Underworld, or Transmutations, is a little-seen and mostly crummy horror movie from 1985. It’s got an alright premise, mutants vs gangster, and a script by horror fiction heavyweight Clive Barker and little else going for it. However, without it, we would never have gotten one of my favorite horror movies of all time, Hellraiser. Barker’s dissatisfaction with the production of Underworld and its immediate successor, the similarly underwhelming Rawhead Rex, inspired him to try his hand at directing and writing his own film. Barker chose to adapt his own novella, The Hellbound Heart, and in doing so launched its central antagonists the Cenobites and their leader Pinhead, into the pantheon of cinematic monsters.
The Lament Configuration or Lemarchand’s Box, depending on if you prefer the film or the novel’s taxonomy, lies at the hellbound heart of what separates Hellraiser from other horror franchises. All it takes to fall at the mercy of Michael Myers or Jason is the random happenstance of crossing their paths. Freddy Krueger is out for revenge. Jigsaw wants to teach you a lesson. The Cenobites, however, need to be summoned. Curiosity kills the cat or rather strips all of its skin off and hangs it up by hooks. All it takes to stay safe is to just leave well enough alone. Ignore the beautiful box and its tantalizing mystery and you’ll be fine but that’s not how people work. We see a puzzle and we need to solve it. On top of all this, the design by Simon Sayce, and later Gary Tunnicliffe, is just cool looking.
Mezco hit on an idea so obvious it’s genius when they rendered the box as a Rubik’s Cube, unifying the two most important puzzle cubes in the popular consciousness. You can feel relatively safe that solving this puzzle won’t summon a gang of otherworldly sadomasochists but I make no promises. Mezco also offers the box as a pair of fuzzy dice to hang off of your rearview mirror. It’s not as clever as the Rubik’s Cube but is just as silly, if not even more so.
The central conceit of the Lament Configuration is only one half of the formula for Hellraiser’s lasting success. The other half is undeniably Pinhead. Pinhead is like the Velvet Underground of horror icons. The character is hugely influential and cultishly beloved by a lot of people but lacking some of the mainstream recognition of other figures. One of the interesting things about Pinhead is the consistency of his portrayal. Doug Bradley has played the character in almost every appearance dating back to his earliest conception. The one exception so far is the dreadful, paint by numbers contract filler Hellraiser: Revelation. Even 15 years before the first movie Bradley played The Dutchman, a sort of proto-Pinhead appearing in Clive Barker’s 1973 play Hunters in the Snow. He has portrayed the character eight consecutive times. I believe the only other horror actor with an equivalent streak is Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger.
Pinhead’s design draws on the aesthetic of the NYC punk scene, the Catholic priesthood, and S&M club wear. If you’re looking for some accurate depictions of the haunting figure you’ve got a few excellent choices. Mezco has a 12-inch figure with seven points of articulation, Threezero has a fully poseable sixth scale figure and Sideshow Collectibles has a massive 18-inch Premium Format figure. All of these figures are highly detailed and look striking like Doug Bradley in full make up. The Sideshow collectibles figure notably has the best and most disturbing effect especially when you notice the little bits of flayed skin hanging from Pinhead’s chest. Obviously, each of these figures comes with a Lament Configuration. The Sideshow figure actually comes with two, one closed and one opened. The Threezero and Mezco figures come with some interchangeable hands. Threezero’s hands are probably my favorite though, as they allow you to recreate Pinhead’s mock crucifixion from Hellraiser III.
There are a number of offerings on the total opposite end of the spectrum as well. Mezco’s Living Dead Dolls line gives us what might be the creepiest take on Pinhead yet. Pinhead is supposed to be tall, sleek, and imposing but somehow seeing him rendered as a bobbled headed moppet makes him even more disturbing. There is even a red variant to double up the fun. The FunKo Pop! vinyl Pinhead also plays with Cenobite’s proportions but ends up coming out a lot closer to cute than the Living Dead Doll. A particularly nice touch is the little pin protruding from the Pop figure’s customary triangular nose. Also falling over into the world of cute, we have FunKo’s Dorbz version of the horror icon which presents a much more stylized version of Pinhead. FunKo’s ReAction Figures Pinhead makes me imagine a world in which Hellraiser received a full-on, merchandise drive, 80s Saturday morning cartoon included.
The Hellraiser franchise seems to be in a bit of strange place. It managed to ride out the recent wave of horror reboots unscathed, escaping the fate of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and so many more. However, the series hasn’t quite gotten away scot-free. It hasn’t really seen the inside of a movie theater since 1996’s Hellraiser IV: Bloodline. Save for a few small releases and preview screenings the franchise has dwelled exclusively in the nightmare dimension of straight-to-DVD for the past twenty years. It hasn’t seen universal critical acclaim since it’s very first entrance. I would say that while Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth have their merits and the fifth film, Hellraiser: Inferno is fairly underrated; none of them really reach the heights of the very first film. There’s a tenth film on the way and the second devoid of Doug Bradley’s presence. At the same time, there is apparently a remake or at least a reboot in the works. This shows some promise as Clive Barker is attached to both write and direct, just like the first film, and Doug Bradley is set to reprise his iconic role. News on this reboot has been scant and it appears as if the trend of horror remakes is dying down. It remains to be seen if Hellraiser can recover from its current state but I believe that it still has such, such sights to show us.