Clive Barker really changed the game with Hellraiser, at least in terms of providing audiences with iconography that they were not used to seeing. By that point in the 1980s, Jason, Michael Myers and even Freddy were becoming played out. People had seen enough of slashers and they wanted something new.
Hellraiser offered that in spades. While the Cenobites were not the main antagonists in the film and were featured in only a few minutes, audiences took to them immediately. These demons were unlike anything seen in cinema before, they looked nightmarish, but were also perversely elegant and that juxtaposition resonated with audiences worldwide.
The Cenobites, in addition to the overall visual style of Hellraiser resonated deeply with filmmakers as well. Even now there are features that continue to make their Hellraiser influences clear.
We’ve put together a list of the most recognizable, iconic films to take heavy cues from Clive Barker’s hellish classic.
David Goyer and Alex Proyas’s Dark City is one of the most clearly Hellraiser-inspired movies out there. When fans talk of Hellraiser, this feature often comes up by association. The visual style is almost identical and it depicts what might as well just be a city inhabited by Cenobites. Some fans even head-canon it into the extended mythos.
There are Cenobites in this movie. I don’t care what they’re called, that’s what they are. Of course, everything that’s ever been a part of the horror landscape is on display here. But these guys have the leather and while they have a ball configuration instead of a box, it’s operating on the same basic principle. Plus, the Hellraiser comics have shown that there are many different configurations.
Cube definitely has a Hellraiser-ish look and feel. From the suspenseful plot to the cinematography and labyrinthine designs, there’s a definite influence even if there are no Cenobite-reminiscent creatures to be found. In style and tone, the influence is certainly clear.
Star Trek: First Contact
The Borg are basically Cenobites. They look like a biomechanical version of the demons we know and love from the Hellraiser films and they even travel in a giant cube. We’re far from the first to notice the similarities, people have been pointing them out for years. With all of that in mind, First Contact—and really the entirety of Star Trek: The Next Generation—proves that a movie doesn’t have to be horror to feel like Hellraiser.
Return of the Living Dead 3
One look at the poster for Brian Yuzna’s Return of the Living Dead 3 and the similarities become obvious. Julie, the female protagonist and main zombie, is a Cenobite in everything but name. More than that, the picture deals heavily in the relationship of pleasure in pain, in body modification, secret desires and forbidden love. It echoes Hellraiser on virtually every level, but also really manages to stand up as its own film.
An underrated picture about a woman who enters into a serial killer’s mind in attempt to uncover the location of his final victim, The Cell deals heavily in dark, surreal imagery. Which is obvious, given the subject matter. Many of the visions inside the killer’s head are overtly similar in look and style to Hellraiser, while also looking very much like a Marilyn Manson video.
When people talk about Hellraiser’s influence on anything, even to the smallest degree, they always bring up this film. Event Horizon takes heavy cues from Hellraiser on almost every level. It even followed on the heels of a Hellraiser that went to space. While it also takes influence from titles like Jacob’s Ladder, the connections to Barker’s world and characters are more than clear.