“Corey Taylor knows his horror”: an interview with Hellraiser's original Pinhead, Doug Bradley

Doug Bradley as Pinhead
(Image credit: Getty)

How many horror movie monsters can say they’ve starred in a Motörhead music video? Or recorded original vocals for Cradle of Filth? Hellraiser’s Pinhead can.

Actor Doug Bradley first played the Cenobite hell priest in Clive Barker’s 1987 directorial debut, Hellraiser. Bradley met Barker at school in the late sixties and, after collaborating together for over a decade, would go on to accept a small bit-part in Barker's low-budget film. It was just ten minutes of screen time, but it was enough to turn Bradley into a horror icon. Hellraiser became a full-blown franchise, with Bradley playing Pinhead in eight of the eleven films so far.

Between Barker’s twisted love story and Bradley’s chilling performance, the world of metal music would find an irresistible source of inspiration in Hellraiser. It’s a dark love affair that still holds sway thirty-five years later.

Now that Hulu's Hellraiser reboot has officially hit screens, and with our deep dive into Hellraiser's influence on metal in the latest issue of Metal Hammer, we invited original legend Doug Bradley to chat about his experience in the role and how it impacted metal culture forever.

Metal Hammer line break

How did you first get involved with Hellraiser?

"A few years after our theatre company had wound up, [Clive] mentioned to me, I mean, it was just as casual as, 'Oh, by the way, I'm trying to put together a low-budget British horror film and I think there might be a part in there for you.' And I probably said, 'Oh, cool, that sounds good. All right.' And we moved on to talk about the price of fish or whatever. It was kind of casual.

The context for me at the time was that it was another project to work on with Clive. For me, it was an ongoing process. It wasn't, suddenly I'm doing this movie. It was my first movie, and that was kind of intimidating. And I had never been to theatre school, so I hadn’t had any formal teaching in that regard. Some will say it shows! So that's very much the context for me approaching Hellraiser."

Hellraiser was unlike anything else in horror at the time, and Clive was a first-time director. Did these two factors cause apprehension on set?

"I can't really answer that, to be honest, because I didn't see anything other than the Cenobites’ bit! I mean, you're right — you've got someone like Andy Robinson coming in, who’s just been playing Scorpio for Clint Eastwood, and now he's rolling up at Cricklewood Production village, which was not the most well-appointed film facility, to say the least!

I dare say there must have been some hesitation in people's minds. I mean, not from Ashley [Laurence] because it was her first movie. She was thrilled and delighted to be coming over to England and she had already been excited just by the audition process with Clive. There must have been doubts and hesitations because Clive had never really set foot on a grown-up film set."

There’s a rumour that Clive tried to borrow a library book on directing the day before shooting started…

"And I would guarantee it's probably true! I don't think it was actually called Directing Movies for Idiots but more like a How to Direct a Movie kind of book, and he’d had it out of the library before. Crouch End Library, we’re talking about. Take a bow, Crouch End! So, he went to get this book out in the run-up to doing the film, and the book was checked out! 

There's another apocryphal story — I don't check these things with him, but I've heard it many times, and I hope it's true because I think it's great. Day one he rocks up, and his DP and his cameraman and the first AD Selwyn Roberts are there. Clive said, 'So, who's in charge here?' And there was kind of a silence, and a shuffling of feet, and then someone said, 'Well… you are.'"

Pinhead’s dialogue is legendary. Do you have any favourite lines? 

"I don't really have one because they were all so damn good! I always instance the one that I first put a circle around in the script, and I wrote next to it ‘gag’, not meaning ‘gag’ like vomit but ‘gag’ like joke, which was 'No tears, please. It's a waste of good suffering.'

What I was thinking was, 'I've got to make people laugh. Through this makeup and everything else, I've got to make people feel, ‘Oh that’s funny, he’s a funny guy’, while at the same time, it must be a nervous laughter because if tears are a waste of good suffering, why is he concerned about conserving suffering for later? What's he saving up for us? And I got exactly the response that I was looking for from the audience."

