DONE WITH DEMONS
The Doug Bradley interview
By Tom Mes
There was a time when the diet of the horror enthusiast seemed to consist solely of slasher movie sequels. But during that period, when the likes of Jason, Freddy and Michael ruled the screen, a group of Brits under the aegis of writer/director Clive Barker stood up to challenge the jaded terror titans with a wholly original vision on horror called Hellraiser. With its central character, swiftly nicknamed Pinhead, a new icon was born. Actor Doug Bradley was the man who brought him to life. Now that the cinematic slasher has risen from the grave thanks to Scream, Pinhead has returned as well. Well, sort of. Doug Bradley stars as a maniacal dentist in a great horror short entitled On Edge, made by promising young writer/director Frazer Lee. We were more than ecstatic to meet up with Doug Bradley and talk about On Edge and the rich history of Pinhead.
TM: You're currently starring in On Edge, a short horror film directed by Frazer Lee. How did you get involved with this?
Doug Bradley: Frazer sent me the script, basically. He says I was his first choice to do it. He is a big fan of the Hellraiser movies. I have an illustrated lecture I do, called The Man In The Mask, which I did about three or four years ago and Frazer came to that. Of course I didn't know this until recently. He sent me the script and I liked it, knew Christopher Fowler's work, knew nothing at all about Frazer.
Of course my agent gave me the usual "These people have no money, you don't want to work for charity, bla bla bla bla", but I liked the script. I met Frazer and [producer] Joseph Alberti, liked them, liked their plans and their ideas and their ambition and agreed to do it.
TM: You're playing another bad guy again. Another one in a long, long line.
Doug Bradley: (smiles) Yes. It's inevitable once the Hellraiser thing is behind you. Before Hellraiser, which was actually my first film, I'd done ten years of nothing but theatre. Theatre was the reason that I became an actor, so I'd done the whole range of things in the theatre, including quite a lot of comedy, which I'd enjoyed doing. But obviously once you've made your mark playing a character like Pinhead, people don't automatically think of you when there's a comedy role coming up.
With On Edge, although it's a serious horror piece, there's a healthy dash of black humour in it, which I enjoyed playing. Most of the best horror films do. Pinhead certainly had a very strong element of dark, sardonic humour. I mean the first time I read the Hellraiser screenplay, one of the first lines I honed in on was "No tears please, it's a waste of good suffering". I thought, well, as things go with Pinhead, this is a gag.
TM: I understand you were a friend of Clive Barker's quite early on, from youth.
DB: Yes. I met Clive at high school, when I was about fifteen, sixteen. I started working with him then. We had our own theatre company in Liverpool and subsequently in London in the late seventies, beginning of the eighties. And I still keep regularly in touch. That was how Hellraiser came about. He asked me to do it.
TM: There's this wonderful parallel between Pinhead and your character in On Edge. Clive Barker described Pinhead as a cross between a surgeon and...
DB: ...and a bureaucrat. Yes, and now it's dental surgery (laughs).
TM: And you're playing a character without latex make-up this time.
DB: Yes, which has its attractions (laughs). I mean, I've enjoyed working with make-up, but it brings a lot of baggage with it. Hours in the make-up chair and carrying the make-up around with you all day. It gets to be very wearing at times. If there's a couple of hours between shots you can never really relax, because you have the latex on all the time, you can't just switch the character off and just be a regular guy for a couple of hours. When you talk to people on set, they're looking at the make-up, reacting to you talking through the make-up all the time.
I have had a lot of fun with Pinhead, but it takes its toll. I've done two other roles in prosthetic make-up, in Nightbreed and in Proteus, so I'm well-used to what comes with it.
TM: Did the process of applying the make-up for the Hellraiser series change with every film, did it become shorter or easier for you?
DB: Well, no. Right at the beginning it was taking five or six hours, really because everybody was feeling their way with it, it is quite a complicated make-up. It came down to about three or four hours, but never really goes faster than that. It can't. There's a point at which you can't do it any faster, or you'd be cutting corners. So it stayed at about that level.
And the make-up has changed slightly during the films. It was, I believe, a six-piece application for the first two movies. For the third and fourth it was a two-piece, but that doesn't necessarily make it any quicker.
TM: I think there's a bit of a watershed between parts one and two on the one hand and parts three and four on the other. I believe Clive Barker's involvement became less after part two?
