And Now, An Intimate Conversation With HELLRAISER’s Doug Bradley

Ahead of his appearance at this year's Texas Frightmare Weekend, here's Scott speaking with the legendary Pinhead.

The world isn't exactly overflowing with truly iconic horror villains. Amongst dozens upon dozens of would-be horror A-listers, only a handful tower over the genre: Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, that little redheaded kid from the Problem Child movies, and - last but certainly not least - Pinhead, the leather-clad BDSM enthusiast who serves as the de facto face of the long-running Hellraiser franchise.

Over the course of eight Hellraiser films, Doug Bradley's work as Pinhead more than earned him a spot at the table with the rest of Hollywood's horror heavyweights. Bradley's Pinhead served out damnation, grisly punishments and more than a few killer zingers with a graceful, sensual sort of regality rarely seen elsewhere in the genre. If Pinhead is an iconic horror villain, then Doug Bradley is just a straight-up horror icon.

Earlier today, I sat down with Bradley in anticipation of his forthcoming appearance at Texas Frightmare Weekend (learn more here). I wanted to know what it feels like to be a horror icon, what it's like having all those prosthetics glued to your head, and why I found a photo of Pinhead holding a baby on Google Images.

His answers did not disappoint.

How should I address you, sir? Doug? Mr. Bradley? What do you like?

Doug. That's my name!

Well, some people are a little more formal, which is fine. 

Nope! Doug works for me.

Great. I know folks are very much looking forward to seeing you at Texas Frightmare Weekend later this week, in Dallas. This isn't your first Frightmare, is it?

Oh, no, I've been several times! But it's been a while. I think it's been...let's see...four years? I think this'll be my fifth visit, so I'm very familiar.

You're always making the rounds on these things, with the conventions and expos and whatnot. Does it ever get tiring? I mean, I assume you must enjoy it to some degree to have kept at it for so long.

I would be lying if I said there weren't times where it gets [old], it surely does. But for the most part, it's the latter of what you said than the former. I mean, let's be honest - I make good money to appear at these shows, and that's good. Like anyone else, I've gotta put food on the table and I've got bills to pay. But also, it's fun to get to meet the people who support this whole thing. That aspect of it, I never get tired of.

It's also always a great chance to meet up with people who are old friends now - actors and so forth. I was just at Monsterpalooza and there were several people I ran into there who I hadn't seen for many years. Kevin Yagher, for instance, who was the director of principal photography on Bloodline. Had a lovely chat with him for several minutes! I think he's gonna be in Texas, too, as a matter of fact. 

That must be like summer camp for you guys, getting together like that.

Hahaha! That's good, yes.

You are one of the more iconic villains in horror history. Is there any weight to that? How often do you think about it, and do you feel any kind of pressure over it? 

Eh, not really!

If I were you I would just sit around thinking about it all the time.

No, it's definitely not something I spend much time thinking about. Most of the time in my life, I'm just me! I accept that ["icon"] label more now, though. I kept denying it for a long time, but it's there. So, I accept that one way or another I've made an indelible mark on the history of horror films. I own that now, and I'm proud of it. It's a fantastic thing to have! I suppose the process now of being the guy who played Pinhead does kind of become all-consuming. There's always a lot of business, day to day to day, that isn't directly related to that, but often things are happening because of that, y'know?


So, it's always there. It's never left me alone! But that's never changed and I don't think it will. If anything, it seems to be increasing. 

Y'know, I think you might be right about that! What's that about? What's the secret to Hellraiser's enduring popularity?

If I knew the answer to that, I'd be making another dozen similar things right now! I don't think nearly anyone knows the answer to these magic formulas. I think it was a movie that came along at exactly the right time, especially for Clive [Barker]. There was a series of happy accidents along the way. I think all the way around - and certainly in all the principal places! - all the right happy accidents occurred.

The casting is spot-on. [Hellraiser stars] Andrew Robinson and Clare Higgins were magnificent, just perfect choices. The prime example I always go to is Robin Vidgeon, who was the director of photography, and - well, keep in mind that Clive had never directed a grown-up movie before. He'd never been on a proper film set. He's said this before, but on the first day on-set he asked, "Who's in charge here?" and someone had to tell him, "Uh, you are." If he had had a different kind of person working alongside him, things could have gone very wrong. If it were someone who recognized him as a rookie, they could've pulled the wool over his eyes and taken shortcuts. But Robin was magnificent, and he worked with him.

Clive might say, "I want it to look like this," and Robin would take the time to explain how that could be done. Clive learned very quickly on the job, certainly, and so he became a director very quickly. But he and Robin had a very close relationship on-set, and I think you can see the results of that onscreen, that Robin took the time and trouble to try and match the vision that Clive had in his head. On top of that, Chris Young's score is incredible, and really raises the film to a whole other level. I think it's one of the great horror film scores, and I think it's been ripped off mercilessly ever since.

I agree!

