You may not recognise him without several dozen nails protruding from his face, but Liverpool-born actor Doug Bradley is a true icon of the modern horror genre.
Best known for portraying the nightmarish Pinhead in eight of the ‘Hellraiser’ movies, Doug has been scaring film fans senseless for the last three decades.
To ring in Halloween, Your Move caught up with the actor to learn more about his formative years in Merseyside, what it was like being transformed into a monstrosity from hell and how he met Liverpool horror master and ‘Hellraiser’ creator Clive Barker.
You established yourself as a cult horror figure in the 1980s, but how did your acting career begin?
My journey as an actor began at Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool. I think I was in the third year and I got myself into the school play by marching up to the teacher who was directing it and demanding a role – I don’t think I’ve ever been that bold as an actor before or since.
So I got the part in the school’s production of ‘The Government Inspector’ and when I turned out for rehearsals I met a fellow cast member by the name of Clive Barker. I suppose in a lot of ways, being cast in that play was a life-changing moment.
Even at Quarry Bank Clive was writing, directing and starring in plays as well as hand drawing his own posters. I got sucked into that and eventually went to Liverpool University to study English, but it soon became apparent to me that I didn’t want to be sat in seminars talking about Doctor Faustus, I wanted to be on stage playing Mephistopheles.
A group of us constellated around Clive and we started to put our own theatre work together, and to me, that was far more interesting and exciting than the academic work, so I did the typical early 1970s hippie thing and dropped out of university.
We spent a few years in Liverpool doing experimental theatre, strange and exciting stuff. We were often given the Everyman Theatre – I doubt that’s something that would happen now – when it was available. We took it over for a week in 1973 and put on a wide range of different stuff.
How did you and Clive end up working on ‘Hellraiser’ together?
We both ended up down in London and formed a theatre group called The Dog Company. That project came to its natural conclusion around 1982, at which point Clive was already showing me handwritten manuscripts for short horror stories he was working on to earn some money. Many of them were tales which ended up in the ‘Books of Blood’ collection.
It was around this time that Clive first mentioned he was trying to put ‘Hellraiser’ together and thought there was a part I would be perfect for. The rest, I suppose is history, to some extent.
A year after that first conversation and almost 30 years ago today, production began on the original ‘Hellraiser’ in North London.
When you were making that film did you have any idea of the kind of longevity ‘Hellraiser’ would have?
It’s insane, absolutely insane. I cast my mind back to this cold, damp and misty morning. It’s 6am and I’m sitting in a fairly spartan makeup area preparing to have latex glued all over my head to play a character who didn’t have a name at that point. I was being paid equity minimum rates – if it had been any less I would have been an extra – to appear onscreen buried in latex for only around 10 minutes. Honestly, what did I have to be excited about?
It never crossed my mind that it would be such a significant part and I’m glad I went into it with no expectations. I approached it in the same way I’ve approached everything I’ve ever done. I’d been close to Clive’s imaginary world for the best part of 20 years by this time, and there was a lot about Pinhead that I recognised, in particular a character I played in one of Clive’s musicals.
If you said to me then that 30 years to the day I’d be speaking to you about this movie and would get to appear in seven sequels, I’d have laughed at you.
Was the makeup process for Pinhead as gruelling as it looks?
It was never really gruelling for me. Early on it was probably taking about five or six hours but that speeded up to about three or four hours when we were making the sequels. I was always fascinated by masking work having done a lot of it in theatre, so I approached the part excited by the makeup process. I didn’t fight it like some actors do.
Some actors find the process an inconvenience, but I never did. I just said on my backside drinking coffee, listening to music and making a general nuisance of myself.
It’s funny, I have specific musical memories attached to each movie. With ‘Hellraiser’, Capital Radio was always on and the song I associate with the film is ‘Red Rain’ by Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel because it was always playing – fortunately I love that song.
Is the long-mooted ‘Hellrasier’ reboot any closer to happening?
I think this year it will be 11 years since I first caught wind of plans to reboot ‘Hellraiser’ and as far as I can tell it’s no closer to happening now than it was back then. It got kicked up again a few years ago because Clive suddenly posted on his Facebook that Dimension Films had contacted him and said ‘let’s make this happen’.
Clive agreed to write it and asked for two things: creative control and me, and they said ‘yes’. So suddenly, everywhere I look I’m signed up to do the remake of ‘Hellraiser’. Over the last 11 years numerous directors have apparently been attached to the project only to drop out, and in all that time nobody has ever spoken directly to me about it, either to tell me they wanted me on board or wanted to go elsewhere. I’ve no idea what the current state of play is.
Was there ever any serious talk of crossing ‘Hellraiser’ over with other horror franchise, like they did with ‘Friday the 13th’ and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’?
I was told that the year before ‘Freddy vs Jason’ was released, Dimension Films rejected two scripts for a ‘Hellraiser-Halloween’ crossover, which was obviously where they would go because they owned both franchises.
I was told the reason they turned it down is because they didn’t think it would work. They predicted that ‘Freddy vs. Jason’ would bomb, but it opened at the top of the box office and stayed there for a second weekend – I think I’m right in saying that it was the first movie that year to do so.
After its success, Dimension wanted a ‘Hellraiser-Halloween’ movie made immediately, so it was certainly going ahead. I had a couple of phone conversations with Clive about it and I was getting quietly excited. Clive said he would write it and I heard reports John Carpenter would direct.
The version of events I got back on this is that the Akkad brothers who produced ‘Halloween’ retained control of the sequels and didn’t want the crossover to be made. I guess they didn’t want Michael Myers hanging around with the likes of Pinhead.
It’s been a while since you last played Pinhead. Do you miss having him in your life?
It’s been 14 since I last played Pinhead and I don’t pine for him. Two more ‘Hellraiser’ films have been made since then which I’ve declined involvement in, but I wouldn’t close the door on it and have never said it’s something I wouldn’t do again.
If I was going to find a bookend to playing Pinhead, it would be in a really good adaptation of [Clive Barker novel] ‘The Scarlet Gospels’. I love the book and really like what Clive did with the character.
Do you ever return to Liverpool to visit?
I moved over to the US permanently at the beginning of 2014 and was up in Liverpool just before that. I went up to see my sister who lives in Neston in Wirral. I’m sure I’ll be returning again soon.
I left Liverpool for London in 1977 but never a year went by that I wasn’t back in Liverpool. My family were there, so I was there every Easter and Christmas.
I’m inclined to say being from Liverpool has helped me in my acting career. I always felt like there was something in the water there because it never seems to stop. There seems to be a creative treadmill coming out of Liverpool all the time.
The city is in the marrow of my bones and that’s never going to change.