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How to be a Hellraiser, according to the newest Pinhead

Jamie Clayton and director David Bruckner talk about raisin’ hell

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Jamie Clayton has pins in her head and a flayed neck in full Pinhead get-up. Image: Spyglass Media Group/Hulu
Pete Volk (he/they) is Polygon’s Senior Curation Editor, with a particular love for action and martial arts movies.

It’s a Hellraiser kind of Halloween.

Sure, every Halloween is a good Halloween to watch a Hellraiser movie, but this year there’s a brand-new one: The Night House director David Bruckner’s reboot-ish continuation of the Clive Barker series, starring Jamie Clayton as the iconic Pinhead.

Clayton is the latest actor to step into Pinhead’s self-made leather boots. Polygon was lucky enough to catch up with Clayton and Bruckner over Zoom, where they explained what it actually takes to play a Pinhead and gave us a step-by-step guide to becoming a “hellraiser” yourself.

[Ed. note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

Step 1: Watch the original Hellraiser

Pinhead flanked by two other cenobites in front of some shuttered blinds in Hellraiser (1987) Image: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Clayton watched Clive Barker’s lauded 1987 film the night before her audition for Bruckner’s version, but Cenobite wannabes should feel free to watch it as many times as they want (on Prime Video, Shudder, or for free with ads on Tubi and Pluto TV). It’s one of the best horror movies ever made, as Bruckner will tell you, it’s a bit of a miracle that it even exists.

“I think about the original Hellraiser and I think it’s a marvel that all of those images were released at once in one movie,” he says. “It came out, and we’d never seen anything like that before.”

After watching the original, Clayton said she had “many, many, many” discussions with Bruckner over the minutest of details, like Pinhead’s posture and voice.

“I was very grateful to David for all of the time that he took,” she says. “He was working in Serbia months before any of us even arrived. David took so much time to schedule with me, late at night on Sundays [...] to sort of help me get to a place where I could really become the Priest.”

Step 2: Spend half your day getting into costume

Jamie Clayton in full Pinhead get-up looks to the left in Hellraiser Image: Spyglass Media Group/Hulu

For Hellraiser, Bruckner teamed up again with the makeup artists at Russell FX, who worked with him on The Night House and The Ritual. Clayton estimated it took between four and six hours to get in the Pinhead makeup, depending on the day, and another hour to remove it all at the end of the day.

What did she do during this long waiting time? Listen to music (Nina Hagen, Depeche Mode, and The Sisters of Mercy were on repeat) and zone out. Clayton says the Russells were “phenomenal” to work with.

“I could not have asked for more amazing makeup artists and confidants,” Clayton says. “I always say getting your makeup done is a very intimate experience. I mean, you have someone in your face like this [gestures right in front of face]. And with prosthetics, it’s a whole ’nother level of intimacy.”

“It’s a testament to the makeup effects team, because we have a lot of Cenobites,” Bruckner says. “They were really at the brink the entire time. It was kind of amazing what they were able to achieve.”

Step 3: Walk on set and astonish the crew

Drew Starkey screams while holding onto a vertical bar with a bloody hand in Hellraiser. Image: Spyglass Media Group/Hulu

So you’ve done your research, spent your time in the makeup chair — now you’ve just got to go out and do your thing. But that’s harder than it sounds when you’re under that much makeup.

“I remember saying to David a couple times, ‘Is any of this working?’” Clayton says. “‘Is any of it reading, do I have any expression on my face at all?’ It’s completely glued and I can’t really move my face.”

That was not a concern for Bruckner, who was Clayton’s “eyes and ears” and reassured her throughout shooting.

“From the very first read that we saw, she scared the hell out of me,” Bruckner says. “Pinhead has been burned into our memory in so many different ways. [...] We knew that you couldn’t do an impression of Doug Bradley. It’s too iconic. We’re going to have to find something that makes sense to us, something personal. Jamie instantly dropped into certain aspects of the character and had her own thing going. She found a curiosity in the Priest, a sensuality, like there was the feeling that the Priest could revel to some degree in her designs, whatever they may be, particularly when she has a subject in her clutches. That was really engaging for our story, but it was also kind of hypnotic for me to see.”

Even if Clayton couldn’t tell while she was filming, everyone else took notice. Bruckner said she would get “possessed” when the time came, leading to a palpable energy on set.

“You can always feel it on set,” Bruckner says. “A hush falls over the crowd, the crew pays their respects. Her Majesty is here. And it is her turn to speak.”

Step 4: Raise hell

After mentally preparing, getting suited up, and shooting, there’s only one thing left — send it out into the world. And Clayton’s excitement can hardly be contained.

“I’ve been sitting in this for a year, not knowing what’s going to happen,” she says. “And finally people are starting to see it, and I’m starting to get caught [up in it] and really getting emotional. I’ve just been really worried and really scared. I mean, I liked it. Even David said to me after I saw it, ‘I’m so glad you like it.’ We’re all just, you know, on pins and needles.”

Hellraiser is available to stream on Hulu.