It's also a movie that's of its time and out of time, if that makes sense. There are a number of elements in it that mark it as a slasher film, which was the popular thing in horror at the time. I mean, I've said this before, but you could take the Cenobites out of the story and you'd still have this fairly serviceable - albeit a little dull - story about Julia coming back to the house and Frank coming back to life. That story would remain absolutely intact. But then what Clive does, is he drops the Cenobites into the middle of the whole thing and suddenly it's a whole different feel. So, it's kind of a suburban slasher movie that suddenly becomes a gothic horror film. 

And in terms of the Cenobites, the great thing about them is that they're completely timeless. You could show images of the Cenobites to a 14th century monk and he'd know exactly what he was looking at. He'd get the idea straight away! And if we're still here to be talking about horror films in a hundred years' time, I think they'll still resonate as images and characters. The movie as a whole holds up well, as well. It doesn't look very dated, and I think that's largely because of the timelessness of the Cenobites and the themes Clive was playing with in the movie, which are universal themes. They'll never go away.

In retrospect, Hellraiser was basically counter-programming to the rest of the slashers of the '80s. There's more subtance to it. It's more literary.

Yeah, I think so, and obviously that all comes down to Clive. Obviously, his literary pedigree everybody knows about, and that's always been his first love, along with drawing and painting and always - always, always - a love of movies. And art - the stranger, the more fucked up, [the better].

I met a guy at Monsterpalooza who was writing papers in school about Hellraiser, and he was nervous about whether he was really observing literary references and antecedents, and I said, "Oh, no - don't be nervous. If you're seeing elements of Marlowe in Hellraiser, if you're seeing elements of Ibsen in Hellraiser, if you're seeing elements of Hieronymus Bosch in Hellraiser, you can absolutely rest assured that it's deliberate." All these references are things Clive has always fed on, and he's always fed them into everything he's done. That's part of his...I'll go ahead and use the word: genius.

Something I didn't know about you until very recently is that you and Clive Barker have known each other for most of your lives.

Yeah, pretty much! We went to high school in Liverpool together, in the UK. I was cast in a school play when I was fifteen. I think Clive would have been seventeen then. And so I went and did rehearsals for the play, and Clive was also in the cast. That was the day I met him, and that was certainly the day my life began to change.

Seems like an understatement.

Haha, yeah!

The first time you put on the full Pinhead makeup, did you have a fleeting moment of "Oh, shit, what have I gotten myself into?"

Yes. I had a feeling of "Oh, shit!" and "Oh, wow!" Lots of anticipation. It was strange. By the time the process was over, I'd been sitting in the chair for five or six hours, so I was feeling a bit spaced out, anyway. I just sat and stared in the mirror, and of course I'd pretty much disappeared. I could recognize my eyes and my mouth and my ears, but everything else was gone. I started playing with facial expressions and running a couple of the lines, but mostly I just sat and let myself absorb what was coming out of the mirror. You know - "What is that? Who is this?" And for all the hours I'd spent with the screenplay, I think Pinhead came to me in about ten or fifteen minutes.

What are the emotions that come to mind when you think of Pinhead? Do you think of him as an other, a character? Is he a job? 

Wow, that's...that's a good question. Hm.

Well, he's not a job. Because it's, what, the spring of 2018? So it's been thirty-two years since I first played the character. It's not like I've been in a soap opera, turning up Monday through Friday to play Pinhead for the past thirty years, and I haven't played the character on film for fifteen years or so. So, it's not a job. I don't know, really. I'm not sure I want to know. It is very specific. It's an emotional place. A rich place. A dark place. And I always felt playing Pinhead was like a slow-motion dance. I can't help you beyond that, I'm afraid.

No, that's a great answer!

If I were you, I think I'd have a hard time not going out on the town in the Pinhead makeup once I had it on, just to see what might happen. You ever do anything like that, or were you always confined to set?

I was confined to set, haha. I was not allowed to go anywhere. Actually, I think maybe I did, once, on the first movie. Everyone used to meet at a bus that was parked across the street, and I believe I was allowed to do that on that one day. I raced across the street in costume and I don't think anyone took any notice of me!

But when Clive and I were doing publicity for Hellraiser III - this would've been in 1992 - we were up in New York, and I was in full make-up and costume. I was there to present a Lament Configuration to Planet Hollywood, and E! Entertainment were filming the whole thing. At one point they requested that we go out on walkabout, and so we set off down 34th Street or whatever it was, and Clive said, "When you have the chance, very slowly and very regally turn around", because there were about 100 people following us down the street! There's a picture somewhere from that day, where someone asked me to hold their baby.

I was gonna ask about that! I just saw that photo this morning!

Well, that's when that was taken! That's Pinhead running for President.

Shaking hands and damning babies!

Haha, yeah! Clive said, "I think when we get to 5th Avenue, you should turn left and head into Central Park. Go in there and deliver the new Sermon on the Mount."

Texas Frightmare Weekend (featuring a special appearance by the great Doug Bradley) is happening this weekend, May 4th-6th, in Dallas, Texas. I'll be up there, as well, making the rounds and seeing what I can see for the site, but you can get your own badge by clicking here

Stay tuned for more from Texas Frightmare Weekend as it becomes available.