When Clive Barker decided to direct his own adaption of his 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, he surely couldn't have imagined it'd spawn a franchise of no fewer than eleven films over the three-plus decades that'd follow. Neither could he have imagined that in directing that very first film he'd introduce the world to one of horror's most enduring characters in the form of Doug Bradley's instantly iconic Pinhead.
Since the original, the franchise has taken Pinhead everywhere from New York to 18th century Paris to space (no, really). There have been some genuinely great sequels, some missed opportunities and, let's be frank, some absolute wank along the way. With that in mind, and with the brand new Hellraiser reboot now officially out in the world, here's how we rank every entry into the series that has emerged thus far.
11. Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)
What happens when a film company hastily chucks together a Hellraiser sequel in a matter of weeks so they can keep the rights to the franchise? This steaming lump of dung, apparently. A film sloshing about so far down the B-movie barrel that it makes previously iffy Hellraisers look like genre masterpieces, this is a perfect (shit)storm of diabolically bad acting, a poor script, plot holes so big you could shove Leviathan into them and, most unforgivably of all, a laughably bad Pinhead, who looks and sounds less like a majestic Hell Priest and more like a grumpy beanie baby who fell into your nan's sewing drawer.
With a plot following the fallout of two dickhead teenagers stumbling across the Lament Configuration puzzle box while they shag and drink their way across Mexico, you only need spend ten minutes with this turkey to understand why Doug Bradley chose not to return for a ninth outing as Pinhead after reading the film's script. "One way or another, this does not seem to me to represent a serious attempt to revive the Hellraiser franchise," he noted. He wasn't kidding. A couple of admittedly good uses of gore aside, this is pure rubbish.
10. Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)
Hellraiser going meta probably sounded like a high-five of an idea in whatever beleaguered production meeting Hellworld was birthed, but despite the series' eighth film making an earnest attempt at funnelling Hellraiser's mythology through a fun, post-00s teen slasher filter, it just doesn't work.
The concept is simple enough: in a world where the Hellraiser films already exist, a group of Cenobite-obsessed teenagers meet up at a Hellraiser-themed party before being introduced to the real deal (or so they think). Sadly, by this point, Wes Craven had long sewn up the meta-horror game with New Nightmare and the Scream trilogy, and not even the presence of future Superman Henry Cavill, Walking Dead mainstay Khary Payton and horror legend Lance Henrikson can save this one - even if the latter is clearly having a hoot.
9. Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
Many longtime Hellraiser fans would have been delighted at the news that Ashley Laurence was returning to the franchise as original series heroine Kirsty Cotton. What a shame, then, that her role in Hellseeker is effectively to serve as a plot device for Kirsty's no-good, cheating husband, Trevor, to undergo a journey that pretty much redistributes the psychological horror/thriller tropes of the far superior Hellraiser: Inferno - even rehashing that film's final twist.
As with so many later Hellraiser films, there's a sense that Hellseeker could have been a solid horror flick in its own right - a dirty hubbo unknowingly unpicking the seeds of his own demise is a compelling enough plot to wrap some splashes of gore around - but the Cenobites feel surplus to requirements here, and leading man Dean Winters - who's great in the likes of Oz and Brooklyn 99 - puts in a strangely cold performance. Ah, well.
8. Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)
Wait, a non-Doug Bradley Pinhead entry making it this far up the list? You betcha! After writing for disastrous previous instalment Revelations, longtime Hellraiser makeup maestro Gary Tunnicliffe was given more creative control to direct this surprisingly OK-ish tenth(!) film in the franchise.
It's yet another murder mystery plot (the series' third by this point), but the introduction of Cenobite-adjacent hell faction the Stygian Inquisition makes for an interesting expansion of Clive Barker's world, and the dynamic between Stygian member The Auditor (played by Tunnicliffe) and Pinhead (a respectable showing by Paul T. Taylor) is a refreshing new note. Ultimately, this is still very much best stored on the low-budget-horror-for-hardcore-horror-nerds shelf, but all things considered, Judgment could have been a lot worse.
7. Hellraiser: Deader (2005)
An interesting concept trapped by the production values of a particularly low-rent episode of Doctor Who, by the time Deader came along most horror fans probably had no idea the Hellraiser franchise was still rolling along. But roll it did, and this sequel detailing the exploits of a reporter investigating a mysterious cult was far from the worst addition to the series.
Kari Wuhrer's Amy Klein is one of the more likeable post-Kirsty Cotton protagonists in Hellraiser lore, and there are some legitimately bone-chilling moments here - despite being an obvious set-up, the corpse-holding-puzzle-box scene still shits us up. Still, as was so often the case in Hellraiser by this point, Pinhead et al feel forced into an otherwise solid story, turning up at the end to spit a few dramatic lines and tear some suckers to shreds. If that's all you're after for a Hellraiser fix, though, Deader just about ticks the box.
6. Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
Pinhead. In. Space. Incredibly, Bloodline's biggest flaw is not that that ludicrous idea made it beyond a piece of paper in the first place, but that it tries to do far too much with a budget, script and cast that just aren't up to anchoring the film's impressively lofty ambitions. Throw in a ton of studio interference that led to director Kevin Yagher using the dreaded, film-disowning Alan Smithee pseudonym, and you have a sequel with all the potential in the world failing to deliver the goods.