DB: Yes. Hellraiser III was the first time he had nothing at all to do with the storyline or the production of the film. He came on board at Miramax's request, when Miramax picked Hellraiser III up for distribution. They wanted Clive's name attached to it, "Clive Barker's Hellraiser". Clive said "Okay, but I want to see what I'm putting my name to". So we did some reshoots on Hellraiser III and Clive was then on board as executive producer, so he had a say-so in the post-production. But then the fourth movie he was very firmly back on board, it's his storyline. Peter Atkins worked from Clive's story and Clive was executive producer throughout the project.
But the real watershed between two and three, because we certainly would have made Hellraiser III the year after Hellraiser II came out, in fact a script was finished, already called Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, which Pete had written from Clive's storyline. There were a number of other things which crucially happened there. Film Futures, which was the production company that Clive was part of, that had got Hellraiser and Nightbreed off the ground, came to an end. Clive moved to Los Angeles and New World, who had put the money up for the first two Hellraiser films went bust. Which left us in a strange legal hiatus, because if New World owned the rights to the Hellraiser movies and New World didn't exist, where were the rights?
So there was a lot of legal tangling that went on and various attempt, various rumours, and serious and half-serious moves to buy up the remainder of New World and so on and so forth, until finally in '91 Hellraiser III came together. So all those things happened between the second and third films. And then Miramax came on board to dixtribute Hellraiser III. They'd bought into the franchise and produced the fourth film through Dimension Films, which is the horror and fantasy arm of Miramax.
TM: It's funny you should mention the word 'franchise', because I think with part III, Hellraiser really entered the American franchise spirit.
DB: Yes, also that was the other watershed there, which was that the first two movies were shot in London. Hellraiser III was shot in America, North Carolina and Hellraiser IV in Los Angeles.
TM: Because I'm sure that with Miramax's involvement, Hollywood involvement, that the influence you have had, and Clive Barker and Peter Atkins have had, dimished.
DB: Not really, because the storyline for Hellraiser III is Pete Atkins and Tony Randel. Tony directed the second film and was due to direct the third film. Tony and Pete put the storyline together, they worked on the script together. Tony had a falling out with the producers and left the project. But Pete was still very much involved and although I was the only english cast member on Hellraiser III, Bob Keen and the Image Animation were out there still doing special effects, still doing make-up. Steve Jones, who was the unit publicist on the first two films, was also the unit publicist on the third film. So there was still a thread running through. I think probably the fourth film, more than the third film, was the first time I felt we were in the hands of strangers.
TM: I can imagine, what with all the changing directors and the reshoots on that one.
DB: Oh, Hellraiser IV is a story in itself. We could spend the entire day talking about Hellraiser IV. It was not the smoothest ride, really. As is evident from it ending up as an Alan Smithee film. Kevin Yagher directed the original photography, then we did a lot of, not really reshoots, but additional principle photography in 1995 and that was with Joe Chappelle. Joe felt he shouldn't have his name on the picture, because there was a lot of Kevin's material. Kevin didn't want his name on the picture because he'd then just fallen out with Miramax. Neither director was prepared to take sole responsability for it, enter Alan Smithee.
TM: From reading american magazines like Fangoria I know you're very active on the american convention circuit and with american fandom. I think those conventions are really an extension of the american way of dealing with horror films and publicising a horror film. Particularly in the eighties with the 'horror hero' or the 'horror icon'. Pinhead being number five in the line of Michael, Jason, Freddy and Leatherface.
DB: Or number one (laughs).
TM: Or number one. But chronologically speaking he's number five.
DB: You're right. I think that was like a second golden age. If the first golden age starts with Browning's Dracula through Whale's Frankenstein then runs up into the forties and then runs out of steam and science fiction takes over. I think there was a second golden age from the seventies into the eighties and still running into the early nineties, when all the franchises and the new range of iconic horror figures appeared.
I do actually think that it's run out of steam again now. I think that's signalled in a number of ways, one is that they have actually been talking about crossover movies. Because New Line own both Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th they've been talking about a Jason/Freddy crossover for quite a while now. I've been hearing Kane Hodder and Robert Englund both talking about it. Whether it's going to happen I don't know, but that is a bit reminiscent of what happened with Universal's pantheon of monsters in the forties, they started pulling them together.
I haven't heard any whispers about a Pinhead/Michael Myers crossover, because Dimension own both of those franchises. The one that the fans would really like to see is Pinhead versus Freddy. That's what the fans would really like to see, but I don't think that's likely to happen.
There's that and then also the fact that with I Know What You Did Last Summer and the Scream movies and also Wes Craven's New Nightmare, horror films have become again something different, they've become self-referential. Kind of post-modern, deconstructive horror films. I do think that it's actually run out of steam and that we're sort of waiting now for the equivalent of..., for something to explode, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist in the early seventies. And waiting for somebody like Clive to appear with a genuinely original vision of what the modern horror film can be, as I think was the case with Hellraiser.