Were there any weird moments during filming where you just had to trust the process?

"Early on, I was getting one note and one note only from Clive. We’d do a take and he’d come over and say, 'This looks incredible, you’ve no idea. Do less.’ And I said 'okay'. So, we went again, and I tried to take it down a bit, and he's back at me: 'Oh god, this looks so great, so great. You’ve no idea, it looks amazing. Do less.'

I took it down, and he comes back again with the same excitement, same note, 'do less'. And I don't know whether I actually said to him, 'You know, this is a bit difficult as an actor because if you keep on being told, "do less, do less, do less, do less", you wind up where you feel like you're just standing on your marks, not emoting anything. And just speaking words.'

And really what Clive was saying to me was: 'Do exactly that. Do nothing. The makeup is working overtime on your behalf. And by the time your face is 20 feet tall on a movie screen, you don't need to do anything else. And the more you don't sell it, the more you're selling it.'"

Do you think that impenetrable mystique is what makes Pinhead so scary?

"While [Clive] felt the makeup was great, and he didn't want it changed at all, my baby blues coming through was kind of softening and undercutting it. As a result of the screen test, the decision was taken to put the black contact lenses in. That’s what makes [Pinhead] completely inscrutable because it's like talking to someone with mirrored sunglasses on. It’s always very difficult to have a conversation with someone like that because you can't read the eyes. That's what happens with Pinhead — he becomes absolutely inscrutable and, therefore, more threatening. 

The threat is absolute because he's not doing anything. I've always said that the image is received pain: 'All the nails are in my head, and I'm fine with that. Look what was done to me,' or 'Look what I did to myself.' We wouldn't know the difference at that point. 'Now imagine what I could do to you if I have half a mind' is the unspoken threat.

It’s clear that metal music has borrowed heavily from Hellraiser’s aesthetic over the years

"Well, yes, I suppose! I'm trying to remember specifically which member of Slipknot has the Pinhead-esque mask [Craig Jones]. But when Slipknot appeared, I got a lot of people asking, 'Have you seen this? Have you seen this?'

Quite a lot of metal costuming seems to nod fairly heavily towards Hellraiser. The leather, the disfiguration, the metal! The female Cenobite has that metal construction around the neck. Pinhead’s flesh is literally hooked to his costume. So, all the elements are there, I suppose."

How does it feel to be a mainstay in metal culture?

"With everything else that comes along on the back of [Hellraiser], it's kind of weird, and it's very humbling and exciting at the same time. I sort of wish to some extent that I was more active in the metal scene — that I was more of a fan of metal music.

I mean, in [Dani Filth’s] case, he was something of a trailblazer with the kind of music that Cradle were doing, and I just love him as a guy. He’s a great performer. Where the hell he produces those two voices from — that basso profundo growl and then that falsetto — without completely wrecking his vocal cords is a mystery to me. He’s a smart writer, and that shines out. And that’s really the reason I’ve kept going back to work with him. I’ve also chatted with Corey Taylor."

Corey really knows his horror…

"Yes, he does. But they all do! I was just at the Silver Scream convention […] in Danvers, Massachusetts just outside Boston. It's really a convention built around Ice Nine Kills, and I was talking to Spencer [Charnas] and he's completely immersed in horror. Kirk from Metallica was reputed to have one of the biggest private horror collections around and roll it all the way back to Alice and Ozzy."

Wasn’t Alice Cooper photographed wearing a Pinhead T-shirt?

"That’s one of the proudest moments of my life. I think it was a Sunday Times interview. You know, the big interview — the two-page interview that they used to do, with Alice Cooper. And I thought, 'Well, that's cool. Alice with his Pinhead shirt on!'"

The brand new issue of Metal Hammer, featuring a deep dive into the making of the original Hellraiser movie, is out now. Order it online and have it delivered straight to your door.

Metal Hammer issue 367

(Image credit: Future)

Metal Hammer issue 367

(Image credit: Future)