"Demons to some, angels to others." That's one of the ways we're introduced to the Cenobites in Hellraiser, horror author and director Clive Barker's most enduring contribution to the visual lexicon of horror cinema. These "explorers in the further regions of experience" come when you solve a puzzle box called the Lament Configuration, and usually they drag you off to join them in a labyrinth that just might be hell. Not all of the Cenobites in Hellraiser originally had names - not even the "Lead Cenobite," who came to be known and loved as Pinhead - but they all have nicknames that stuck, and over the course of several movies, a number of other Cenobites were introduced. And between movies, books, and comics, the Cenobites have done some pretty gruesome things.
What are the Cenobites? In Hellraiser and its sequels, the Cenobites are explained as a sort of monastic order that serves Leviathan and views flesh as something to be modified and sculpted and that seems to draw no distinction between pleasure and pain. Here's a list of all the nastiest Cenobites from the Hellraiser, ranked by how vile and unpleasant they are. See if you agree!
A fan favorite, the Chatterer Cenobite has a particularly grisly appearance and a hauntingly tragic implied backstory. His face appears to be a featureless mass of scars except for his teeth, which are exposed by wires that pull his lips back into an eternal chattering grin. His origins are perhaps even more disturbing than his appearance. In Hellbound: Hellraiser II we get a glimpse of what the Cenobites were before they became what they are, and it is revealed that the Chatterer was a little boy who had solved the puzzle box and found himself at the mercy of the Cenobites.
Appearances: The original Chatterer Cenobite was only in Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II, where he was slain by Dr. Channard, but several similar-looking Cenobites have shown up in later Hellraiser sequels including Hellseeker, Deader, and Hellworld.
Origins: In the movies, we're given very little insight into Chatterer's origins, other than that he was a young boy before becoming a Cenobite.
What Makes Them Nasty: In later films, it is revealed that the Chatterer Cenobite was especially favored by Leviathan for his ability to remake others into Cenobites, often in his own image, thus leading to the creations of other Chatterer-like Cenobites, including the Torso, "one of the most brutally altered former humans" among all the Cenobites.
The nastiest of the Cenobites has to be Pinhead, who has been played by Doug Bradley in no less than eight Hellraiser films. Pinhead wasn't always going to be the main antagonist of the series, though. Credited in the first film simply as "Lead Cenobite," even as the sequel was being made, the creators still planned to position Clare Higgins' Julia Cotton as the main villain. It wasn't until fans reacted to Pinhead with such enthusiasm the studio and the filmmakers realized they had a star on their hands.
While working as the screenwriter for the 1985 film Underworld, Clive Barker had envisioned a special effect in which syringes sprouted from a person's skin. Combining that imagery with elements from nkondi figures of the Congo, he created the character who would become known as Pinhead on set, a name that would ultimately stick and become canon. As the leader of the Order of the Gash, Pinhead is the lead Cenobite, and as played by Barker's friend Doug Bradley, he gets all the best lines.
Appearances: Pinhead is the only Cenobite who shows up in literally every Hellraiser movie, from the first to the most recent. In all but the latest two, he is played by Doug Bradley.
Origins: In his previous life, Pinhead was Captain Elliot Spencer, who fought in the Battle of Somme during WWI. The bloodshed and loss of life he saw on that battlefield ultimately pushed him to seek the Lament Configuration and become a Cenobite. In Hellraiser III, Pinhead and Captain Spencer are split into two separate entitites, only to be gruesomely fused back together before the end of the film.
What Makes Them Nasty: As the lead Cenobite for no less than 10 films, Pinhead has orchestrated all sorts of nastiness, though he may never have topped the visceral gruesomeness of his revenge against Frank Cotton at the end of the first film. When he's confronted by two security guards who are, unwittingly, about to become Cenobites themselves in Hellraiser IV, Pinhead memorably informs them that "pain has a face" and this is it.
Sure, she doesn't get many ines, but the "Female Cenobite," sometimes referred to by fans as "Deep Throat" due to the peeled-open throat wound she sports, gets to deliver some particularly chilling dialogue during her two appearances, helping Pinhead to explain to Kristy how Cenobites work.
Appearances: She never gets a real name, but the Female Cenobite shows up alongside Pinhead and the rest of his original crew in both Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II. A different Female Cenobite also appears in Hellraiser: Revelations.
Origins: The films don't give the Female Cenobite an origin, but like the other Cenobites, she reverts back to her human form when she is slain by Dr. Channard in Hellraiser II.
What Makes Them Nasty: Because she wasn't covered over with as much prosthesis as some of the others, the Female Cenobite is the only one of the original group besides Pinhead who has any lines, meaning that she gets to say things like, "Perhaps we prefer you," when Kristy offers to lead them to Frank.
While most of the Cenobites were once human, Angelique was a demon, the princess of hell and the daughter of Leviathan. When she was summoned to earth by Duc de L'Isle, she possessed a female corpse and was later transformed into a Cenobite by Pinhead. As a Cenobite, she wore a slinkier-than-usual leather outfit and had the top of her head peeled open, exposing her cranium.
Appearances: Angelique appears in Hellraiser: Bloodline where she is attempting to put an end to the descendants of Phillipe Lemarchand, a French toymaker who created the Lament Configuration.
Origins: Angelique is unique (so far as we know) among Cenobites, in that she was never human. Her human body was part of a ritual to summon the demon princess Angelique, who was the daughter of Leviathan.
What Makes Them Nasty: Angelique spent 400 years trying to destroy the bloodline of Phillipe Lemarchand so they could never complete his dream of creating a sort of anti-Lament Configuration, know as the Elysium Configuration. If that's not enough, in a deleted scene from the movie, she creates several pseudo-Cenobites which lure in and knock off Lemarchand's best friend. They then present Lemarchand with a drum made from his friend's face.