, as her name implies, sculpts works of macabre art from flesh, brought to her by the "Delivery Boy." One day, the Delivery Boy brings The Sculptress a man who unlocked a puzzle box and was sent to Hell. She begins working on him, referring to him affectionately as "My Sweet." She mutilates his body almost beyond recognition, cutting a heart shape out of the skin on his chest, severing his torso. She also takes pieces of him to use on another project, including his tongue, his pancreas, and his ring finger.
"My Sweet" is devastated by the relationship between the Sculptress and her Delivery Boy, suffering every time he sees the two of them together. Soon, his physical torment meets the ultimate emotional torment when the Sculptress takes "My Sweet’s" lips. She gives them to the Delivery Boy so they can kiss each other, with "My Sweet" forced to watch all the while.
A human drum (Hellraiser: Bloodline deleted scenes)
One particularly terrifying "Hellraiser" moment never made it to the final cut that was released, and it’s a real shame. Audiences lost out on some genuinely disturbing moments. Luckily, these deleted scenes can be accessed today, and show some of what might have been if they had been included in the original release. In "Bloodline," Philip Lemarchand attracts the attention of Angelique, a demon turned Cenobite, as he work threatens to neutralize the gateway to Hell.
Philip’s friend Auguste feels Hell’s wrath first when he is attacked by a troupe of traveling Cenobite clowns, who perform for him and then throw him into the mouth of Hell. Later, Philip comes face to face with Angelique, who first attempts to seduce him with promises of pain and pleasure (as is the "Hellraiser" way). When he refuses her offer, she opts for psychological torment instead and has her clown cronies wheel out a drum made from his fallen best friend’s face. Poor Auguste, he really marched to the beat of his own drum.
The Mr. Winky Dink Show in Hell (Hellraiser – The Devil’s Brigade)
Clowns are kind of creepy even at the best of times, but a pseudo-Cenobite Clown putting on a show for the souls of lost children? That’s on another level. When he was alive, this Cenobite was a children’s entertainer and the host of the Mr. Winky Dink Show. After unlocking the Lament Configuration, he was pulled into Hell and given the duty of entertaining a group of children deemed "Too Innocent to be Truly Damned."
No matter how much he, or his audience, wishes it would stop, the new depraved version of the Mr. Winky Dink Show is never allowed to end. The Clown performs horrifying acts, to the distress of the children watching. When he tries to perform a more child-friendly trick, pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Leviathan punishes him by ripping out his guts. He and the children are both trapped in a never-ending nightmare of innocence lost.
Together forever (Hellraiser: Bloodline)
In "Hellraiser: Bloodline," a pair of twin brothers happen to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mark and Michael Bradley, employed as security guards for the Lament Configuration exhibit created by John Merchant, hear a strange noise the night before the exhibit is to open. When they follow the source of the sound, they find Angelique and Pinhead engaged in a private conversation.
Pinhead picks up on the two men’s closeness, and their desire to never be separated. So, in his own perverse way, he decides to grant their wish. He wraps chains around the two men and uses two halves of a skull mask and some giant drills and pistons to force their heads together in a truly gruesome monument to brotherly love. As Cenobites, they are something special; the only members of Pinhead’s crew (aside from the Cenobite Pets) who are physically fused together, sharing one conjoined form for all eternity.
Byron and Hunger (Hellraiser Comics)
In Vol. #5 of Clive Barker’s "Hellraiser" comics, a young man named Byron discovers that his father is a Puzzle Guardian. In response, he burns his family home to the ground during a family reunion. But this isn’t enough for him. He solves the Book of Riddles and summons the ruthless Cenobite Hunger. Hunger uses the corpses of several of Byron’s family members to create a Cenobite Pet, fashioned from their various body parts.
Steve Whitcomb, who survived the events of the fire after Byron warned him to stay away from the family reunion, finds himself in the middle of the action and comes face to face with Hunger himself. Byron saves him, and the two attempts to escape, but are pursued by the Cenobite Pets. In a desperate bid to escape, Steve throws his cousin to the Pets, and Byron is devoured by the monster made up of his dead relatives.