- "Explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some. Angels to others."
The Cenobites are extra dimensional beings who exist in an extra-dimensional realm and are present in Clive Barker's writings The Hellbound Heart, The Scarlet Gospels and nine Hellraiser films. They are also mentioned, in passing, in the novel Weaveworld. They are mentioned by Immacolata, who calls them "The Surgeons."
They can reach Earth's reality only through a schism in time and space, which is opened and closed using certain unearthly artifacts. The most common form for these artifacts is that of an inconspicuous-looking puzzle box called the Lament Configuration.
The Cenobites vary in number, appearance, and motivations depending on the medium (film, comic book, etc.) in which they appear. The involvement of multiple parties in the production of Hellraiser films and comics (many eschewing the creative supervision of Clive Barker) have led to varying levels of consistency regarding the canonical aspects of their philosophies and abilities.
Concept and Design
After being disappointed with the way his material had been treated by producers in Underworld, Barker wrote The Hellbound Heart as his first step in directing a film by himself. After securing funding in early 1986, Barker and his producer Chris Figg assembled a team to design the cenobites. Among the team was Bob Keen and Geoff Portass at Image Animation and Jane Wildgoose, a costume designer who was requested to make a series of costumes for 4-5 'super-butchers' while refining the scarification designs with Image Animation:
- "My notes say that he wanted 1. areas of revealed flesh where some kind of torture has, or is occurring. 2. something associated with butchery involved’ and then here we have a very Clive turn of phrase, I’ve written down, ‘repulsive glamour.’ And the other notes that I made about what he wanted was that they should be ‘magnificent super-butchers’. There would be one or two of them with some ‘hangers on’ as he put it, and that there would be four or five altogether."
- — Jane Wildgoose on Resurrection, Documentary on the Anchor Bay Hellraiser DVD, (2000)
Barker drew inspiration for the cenobite designs from punk fashion, Catholicism (the overall design is a modified cassock, the traditional garment of a Catholic priest until the sixties) and by the visits he took to S & M clubs in New York and Amsterdam.
- "Why then was he so distressed to set eyes upon them? Was it the scars that covered every inch of their bodies, the flesh cosmetically punctured and sliced and infibulated, then dusted down with ash? Was it the smell of vanilla they brought with them, the sweetness of which did little to disguise the stench beneath? Or was it that as the light grew, and he scanned them more closely, he saw nothing of joy, or even humanity, in their maimed faces: only desperation, and an appetite that made his bowels ache to be voided."
- — Clive Barker, The Hellbound Heart, Chapter I
The Cenobites all have horrific mutilations and/or body piercings, and wear fetishistic black leather clothing that often resembles butchery garments or religious vestments. The clothing also serves to support their piercings and tools.
The religious aspects of their origins and motivations are ambiguous: despite the presence of the word "Hell" in the franchise, there is no overt reference or iconography linking the Cenobites to any traditional Abrahamic or Eastern depiction of damnation, demonic nature, or Infernal origin, leaving the most likely interpretation to be that to an outside observer, the bizarre and unpleasant properties of the Cenobites' native plane of existence would likely be interpreted to be Hell or "hellish". In fact, the Cenobites originally exhibited amoral personalities--neither demonstrably malicious or beneficent--displaying a depraved indifference or lack of empathy towards their victims. They acquired more traditional demonic attributes and designations as beings of Hell in the later incarnations, particularly the comic books.
The philosophical motivations of the Cenobites change with time and medium. In their original incarnation, they manifested as devoted followers of a supernatural hedonism with unorthodox definitions of pleasure; although vaguely described, this form of pleasure endorsed by the Cenobites involved two distinct forms: the expansion of sensation to an extremely painful point of sensory overload, and enduring excruciating pain through incessant tortures that transcend traditional laws of physics. They exhibited no discernible morality or immorality, merely the unwavering devotion to their craft. In the film adaptation (Hellraiser) they exhibited a more severe tone: impatient, stern, humorless, and almost intractably officious towards their duties, as well as capable of duplicity, illustrated when they attempt to violate their bargain with Kirsty Cotton (in the novella, they honored their agreement) (This is contested: when the Cenobites appear in the attic they point at the mutilated body of Kirsty's father and tell her they want the one responsible. At that point Kirsty still believes the mutilated body on the attic floor is her uncle, Frank, and that her father is alive and is "responsible" for it, and refuses to give him up. She does not know that the man masquerading as her father downstairs is actually her uncle Frank. From the Cenobite's point of view, Kirsty is the one who violated the bargain by refusing to give up Frank, who she had promised to them eariler). As the film and comic books series progressed, the Cenobites--particularly Pinhead--began to manifest traditionally evil and sinister traits, due likely in part to an attempt to streamline them into a more mainstream characterization of horror archetypes.
Major differences are as follows:
Beginning with Hellbound: Hellraiser II, the Cenobites take on very distinct changes, and much of their ambiguous nature is eliminated through exposition. They are revealed to be former humans who have been converted into Cenobites by the supernatural power native to their home dimension; the source of that power is shown to be a deity named Leviathan ("the god of flesh and desire"), which appears as a massive, rotating lozenge with patterns of LeMarchand's box on its panels. The original three male Cenobites were dubbed "Pinhead", "Chatterer", and "Butterball" and the one female Cenobite called "Open/Deep Throat".
