Saturday, 15 March 2014

Doctors of Distress

Over at the excellent Behind the Couch blog, James Gracey has been tinkering with a Lemarchand’s box and is currently journeying through the netherworld of all 9 (?) Hellraiser films. He’s currently up to the fourth film in the series, Bloodline, so why not pop over, and join him on his exploration of the labyrinth - hopefully after Hellraiser: Revelations, he'll find his way back. For this post my thoughts turn to the flawed but fantastic Hellbound and from that film, the legendary still of Pinhead and the Female Cenobite dressed in surgeon attire. In the pre-Internet days, when movie myths flourished unchecked (remember reports of a ghostly apparition seen in Three Men and a Baby?), one of the more tantalizing stories to grease the rumor mill was of a sequence in Hellbound so unspeakably graphic and disturbing it had to be left on the cutting room floor.

The truth of the matter fell well short of what was depicted in the feverish imaginations of Hellraiser fans (me included!). Hellbound's writer Peter Atkins wrote a sketchy sequence where Kirsty and Tiffany chance upon two innocuous looking doctors in the corridor of the Channard Institute. Moments later the doctors transform into Pinhead and the Female Cenobite. Speaking on the Hellbound DVD featurette Under The Skin, (2004) Doug Bradley, clearly at pains to retell this story (a favourite question among fans on the convention circuit), reveals that Atkins' imagination finally outran Bob Keen and his special effects crew, the metamorphoses of the doctors into the Cenobites was too complicated a set piece to realize and the scene was abandoned. However, the set photographer, much to Bradley's regret, took some stills of the actors in costume, which in turn ended up on various VHS editions of the film (it featured on the back of the UK rental/sell-thru tapes, while the image was given centre stage on the Japanese Dentsu VHS and Pony Canyon laserdisc)

UK VCI budget sell-thru tape - the image of Pinhead in surgical garb is reversed

Japanese Pony Canyon laserdisc sleeve - note the pre-Photoshop composite

Despite Doug Bradley thoroughly exploding the myth of Hellbound's lost scene, the image still seems to crave for a life of its own, and it's a shame the scene was never filmed, even in a less ambitious guise. The image of Pinhead in a bloodstained surgical gown powerfully echoes the film's darkly visceral bloodshed, and nicely dovetails the unseen surgeons flaying a man in Clive Barker's late 70's short film The Forbidden, the man at the end of the scalpel rather appropriately played by Peter Atkins...


  1. I'd noticed those images of Cenobites in surgical garb when reading up on Hellbound. Initially I thought they were from one of the later sequels, but then recognised Barbie Wilde's Female Cenobite from Hellbound. By the sounds of it, this scene would have perfectly enhanced the coldly forensic violence of the film. *shudders*
    Thus far, Hellbound has made the biggest impact on me in terms of unsettling, graphic imagery. Some of it is utterly sickening and therein lies the power of Hellbound. A TRUE horror film. I felt things I usually only feel when watching Fulci. No mean feat, I guess.

    Thank you kindly for the shout out, Wes! Hope you have a great, horror-filled weekend.

  2. Thanks James... Yes, I absolutely agree with you, Hellbound is a grueling experience, even the original watered-down BBFC version I saw in my teens packed a wallop. Seeing the film fully uncut is still a big thrill for me. I think it's the psychological undercurrent of the violence that really makes it work, like the character slashing himself with the switchblade, which is hardcore stuff, and a rare moment in a Horror film of self-inflicted violence - if I remember rightly, it was originally written (maybe even shot) that he also castrates himself. I think the first film has this quality as well, the scene that always makes me wince is when Julia takes a hammer to one of the strays she picks up at the bar. It's not a terribly explicit scene but it definitely has bite...

  3. For me, Hellbound was an odd one, in that I only really appreciated how dark and disturbing the film was on about my third re-watch ten years ago. Now it's a firm favorite, and I would rarely watch the first film without watching the 2nd.

    Funnily enough, I never noticed the surgical clothing photos before, but this was one I never actually saw on VHS. Looks interesting though, and I always wish there was something from the scene still in existence for us to look at.

  4. Yes, me too, despite the film being widely uneven, and featuring a vision of hell that looks like it was lifted from an old school death metal album cover. I love the creation of Pinhead sequence, and I love the skinless Julia - she might be all gloopy viscera but all credit to Deborah Joel (her only film credit it seems), she makes powerfully sexual... Peter Atkins screenplay is mostly great - the Channard Cenobite has way to many dumb lines ("I recommend... amputation!", but elsewhere it really cooks ("No more deals child, it is your flesh we want to experience, not your skill at bargaining")