Hellraiser's Doug Bradley on his first acting gig, pop music, and the trouble with rebooting classic horror films
Bradley is a featured guest for Days of the Dead 2015 (Feb. 6-8), at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel.
- Brandon McChesney
- BEHIND THE MASK: Doug Bradley is best known for playing Pinhead in Clive Barker's Hellraiser films.
The box — I opened it. He came. Over three decades Doug Bradley became best known as the face behind the mask of Pinhead, the elegant tormentor exploring the further regions of experience in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser film series. Bradley is a featured guest at this year’s Days of the Dead convention (Feb. 6-8), at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. Before the festivities begin, Bradley took a few minutes to discuss his first acting gig, discovering pop music, his thoughts on the recent spate of horror film reboots, and the trials and tribulations of being a demon to some, angel to others.
Hellraiser Reunion Panel. Noon. Saturday, February 7. Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, 165 Courtland Street N.E.
Do you come from a family with a history of acting or theater work?
Absolutely not at all.
Was your family supportive of your decision to become an actor?
That’s a complicated story. Not really. I dropped out of university; I had gone to study English Literature. When I got there I realized it was a mistake. I didn't want to be writing essays about Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, I wanted to play the part of Mephistophilis. My decision to drop out of university went down like a lead balloon with my parents. They weren’t unsupportive, but they were never deeply supportive. And going into horror movies was especially outside their frame of reference. The theater work I was doing initially with Clive Barker wasn’t regular stuff. My parents didn’t have much of a handle on it. But even up until the day that my dad died about four years ago, I think he was hoping for the day when I would say it was all a big mistake, and I’m going to get a proper job. But that’s the way it shakes out.
What was the first acting gig you ever landed?
I remember doing plays in Sunday school, and being involved in Nativity plays. Whenever and wherever there was an opportunity to get involved I grabbed it. This ties into meeting Clive — it would be at Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool. I was 14 or 15. My teacher was also one of the English teachers, a wonderful guy by the name of Bruce Prince, who directed school plays. A friend of mine in his class said, “I’m going to be in the school play.” So I thought fuck it! If you’re going to be in the play, I’m going to be in the play. I marched up to Mr. Prince and said, “Hey sir, I want to be in the school play.” He said, “Oh you do, do you?” He handed me a copy of the play, The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol, and said read this. I read it. He said, “Ok , you’re in the school play.” I’ve never been that pushy as an actor since then, maybe I should be.
Clive was also in the cast, so that was really the first point at which I got to know him. So if you call that landing a part, that would be it.
I’ve always known Liverpool as a music town. The Beatles are from there, Echo and the Bunnymen, and many more. England in the ’70s and ’80s was hotbed for great music: pop, punk rock, then post-punk happened. Did music play a part in your life?
Oh absolutely! I strummed on the guitar like any self-respecting teenager. I took piano lessons, and I started on the violin, and started playing the flute briefly. But listening yes. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t listen to music. I am still into music.
Being a teenager in the ’60s I came in on the ground floor — becoming aware of something called pop music. I was about 8, I think, when “Love Me Do” charted for the first time. I was discovering pop music just as the Beatles arrived. They were it for me. They are still in an untouchable category, for me. But I listen to a huge range of music still. I’m still finding bands now and going to gigs. Just last Friday Steph and I were enjoying the delights of Marilyn Manson here in Pittsburgh.
Your early work with Clive was a little more experimental. Were you into experimental music as well?
It depends on what you mean by experimental. In the ’60s the second band to really rock my world was Pink Floyd — if that counts as experimental. I was picky: I was into Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Captain Beefheart, Zappa, and all the rest of the stuff.
Christopher Young's score for the original Hellraiser adds a lot of weight and atmosphere to that movie.
I know Chris pretty well, he is an absolutely wonderful guy. He is 50 percent of the movie. It’s one of the best horror scores ever written. It’s ripped off mercilessly. He topped himself with his score for Hellbound. It’s an absolutely magnificent piece of work, I think the weight and heft of his music, and the themes he gives to the movie, cannot be underestimated.
There’s also Coil’s Unreleased Themes For Hellraiser …
I’m not sure of the fine details, but I have a copy of the record. The story, as I understand it, is either they sent some music to Clive, or he heard some of their music, and was tremendously impressed by what he heard. I know there were serious discussions with Coil doing the music. I've heard it. I think the music is OK, but it would've dated the movie terribly. It’s music of its era. The great thing about Chris’ music is it’s absolutely timeless. It’s closer to Verdi’s “Requiem” than it is to Coil. It’s music that just won’t ever date. That’s as much as I know — there was always a pretty firm discussion between Clive and New World to go with a classical soundtrack.