In theory, a would-be anthology film detailing the origins, present status and ultimate fate of the Lament Configuration, as witnessed through the box's creator and his descendants, is a pretty damn cool idea. Sadly, the jumps between 18th century France, 1990s New York and a 22nd century space station are mishandled and messy, and Bruce Ramsey just doesn't have the chops to carry one lead role here, let alone three. Luckily, some excellent gore, a handful of classic Pinhead one-liners and the introduction of the exquisitely rendered Angelique still make Bloodline an entertaining - if totally off-the-rails - addition to the Hellraiser canon.
5. Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992)
It may have come across like something written by a twelve year old who'd just watched half of Hellraiser and then huffed a load of dib-dab, but if you can forgive the fact that it completely ignores what made its two predecessors so effective, Hell On Earth is a blast. Shifting the narrative to America and going bigger, bolder and dumber than before, it rebrands Pinhead from a neutral, unprejudiced harvester of souls into a gleeful, bodycount-chasing maniac.
It wouldn't have worked were it not for a gamely performance by Doug Bradley, who seems to relish getting more ridiculous one-liners to chew on than ever, and some unquestionably cool set pieces (don't pretend like that church scene doesn't totally kick ass). It's all still nonsense, and a Cenobite that ejects CDs to chuck at people has to be the stupidest idea in the whole series, but leave your preconceptions at the door and embrace the daftness and you can appreciate this as a solid slice of fun, 90s slasher-horror. Plus, it gave us Lemmy and Pinhead playing poker in Motörhead's Hellraiser video. What's not to love?!
4. Hellraiser (2022)
David Bruckner’s much-hyped reboot may have got deserved plaudits for its inspired casting of Jamie Clayton as Pinhead, but there’s plenty more to admire in his visually arresting new direction for the franchise. Odessa A’zion’s Riley is an engagingly imperfect protagonist worth rooting for, while the Cenobites’ fleshy new threads are an imaginative wardrobe shift from the BDSM-projecting leather and chains of old. The reintroduction of Leviathan, too, is a lovely throwback to the originals that keeps in feeling with Hellraiser lore while allowing the film to carve its own bloody path.
It’s not perfect, mind. Bruckner’s film feels needlessly long at two hours, and there just don’t seem to be any of the sexually-charged subversions that underpinned the Hellraiser of old (basically: it’s nowhere near horny enough). There’s also an undeniable whiff of early-00s teen slasher - attractive young people literally get chased around a big, scary house by Cenobites at one point - which feels a little played-out given we were served that schtick 17 years ago with Hellworld. Still, as far as franchise refreshes go, Hellraiser 2022 does a very decent job and towers above most of the sequels to bear its name.
3. Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)
Directed by future cinematic horror heavyweight Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, Sinister, Doctor Strange), the script for Hellraiser: Inferno was, according to rumour, not originally intended for a Hellraiser film at all, allegedly altered late on to include Pinhead and his merry chums. Derrickson denied this, but it'd certainly make sense given how the film turned out. (As it happens, this approach to making Hellraiser films would become depressingly commonplace moving forwards).
On its own merit, Inferno is a great little psychological horror flick, displaying plenty of the flair that Derrickson would later stamp all over Hollywood. Centring on a corrupt police detective experiencing demonic visions while trying to solve a grisly child kidnapping, it's brimming with effective chills, cool visuals and a few doses of straight-up batshit craziness (kickboxing cowboy twins? Why not!). Unfortunately, the Hellraiser mythos just doesn't fit neatly into it all, creating a jarring narrative which never quite clicks enough to produce a fully coherent movie. What a riot, though.
2. Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988)
Picking up almost directly where its predecessor left off, Hellbound does a great job of fleshing out Hellraiser's world and introducing some of the series' most iconic moments (we've all seen the memes riffing on the 'I am in hell, help me' scene, right?). Flipping the set-up of the original to send Kirsty Cotton and evil stepmum Julia into hell, the sequel also introduces a great new antagonist in the sinister and deliciously hammy Dr Channard, who eventually becomes an end-of-level-boss Cenobite that even manages to give Pinhead - actually given a mini-redemption arc here - an absolute ass-whuppin'.
Receiving mixed reviews upon release, the film has since quite rightly been reappraised as a fine entry into the franchise, managing to retain the terror and gruesome thrills of the original while introducing new strokes that felt in line with Barker's vision. Quite frankly, if nothing else, it deserves kudos for the outrageously daft plot twist of having someone wear another person's skin as a disguise.
1. Hellraiser (1987)
Subversive, visually striking, fantastically gross and packing enough legendary one-liners to give Freddy Krueger a run for his money, the original Hellraiser unarguably remains the best. While there was no way in hell that Pinhead wasn't going to become the standout character, you can see why Clive Barker felt Claire Higgins' increasingly demented turn as Julia Cotton would carry the series moving forwards; much like Pamela Voorhees in Friday The 13th, she's a brilliant villain that deserves recognition in her own right, despite being largely forgotten as the series progressed.
That said, there really is no competing with Pinhead. Dominating every scene he's in, he's one of the most visually compelling characters in all of horror, and there can be no surprise that Doug Bradley's imperious delivery - a bold departure from the source material - made him an instant fan favourite. His supporting cast of Cenobites, too, are a work of gruesome magic, looking like a cross between a Cannibal Corpse album cover and an underground BDSM rave. A shout-out should also go to Ashley Laurence's Kirsty, who remains the series' best protagonist and a fine entry into the Final Girl Club, and to Christopher Young's excellent score, which seethes with drama and gothic menace. Many tried to better it, but the fact is, Clive Barker's Hellraiser really did have the best sights to show us...
Hellraiser lands on Hulu on October 4