|The four Cenobites featured in The Hellbound Heart and the first two entries in the Hellraiser film franchise. From left: Butterball, Pinhead, the Female, and Chatterer.|
|Primary location:||"The Labyrinth"/Hell|
|First appearance:||The Hellbound Heart|
The Cenobites are extradimensional beings who appear in the works of Clive Barker, including the novella The Hellbound Heart and the nine Hellraiser films. They are also mentioned, in passing, in the novel Weaveworld, in which they are referred to as “The Surgeons.”
The Cenobites vary in number, appearance, and motivations depending on the medium (film, comic book, etc.) in which they appear. The involvement of multiple parties in the production of Hellraiser films and comics (many eschewing the creative supervision of Clive Barker) has led to varying levels of consistency regarding the canonical aspects of their philosophies and abilities. The only constants are that they take the form of ritually mutilated creatures with varying degrees of human characteristics, and that they can only reach Earth's reality through a schism in time and space, which is opened and closed using an innocuous-looking puzzle box called the Lament Configuration.
The term cenobite is a word meaning "a member of a communal religious order"; The Hellbound Heart specifies that they are members of The Order of the Gash. The text also refers to them as Hierophants.
Concept and design 
After being disappointed with the way his material had been treated by producers in Underworld, Barker wrote The Hellbound Heart as his first step in directing a film by himself. The book describes a group of sadomasochistic entities who live in an extradimensional realm, where they perform "experiments" in extreme sexual experiences. Although antagonist Frank Cotton believes they will take the form of beautiful women, they appear instead as monsters:
Why then was he so distressed to set eyes upon them? Was it the scars that covered every inch of their bodies, the flesh cosmetically punctured and sliced and infibulated, then dusted down with ash? ... No women, no sighs. Only these sexless things, with their corrugated flesh."
The four Cenobites described in the book each present unique mutilations and modifications: The principal Cenobite has stitches through his eyelids, another had a grid tattooed to its head with jeweled pins driven into its skull at the intersections, the third's eyes are swollen shut and its mouth heavily disfigured, and the fourth (and only female) Cenobite has undergone elaborate scarification to her pubis. The fifth, lead Cenobite, referred to as "The Engineer," appears briefly in the book's climax as an average human being whose body glows with intense light when he travels between realms.
After securing funding for a motion picture adaptation in early 1986, Barker and his producer Chris Figg assembled a team to design the cenobites. Among the team was Bob Keen and Geoff Portass at Image Animation and Jane Wildgoose, a costume designer who was requested to make a series of costumes for 4-5 'super-butchers' while refining the scarification designs with Image Animation.
"My notes say that he wanted ‘1. areas of revealed flesh where some kind of torture has, or is occurring. 2. something associated with butchery involved’ and then here we have a very Clive turn of phrase, I’ve written down, ‘repulsive glamour.’ And the other notes that I made about what he wanted was that they should be ‘magnificent super-butchers’. There would be one or two of them with some ‘hangers on’ as he put it, and that there would be four or five altogether.”
—Jane Wildgoose on Resurrection, Documentary on the Anchor Bay Hellraiser DVD, 2000
Barker drew inspiration for the Cenobite designs from punk fashion, Catholicism and by the visits he took to SM clubs in New York and Amsterdam. Each of the four primary Cenobites from The Hellbound Heart were featured in the film, with appearances based upon their descriptions in the book: The first Cenobite became Butterball, the second Pinhead, the third Chatterer, and the fourth The Female. The Engineer was drastically altered for the film, taking the form of a giant creature with characteristics of different predatory animals.
Character history 
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The Cenobites all have horrific mutilations and/or body piercings, and wear fetishistic black leather clothing that often resembles butchery garments or religious vestments. The clothing also serves to support their piercings and tools.
In their earliest incarnations, the Cenobites practice, with a religious devotion, a supernatural form of hedonism, manifested through the expansion of sensation to an extremely painful point of sensory overload, and enduring excruciating pain through incessant tortures that transcend traditional laws of physics. They can only obtain access to Earth through an ornately designed puzzle box called the Lament Configuration, which opens a dimensional schism. Their leader is identified only as The Engineer, who in addition to overseeing the Order is also responsible for the transformation of individuals into Cenobites. Their presence is occasionally preceded by a herald, referred to in cast lists as either Puzzle Guardian or Vagrant. As the latter name implies, he most often takes the form of a vagrant, offering individuals access to the puzzle box; the Guardian often indicates that the individual's own moral decay foreordained them to encounter the Cenobites, informing his "customers" that the box "Has always been yours."
The religious aspects of their origins and motivations are ambiguous: despite the presence of the word "Hell" in the franchise, the initial entries in the series — The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser — eschew any overt reference or iconography linking the Cenobites to any traditional Abrahamic or Eastern depiction of damnation, demonic nature, or Infernal origin; the Cenobites' form of "pleasure," and the realm in which they practice it, is simply so awful that it appears to be Hell to those unable to endure it. In Hellraiser, the lead Cenobite informs Kirsty Cotton that the Cenobites have been identified as both angels and demons by those they have encountered, and that the Cenobites merely see themselves as "explorers." They are completely amoral, their dedication to their lifestyle taking priority over any notions of right or wrong.