This weekend, you are taking part in a reunion with a handful of actors who played Cenobites in the first few Hellraiser films.
Yes, we get together pretty often. Nicholas Vince who played Chatterer in the first two movies. Simon Bamford who played Butterball in the first two movies, and Barbie Wilde who was the female Cenobite in Hellbound. Valentina Vargas who played Angelique in Bloodline — I haven’t seen her for 20 years. She’s coming up from South America.
I’ve researched the situation with the Hellraiser reboot, but it seems like there isn’t a lot of solid information out there. Have you been in conversations about it?
I don’t worry myself over much with it. It’s been eight years since I first caught wind of plans to remake the first movie. Nothing firm is happening, as far as I can tell. No one has called me to talk about it one way or the other. I expect to be the last one to hear about it. It all picked up again about a year or so ago — Bob Weinstein had been in contact about it. Everyone got hugely excited or depressed, depending on their points of views. All I can say is people think my silence means I’m trying to hide stuff, but I have nothing to say about it only because I have nothing to say about it.
If the story is well written, and the execution is really great, would you want to be involved?
Clive has talked about writing it, and sure. If it’s going to happen, the script is good, then for sure. I would rather do it myself than have anybody else do it. But we’re talking so many hypotheticals that it’s barely worth having a conversation about it.
It would be great to see another really great Hellraiser film. Film remakes happen so often now, but it’s usually a terrible idea. I like the Star Trek reboot, but that’s about the only one I’ve seen work out.
Yeah, I thought the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies were great.
Horror movies in particular: I bonded the most with films that were made in the ’70s and ’80s. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is perfect. Why mess with it?
It’s perfect, yes. Leave it alone! I love Rob, but he made a mess of Halloween, and let’s not even talk about A Nightmare on Elm Street.
I was really young when the first two A Nightmare on Elm Street films came out — Freddy Kruger really messed me up, in the best way possible. Why mess with that?
That’s basically my feeling, and it’s one that’s shared by fans. I talk and listen to fans at conventions. If I had any sense from people coming to my table who had recently watched Hellraiser that it’s not bad for a 30 year-old movie, I would maybe feel that there is justification for re-doing it. That’s almost exactly the same time that passed between Universal's Dracula and Frankenstein and Hammer’s remakes, which is scary for me to think about. But it’s absolutely, categorically not what I hear. I am aware that there is a whole new generation finding this movie; finding Texas Chainsaw Massacre, finding Nightmare on Elm Street, finding Halloween for the first time — people who weren’t born when they were made. These movies are still as powerful to them now as they were to the audience who saw them the first time around. Emphatically, 99.9 percent of the time, there’s absolutely no appetite among the fans for these remakes.
For most studios the bottom line is money. If no one wants to see them, is it worth doing a remake?
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a case and point. It had a huge opening weekend, but it died quickly. They had a guaranteed huge opening weekend, and I think that’s why they do it. It’s easy. Their work is already done for them in a lot of ways. My personal feeling is that the money ought to be used to discover the new talents. All of these franchises came about because somebody took a chance on Toby Hooper, Wes Craven, and on Clive Barker. Clive had never directed a proper grown up movie. He’d messed around with a Super8 movie as a teenager. New World not only took a chance on his script, they took a chance on him as a director. That’s what's lacking now — they’re going back to tried and trusted material that worked the first time around so it’ll probably work the second time around. It’s all about money.
I read your book this year, Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor. Was it a stressful undertaking, writing a full book.
I enjoyed it but it was pretty stressful, yes. I had nosebleeds for the first and last time, and maybe that’s why I’ve subconsciously shied away from going back to do another one. I did find it stressful, but I am an actor, not a writer, so it was completely alien territory for me.
Were you having nosebleeds from stressing out over the book?
It was last minute deadline issues, you know all about that.
They have shaved years off of my life. What are you working on now?
Well, I’ve done some voice over work for a Star Wars video game — voicing a Sith Emperor. I have a few scripts in front of me at the moment, but I’m not sure what’s next — aside, of course, from Days of the Dead.
- Courtesy Doug Bradley