Doug Bradley as Pinhead in 'Hellraiser'

A Horror Fan’s Guide to the ‘Hellraiser’ Series

Aren’t we all just drawn to Hellraiser like a magnet to a particularly prickly pin cushion? In this perverse carnival of the bizarre, opening a mere puzzle box can mean an eternity of, shall we say, “unique” physical therapies from the underworld. Clive Barker conjured up a franchise where BDSM enthusiasts look positively tame compared to our beloved Cenobites.

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Through its many sequels, the franchise has tackled everything from family drama to interstellar travel. While some entries are more comparable to a confusing Rubik’s Cube than the iconic Lament Configuration, they’ve all contributed to a legacy that reminds us of one crucial life lesson: if someone hands you a creepy, old puzzle box, maybe just stick to Sudoku. For those brave souls ready to embark on a journey of torment and terror, behold the Hellraiser movies, in the order in which they were unleashed upon the world. 

1. Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser puzzle box being held by Frank Cotton, a douchebag.
(New World Pictures)

1987’s Hellraiser taught us that family reunions can be hellish, especially when Uncle Frank decides to redecorate the attic with some unconventional … choices (it’s skin. He uses skin). Clive Barker, in his directorial debut, introduced the world to a particularly gnarly group of otherworldly enthusiasts with a penchant for chains and leather: the Cenobites. 

And at the helm? Pinhead (Doug Bradley), the thinking man’s nightmare, with a forehead that looks like a failed game of tic-tac-toe. Now, if one were to take any relationship advice from this film (and I’d advise against it), it’s this: if your long-lost lover asks for a bit of blood to regain his human form, it’s time to press “block.”

2. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

A room full of strange pictures in 'Hellbound- Hellraiser II'
(New World Pictures)

Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, which could alternatively be titled “What Happens in Hell, Stays in Hell (Unless It Escapes Through a Portal),” kicks off with a refresher course in “How Not To Renovate Your Home.” But soon enough, our plucky heroine Kirsty is off to a psychiatric hospital—because where else do you go after hosting a Cenobite party? 

Notably, the hospital is run by a doctor whose methods are questionable at best. We’re treated to a grand tour of Hell, which, to be fair, isn’t entirely dissimilar from a trip to the DMV on a busy day. Amid the chaos, we learn family is forever—sometimes even in hell. Hellbound essentially confirms our sneaking suspicion that behind every infernal puzzle box, there’s a convoluted backstory. 

3. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

Pinhead in Hellraiser III- Hell on Earth
(Miramax Films)

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth begins with Pinhead—still the universe’s least subtle acupuncture devotee—trapped inside a rather chic art sculpture. Now, a key lesson from previous films should have been: “Avoid antique purchases of dubious origin.” But some folks never learn. 

As the chaos unfolds in a trendy nightclub, we’re left wondering if this is a critique of early ‘90s club culture or just another Tuesday night for the Cenobites. Pinhead seems to be taking a gap year, exploring earthly pleasures and wreaking havoc without his usual constraints, serving up a wonderful mix of mischief and philosophical banter. 

4. Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) 

Pinhead holding the Lament Configuration in Hellraiser- Bloodline
(Miramax Films)

When you’ve exhausted earthly pleasures and hellish misadventures, the next logical step is, of course, space. Hellraiser: Bloodline catapults us through a three-century narrative that starts in 18th-century France—because nothing screams “Cenobite genesis” like pre-Revolutionary Parisian drama. Fast-forward to the 1990s and the puzzle box is still causing family feuds worse than any game of Monopoly. 

Then we’re whisked away to the 22nd century aboard a space station. Here, technology reigns supreme, but ancient demonic puzzles still perplex humanity. The story elegantly ties together the Lament Configuration’s origin, present, and future. You’d think, though, after generations of poor choices and Cenobite-fueled mayhem, the family would have settled on safer hobbies.

5. Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)

Hellraiser- Inferno (2000)
(Miramax / Dimension Films)

Hellraiser: Inferno jumps into the new millennium with a twist. Gone are the overtly gruesome family reunions and space escapades. Instead, we’re treated to a neo-noir detective tale that feels like it had a one-night stand with a horror film. Detective Joseph Thorne, with his penchant for chess as well as less wholesome pastimes, finds the infamous Lament Configuration. 

From there, things spiral into a maze of moral dilemmas and reality-bending encounters faster than you can say, “I shouldn’t have touched that puzzle box.” Pinhead returns, though this time, he’s less of a party planner, and more of an ethereal therapist with an aggressive approach.

6. Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)

Hellraiser- Hellseeker (2002)
(Dimension Films)

Hellraiser: Hellseeker brings us back to more familiar territory, where past actions haunt present moments, and car insurance doesn’t cover “Cenobite-related mishaps.” The film gracefully reintroduces us to Kirsty Cotton. Her husband, Trevor, is our less-than-saintly protagonist, and he’s dealing with more memory gaps than a cheap USB stick. Accidents, amnesia, and the ever-present puzzle box weave a tale that feels like Memento had a lovechild with a BDSM catalog. 

Trevor’s journey of rediscovery isn’t precisely the uplifting type; as truths unravel, the line between reality and hallucination becomes as blurred as a Monet painting viewed from an inch away. Of course, Pinhead makes his appearance, still impeccably dressed and as prickly as ever.

7. Hellraiser: Deader (2005)

Pinhead and his Cenobites in 'Hellraiser: Deader'
(Dimension Films)

Evidently, some states of dead require additional emphasis. In Hellraiser: Deader, we’re tossed into the mysterious underbelly of Bucharest, where underground cults make East London’s hipster gatherings look like child’s play. Enter Amy, a reporter more tenacious than a cat with a new scratching post, assigned to investigate the “Deaders.”

She finds the accursed puzzle box because no Hellraiser film is complete without someone irresponsibly fidgeting with ancient artifacts. The Cenobites, presumably tired of the English-speaking world, decide to take a Romanian vacation. Pinhead remains as sartorially sharp as ever, although his patience for humanity’s antics is wearing thin. 

8. Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005) 

Hellraiser- Hellworld
(Dimension Films)

In Hellraiser: Hellworld, a popular online game, “Hellworld,” has attracted a devoted fanbase. A group of die-hard gamers receives exclusive invitations to a “Hellworld” party, which should be a major red flag. The shindig, held in a creepy mansion (because where else?), promises fun, frights, and occasional fatal encounters with a particular pin-cushioned individual. 

Pinhead, clearly modernizing his operations, is in cahoots with the party’s enigmatic host. One wonders how, between managing inter-dimensional torment, he found the time to coordinate a social event. During the bacchanalian revelry, attendees start questioning reality—was it the copious alcohol or the game’s immersive allure? This installment blurs the lines between virtual obsession and tangible terror. 

9. Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)

Hellraiser Revelations
(Dimension Extreme)

In Hellraiser: Revelations, thrill-seeking pals Nico and Steven head south of the border for what they hope will be some fun debauchery. Little do they know, their biggest revelation won’t be the unpleasant after-effects of cheap tequila, but instead—you guessed it—that pesky Lament Configuration. 

These boys, in their infinite wisdom, film their escapades. I mean, if a puzzle box is opened in Mexico and it’s not on camera, did it even happen? Back home, a drama unfolds as families gather around a video feed, watching in horror. Pinhead graces us again, though this time with a bit of a makeover. Whether it’s the stress of millennia or just a lousy skincare day, he’s looking a bit different. 

10. Hellraiser: Judgment (2018) 

Hellraiser - Judgment
(Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

2018 brought us Hellraiser: Judgment, in which Hell undergoes a little rebranding. Gone are the days of chains and leather, replaced by an infernal police force and auditors; even the abyss needs good bookkeeping. The film introduces us to detectives Sean and David Carter, who, in hunting an infamous serial killer, stumble upon a world where HR complaints get a tad more visceral. 

The Cenobite crew, headed by our beloved Pinhead, now has a more elaborate M.O. involving judgment (cue title) and a meticulous processing system for souls. Honestly, it’s all very administrative. While attempting to mesh crime procedural with the trademark Hellraiser horror, one can’t help but chuckle at the thought of Pinhead waiting for paperwork or having a team-building day. 

11. Hellraiser (2022)

the new pinhead in Hellraiser (2022)

Here comes the reboot. Given how many reboots are complete disasters that piss off both critics and die-hard fans, 2022’s Hellraiser wasn’t a total waste. It’s surprisingly well-made, with stunning visuals and a haunting soundtrack. The film follows the story of Riley McKendry, a recovering drug addict who accidentally (of course) summons the Cenobites. 

As Riley and her pals give in to their darkest desires, they are sucked into a vortex of hedonism and excess. But the Cenobites are always there, watching and waiting. And when Riley’s friends start to disappear, she realizes that she must find a way to stop them before it’s too late.

(featured image: New World Pictures)

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Faith Katunga
Faith is a freelance journalist with an insatiable curiosity for all aspects of current events, from the global economy and fashion to pop culture and travel. She watches an absurd number of cat videos on Instagram when not reading or writing about what is going on in the world. Faith has written for several publications, including We Got This Covered, Italy Magazine, TheTravel, etc., and holds a master's degree in Fashion Culture and Management.