Cenobite (Hellraiser)

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Hellraiser race
First appearanceThe Hellbound Heart
Created byClive Barker

The Cenobites are extra-dimensional beings who appear in the works of Clive Barker, including the novella The Hellbound Heart as well as its semi-sequel The Scarlet Gospels, the ten Hellraiser films, and (intermittently) in Hellraiser comic books between 1989 and 2017. 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 with respect to their philosophies and abilities; for instance, their powers were much reduced in the 1992 film Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth compared with the first two films.[1] The only constants are that they take the form of ritually mutilated people 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 Hellbound Heart specifies that they are members of The Order of the Gash.[2] Cenobites were once human, having transformed to their current state in their pursuit of gratification.[3]

Concept and design[edit]

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.[4]

Author David McWilliam notes that the Cenobites as described in more explicitly sexual terms in the book compared with their depictions in the film adaptations.[2] The four Cenobites described in the book each present unique mutilations and modifications: one Cenobite has stitches through its eyelids and a system of chains with bells hooked into various parts of its body; another has a grid tattooed to her head with jeweled pins driven into her skull at the intersections; the eyes of yet another are swollen shut and its mouth heavily disfigured; finally, a 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.[5]

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[5]

Barker drew inspiration for the Cenobite designs from punk fashion, Catholicism, and by the visits he took to SM clubs in New York City and Amsterdam.[5] 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.

Hellraiser comic book series[edit]

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, and Clive Barker acted as a consultant on all of the comics. Epic published twenty regular series comics, from 1989 to 1992.[2]

In written works[edit]

In film[edit]

Julia, played by Claire Higgins, was Barker's choice to carry the series as its main antagonist after Hellbound, reducing the Cenobites to a background role. However, fans rallied around Pinhead as the breakout character, and Higgins declined to return to the series.[6] In The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters, David McWilliam writes that the Cenobites "provide continuity across the series, as the stories become increasingly stand-alone in nature".[2]


  1. ^ Muir 2011, p. 235.
  2. ^ a b c d McWilliam 2016, p. 74.
  3. ^ Pascuzzi 2019, p. 98.
  4. ^ Barker, Clive. The Hellbound Heart. Chapter One.
  5. ^ a b c Evolution Of A Character - Pinhead
  6. ^ Kane 2006, p. 59.

Cited texts[edit]

  • McWilliam, David (2016). Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew (ed.). The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. Routledge. ISBN 9781317044260.
  • Kane, Paul (2006). The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy. McFarland & Company. ISBN 9780786477173.
  • Pascuzzi, Francesco (2019). The Spaces and Places of Horror. Vernon Press. ISBN 9781622738632.
  • Muir, John Kenneth (2011). Horror Films of the 1990s. McFarland. ISBN 9780786484805.