Interestingly as well, echoing what happened when Universal ran out of steam, is that again science fiction is taking center stage. The next few years are going to be pretty much dominated by Star Wars.
TM: The Scream type movies are moving away from the horror icon idea of the eighties, because of the, as you say, post-modern storylines and also because of the ensemble cast. The central character in Scream, the murderer in the mask, has so far not been much of a publicity thing, the cast has been. So that would also signal a possibility for a new approach. I think it's very much a premise to what horror films might become in coming years.
DB: Yes, it's possible. I think it would be interesting to see if horror could take an internal approach. Because A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser and even Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, they're still very much concerned with the bogeyman, with the monster. Although both Hellraiser and Nightmare On Elm Street move into this area, where the characters are concerned with the inner lives, Freddy moving in dream space and Pinhead being not a conventional horror monster in the sense that he doesn't lurk around dark corners waiting to jump out and slice and dice teenage Hollywood flesh. Pinhead is concerned, he is interested with what's going on in your head, with what your drives, your desires and your emotional approach are. It's souls he's interested in, not actually the flesh, though he likes to do a bit of ripping and tearing (laughs). And I wonder whether that would be a way for horror films to move, into inner space.
TM: That would mean more chances for actors to really act in horror films, when it's taken from the inside. You could play with the theme of madness again, going back to Poe or Lovecraft.
DB: Sure. I'm bristling at your implication that horror films don't provide an opportunity to act.
TM: I do think so in a sense, because one thing I always thought was slightly a missed chance with the Hellraiser films is that the eloquence of Pinhead is misplaced among the supporting victim characters. Because most of them, especially from the third film onwards are just...
DB: In three and four it becomes that. I think it's purely a gap between the kind of richness of language that Clive employed for Pinhead, which Pete carried forward in his screenplays for two, three and four and what was increasingly the kind of teenage movie speak of the other characters. I agree with you to that extent, but inevitably you get locked into a kind of formula which the third film brought in very much. The american heroine who will best the demon. I've always said "Why can't Pinhead win for once?". Because with a character like Pinhead, like Freddy, and both characters I think suffered from this, I'm sure Robert would agree - I know he would agree, cause I've talked to him about it - as the series goes on, the law of diminishing returns sets in with these characters. I would certainly become anxious that with Pinhead the danger is that he talks a good fight, he talks the talk, but increasingly he's not seen to walk the walk. And that would be, certainly if there was going to be a fifth Hellraiser film and I was going to do it, I would like to see it dark and go back to the atmosphere and the feel of the first film and see Pinhead doing, rather than talking about it, more.
TM: My idea would be to still keep that verbal sparring and let it loose on a strong opposing character, like the doctor Channard character from part two, rather than having all his eloquence turned into one-liners lost on victims.
DB: Actually some of that element was present in the fourth film. It got a bit lost and and a bit muddled, but in the final section of Hellraiser IV you would have seen a bit more of that in the confrontation between Pinhead and Merchant in the final section. Bruce Ramsay, who played Merchant, picked up on that very strongly and it was his call to shave his head for the final section. He also changes his vocal performance, he drops his voice. He was deliberately doing that, he and I discussed it together, he wanted to bring Merchant close to Pinhead and make them become close to each other to the point where they were going to wipe each other out and end the bloodline.
Unfortunately, the structure of the final part of the film got very heavily tampered with and much of that got lost. It was an immensely complicated storyline for Bloodline and by far and away the most complicated and ambitious of all four of the screenplays. Really too much for the time and money that we were getting.
TM: Any chance of a part five?
DB: I don't know of any further plans.
TM: Would you like to do it?
DB: I think I've reached the point where if a fifth movie doesn't happen I'm content to draw a line under it and say that was that. If they want to make a fifth movie, I'm not going to say no to it.
TM: Do you have the feeling that you have to 'protect' the Pinhead character?
TM: Simply by saying you have to play it and nobody else?
DB: To a certain extent. It's inevitable when you've created it, you don't want to let it go somewhere else. But if the situation arose where they were determined to do a movie and for whatever reason I didn't want to or was not available to do it, then they may well decide to recast.
TM: Do you think someone else could play the part and play it well?
DB: Well, it's not for me to say. Yes, of course. Any number of actors... I mean it wouldn't be the Pinhead that I've created, it would be slightly different, but that's not to say it wouldn't be good. I'm not so arrogant as to believe that only I could do it.
Coming soon: more on the film On Edge in an interview with its director Frazer Lee.