As the film and comic books series progressed, the Cenobites—particularly Pinhead—began to manifest traditionally evil and sinister traits. In Hellbound: Hellraiser II, the Cenobites' realm is identified as "Hell," although its depiction is removed from most traditional Abrahamic depictions, being presented as a gigantic, three-dimensional maze modeled on the works of M.C. Escher. Rather than Satan, this Hell is ruled by Leviathan, an abstract, ambiguously sentient god that takes the form of a giant, floating silver lozenge at the center of the labyrinth. This could also be an allusion to Thomas Hobbes' book The Leviathan in which he expresses his views about humans being selfish and determined on getting pleasure and avoiding pain.
In Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth and Hellraiser: Bloodline all references to the Cenobitic order and their devotion to hedonism were completely expunged. Pinhead was instead presented as a demon, intent on the conquest of Earth and the subjugation of all humans. A crucial subplot to Bloodline centers on the premise that Hell has undergone a revolution and has abandoned the traditional Boschian concept of itself in favor of a more austere, militant embodiment of pain and torment.
Hellraiser: Inferno revised the Hellraiser universe as a morality tale; although they are linked with Hell, the Cenobites are not presented as predatory, but rather as punitive agents tasked with punishing the damned for their sins. Hellraiser: Hellseeker combines the mythos of the first two Hellraiser films with the moralistic nature of Inferno, as the Cenobites agree to spare the innocent Kirsty in exchange for the opportunity to punish her adulterous husband and his conspirators in a murder-for-money plot.
Hellraiser: Deader nominally utilizes the mythologies of both Hellbound, and Bloodline; a descendant of the puzzle box's creator seeks to access the realm of the Cenobites, believing it is his birthright to rule over them and thus achieve control over the "pleasures" they are capable of giving. When the Cenobites eventually appear, though, Pinhead indicates that they are blatantly demonic, instead of the amoral "explorers" as he described them in Hellraiser.
Hellraiser: Hellworld is a metafilm in which the Hellraiser franchise has spawned a popular MMORPG called Hellworld, and features aspects of the Cenobites derived from many films in the series. The film toys with the idea that the franchise is at least partially grounded in reality, with one character finding a puzzle box that actually functions to summon Pinhead.
Hellraiser: Revelations returns to the depiction of the Cenobites from The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser.
Hellraiser comic book series 
In 1989, following the success of the Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Epic Comics began publishing a series of comic book spin-offs for the Hellraiser franchise. The comics contained a set of short stories, with Clive Barker acting as a consultant on all of the comics. Epic published twenty regular series comics, from 1989 to 1992.
The comic book series largely adopted a narrative structure similar to The Twilight Zone with ironic twists to accentuate the impact of the ending, and retained continuity with the second film. However, a series of recurring Cenobite characters was created, and a unifying agenda carried many intermittent and continuing story arcs throughout the run. Although Pinhead was one of these recurring characters, his presence was eclipsed by a number of other prominent Cenobites (particularly one known as "Hunger" due to his cachetic appearance) who acted as antagonists and protagonists. In the comics, Hell was depicted as a power working against opposing, humanistic deities in a conflict of philosophies regarding otherworldly concepts of order and chaos. Although never expounded by their writers with any definite clarity, the philosophy held by Hell and its god Leviathan is depicted as a militant belief in "order" that finds the humanistic aspects of flesh to be a hindrance/obstacle to it; apparently, suffering is viewed as having a cosmic, universal truth and importance to this order, and the Cenobites' concepts of pleasure and application of it through torture are seen as bringing order to the flesh. The conflict between Leviathan and its enemies is manifested as wars, propaganda campaigns, or by individual victories characterized by obtaining new victims.
Powers and abilities in the films 
||This section may contain original research. (January 2011)|
The Cenobites possess certain abilities unique to their own individual natures and appearances, but they do possess universal traits in varying degrees. They are separated from Earth by a dimensional rift called The Schism, which cannot be traversed without a dimensional bridge such as the Lament Configuration. They are bound by the pliable physics of their home dimension, which gives them the abilities of teleportation and remote viewing when present on Earth, but they are restricted in their use of it; the Cenobites cannot come to Earth without the aid of the Lament Configuration, and can remain only for the duration of their summoning. Once they have taken the person who has summoned them, they must return. The Cenobites have no reservations about the circumstances of the person who summons them; but they can distinguish whether the one who physically opened the box is the summoner is or merely a tool or an instrument of coercion. The box itself can be solved in two main fashions, one of which allows them to open the gateway from Hell, and a more complex method which can physically open the dimensional gateway from Earth.
Their powers manifest primarily in forms of telekinesis, which they can use to snatch objects from people or to manifest lengths of chain from their native realm to ensnare and rend their victims into pieces. The Cenobites have a limited ability over death: victims can be tortured to the point of total discorporation and reconstituted indefinitely if taken alive, but they cannot resurrect a person who has died by hands other than their own. They have demonstrated near invulnerability to injury and pain inflicted by mortal weapons from Earth's dimension, implying that they can be stopped only with supernatural/mythical abilities, and banishment to their native plane. They have also demonstrated the ability to shapeshift in both the comics and later film sequels.
In written works 
- Barker, Clive. The Hellbound Heart. Chapter One.
- Evolution Of A Character - Pinhead