Conversations With Pinhead: Doug Bradley On Cast Reunions, Old-School FX, And Tearing Your Soul Apart

Ah, London. Home of the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and soulless demons.

This year's London Film & Comic Con played host to a panel of stars from Hellraiser, including Clive Barker himself, Ashley Laurence, Oliver Smith and the almighty Pinhead himself: Doug Bradley.

Hellraiser is one of those films that I stayed up late to watch when I was about 12 years old and today have not yet fully recovered from the trauma. It was based on Clive Barker's short novel The Hellbound Heart and directed by Barker himself, since the writer had thus far been unsatisfied with other adaptations of his books. It's been nearly 25 years since the release of that first Hellraiser film, so to celebrate I stopped by Doug Bradley's table for a friendly chat.

Bleeding Cool: I was a bit scared to approach you, since you kind of haunted my childhood. No offence.

Doug Bradley: (laughs)

BC: A lot of your Hellraiser co-stars are here today. How long has it been since you've seen them?

DB: I see various bits and pieces of them. Clive I've always kept in regular contact with, in fact I just did a convention in Dallas earlier this year, and my fellow Cenobites [Simon Bamford AKA Butterball Cenobite and Nicholas Vince AKA Chattering Cenobite, who were sitting a couple of chairs down from Doug] I see fairly regularly, but it's always fun to see them again, I refer to it as "getting the band back together". Oliver [Smith, who played the skinless Uncle Frank] I have not seen since the last day we worked together on Hellraiser, so that is damn near to the day 25 years ago.

BC: So you've been in all the Hellraiser movies, and I wanted to ask a bit about the make-up process. How long did you spend in make-up for each film? And did it get faster with each film?

DB: Yes, to a point, I mean early on it was probably taking 5 or 6 hours, partly because people were feeling their way with the make-up. It speeded up to about 3 or 4 hours, sometimes faster but that's generally a standard time for that kind of make-up application.

BC: There are lots of incredible visual effects in all the films, would you say you had a personal favourite?

DB: Well, the whole sequence of Frank's birth in the first film, when he comes up out of the floorboards. Now that was thrown together pretty much at the last minute by Clive and Bob's [Keen, make-up designer] team pretty much improvising, and it's a magnificent sequence. I do remember seeing Hellraiser III for the first time, and that was the first time we'd used CGI effects. There's the one scene with the skinned girl that I have suspended in hooks and chains, and she gets skinned, and until I'd seen the film I hadn't seen the point at which I suck her skin off, and it was very cool.

BC: So how do you feel working with CGI?

DB: It is very different. As the movies went on I found myself doing green screen, which I'd never done before. I'm glad that the first Hellraiser movies were made before CGI became current, I like the fact that the special effects are handmade, they're done in real time, and they have an individual stamp on them, and it's true of all the movies, every movie has a certain stamp. I always point to Johnny Depp's death in A Nightmare on Elm Street, when he's in bed desperately trying to stay awake with the headphones and the record player and the TV set, and everything including him gets sucked down into the mattress when he falls asleep, and then they do that famous upside-down shot, where we see an unreal, an unnatural fountain of blood coming out.

Now you transfer that moment to now, and I didn't see the remake so I don't know if it was in there, you can see that sequence in your head in CGI and it's not as interesting. CGI is magnificent, Lord of the Rings could not have been made without it, but it's overdone and it's overused and it's very slick, it doesn't make mistakes. The handmade special effects made mistakes, and for me that's magic and poetry in a way that CGI can't manage

By this point I had eager fans crowding around me eagerly waiting to get Doug's autograph, so I decided to let them through, content in the fact that I had confronted Pinhead and come away from the encounter with my soul intact.

I then considered having a chat with Nicholas Vince, but since the Chattering Cenobite gave me more nightmares than the rest of them put together, I decided to instead go and look at stuffed toys from the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro, the perfect antidote to any dose of terror.

Brendon notes: Bradley's book Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor is is well worth the read.