The Cenobite dimension is depicted as a massive labyrinth resembling M.C. Escher's Relativity lithograph, with Leviathan levitating above its center. Although the original Cenobites are "killed' at the conclusion, the following installment Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth explains that Pinhead was merely divided into two halves: a vastly powerful evil one (Pinhead) and weaker benevolent one (the ghost of his former human self).
Hellraiser III and Hellraiser: Bloodline display the most drastic change in the Cenobites, characterizing them--Pinhead in particular--as supervillains intent on world domination and torturing all of humanity for their own gleefully sadistic enjoyment. Hellraiser: Bloodline attempted to connect the Cenobites to Western concepts of evil with the introduction of Angelique (Valentina Vargas), a denizen of Hell who embodied many traits of a succubus and adopted a more traditionally hedonistic lifestyle on Earth for many centuries; a crucial subplot to the film indicated that Hell underwent a purist revolution of sorts during her absence, and that her disapproval of the newer austere way prompts her to resist by sabotaging Pinhead's master plan. She largely succeeds, but is captured and converted into a Cenobite in the process. Although subsequent sequels retain the retconned nature of the Cenobites as malevolent entities, their presence has been reduced in later installments to serve key narrative moments rather than carry an entire film and story alone, and that the more extreme aspects of their behaviors have been curtailed in favor of more restrained conduct.
It should be noted that a number of franchise entries, notably the seventh and eighth installments (Hellraiser: Deader and Hellraiser: Hellworld respectively) initially began as uninvolved scripts that were adapted and re-written as Hellraiser sequels by the controlling parties.
Hellraiser Comic Book Series
In 1989, following the success of the Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II movies, Epic Comics began publishing series of comic book spin-offs for the Hellraiser franchise. The comics contained a set of short stories, with Clive Barker acting as a consultant on all of the comics. Epic published twenty regular series comics, from 1989 to 1992.
The comic book series largely adopted a narrative structure similar to The Twilight Zone with ironic twists to accentuate the impact of the ending, and retained continuity with the second film. However, a series of recurring Cenobite characters were created and a unifying agenda carried many intermittent and continuing story arcs throughout the run. Although Pinhead was one of these recurring characters, his presence was eclipsed by a number of other prominent Cenobites (particularly one known as "Hunger" due to his cachectic appearance) who acted as antagonists and protagonists.
In the comics, Hell was depicted as a power working in opposition to other vague, humanistic powers due to a conflict in philosophies regarding otherworldly concepts of order and chaos. Although never expounded upon by their writers with any definite clarity, the philosophy held by Hell and its god Leviathan is depicted as a militant belief in "order" that finds the humanistic aspects of flesh to be a hindrance or obstacle to it; apparently, suffering is viewed as having a cosmic, universal truth and importance to this order, and the Cenobites' concepts of pleasure and application of it through torture are seen as bringing order to the flesh. The conflict between Leviathan and its enemies are manifested at times as war, propaganda campaigns, or by individual victories characterized by obtaining new victims.
Powers and Abilities in the Films
The physical compositions of the Cenobites gives them each a number of unique abilities, but there are a few traits common or standard to all. When summoned, they seem to be able to decide exactly when, where, and by what means they will appear. In Hellraiser, the Cenobites appeared immediately in the hospital room where Kirsty called them in forms of light or electrical energy. Later, they appeared from the darkness of the attic when she led them to their quarry.
In Hellbound: Hellraiser II, when the configuration was solved, they caused the rooms they manifested in to take on the stonework and cyclopean properties of their native realm, the Labyrinth. They all appear to be telekinetic to a degree, able to control the hooked chains that are their trademark weapon of choice, as well as snatch small objects at a distance (as Angelique recovered the box in Hellraiser: Bloodline). Though not entirely confirmed, they seem to be able to summon forth their chains from any nearby shadows. They each seem to possess great strength, heightened resistance to damage, and some degree of supernatural empathy. They also tend to be patient, logical, and discerning.
Individual abilities vary widely. In the two earlier movies, there was little difference among them until the Dr. Channard Cenobite was created, presenting the ability to generate customized tentacles and spears. However, he seemed to represent an element of the shifting powers of the Labyrinth. When the Pinhead character’s inhuman evil manifests in the world in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, it seems to have nearly-unlimited and highly-versatile powers. His human side suggests that he is no longer bound by the rules governing the other Cenobites (suggesting others among them might have such power). He can telekinetically control vast areas, transmute matter, create and control fire (pyrokinesis), and animate objects. In any case, he creates a number of Cenobites in both the third and fourth movies that have powers unique to their forms, such as a man that launches razor-edged CDs, a pair of twins that can crush people between their bodies, a man with a pneumatic camera eye that can impale targets, and so forth.
- The Doctor (Channard)
- Kirsty Cotton
- Saucy Jack
In Written Works
- The Hellbound Heart (Novel) by Clive Barker
- Hellraiser: The Toll (Novella) by Mark Alan Miller
- The Scarlet Gospels (Novel) by Clive Barker
- Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell (Novel) by Paul Kane
- Hellraiser Series (Boom! Studios, Epic & Marvel Comics, Seraphim Inc.)
- Hellraiser: Virtual Hell (Video Game) by Magnet Interactive Studios