We root for the heroes in movies, but we secretly relish in the villains.
There’s something so appealing about a character with a complete disregard for what we know as “the rules.”
And so many people would love to act with that kind of self serving malice just once- just to see what it feels like.
The rebellious nature of a lead villain makes them a perfect inspiration for tattoos, which are inherently disobedient.
Although tattoos are more and more mainstream and most people have at least one these days- there’s still some stigma attached to them.
There will always be those who see tattoos as unprofessional or inappropriate.
So people who are drawn to tattoos are usually also drawn to underdogs and villains in pop culture.
Or maybe there’s something about breaking the rules that gives them a little kick.
For these and other reasons, one of the more popular pop culture villain tattoos is Pinhead from Hellraiser.
The first Hellraiser movie came out in 1987 but has endured for its supernatural weirdness and psycho-sexual elements.
So who is Pinhead, and why is he such a celebrity in the tattoo world? Let’s explore all things Hellraiser- and what makes this character so special.
Pinhead is an Elusive Character
Though there have been 10 subsequent Hellraiser movies and a comic book series, all prominently featuring Pinhead, he wasn’t in the original movie for very long.
There’s something about a character you only get to see a trace of that makes them so fascinating.
Doug Bradley, who plays Pinhead in the film, often talks in interviews about the sleeper success of the character.
He’d done a play with Clive Barker, the director and writer of the film.
Barker had also written the book that inspired Hellraiser, The Hellbound Heart, shortly before working on the film.
The two hit it off and Barker said he may have a part for Bradley in a low budget project he was making.
Pinhead’s image was used in a lot of promo.
This was both because of how memorable the makeup he wore was, but also because other imagery from the movie was just too grotesque for a poster.
Bradley himself didn’t get much credit or do any publicity originally.
He remained a mystery- the man behind the makeup.
He didn’t think of that as much of a big deal until going to a horror convention in 1989 – when he found a lineup around the block to meet him!
There’s just something about the character- the combination of the impressive SFX makeup and Bradley’s performance, that stays with people.
A Pinhead tattoo can be a way for fans to meet people who love the character and the franchise as much as they do.
He’s wildly popular in the underground communities the series has achieved cult success in – but to the average person Pinhead is just a weird looking pale guy with pins in his head.
Fans are special because they understand.
The BDSM/Fetish Community Appreciated the Character
It is so rare that the movie industry, or pop culture at large, gets the fetish community right.
One need only look at series like 50 Shades of Grey or Netflix’s Bonding to see examples of the people who got it wrong.
To be part of an underground group with special interests is to feel largely misunderstood for the most part- but the themes in Hellraiser struck a positive note with the BDSM and Fetish community overall.
This could be due to the fact that Barker spent a lot of time in S&M clubs in New York and Amsterdam, and modeled some of the design after those experiences.
Related to those themes, Pinhead is the leader of a supernatural race known as the Cenobites.
They are summoned in the film by the lead character Frank Cotton – who is after the ultimate experience in sex and sensual pleasure.
Frank has explored every possible kink a human can think of- and he craves something more.
When our lead manages to acquire a bizarre puzzle box and succeeds in opening it – he meets the Cenobites.
Though they warn him that their dimension may not be what he expects, he is too intrigued and asks to join them there.
What ensues is torture to humans, but ultimate pleasure to the Cenobites as they tear Frank’s soul apart.
These themes of pleasure vs pain are often discussed in fetish cultures, so it opened an interesting topic and explored it in a cool, supernatural way.
Tattoos can be their own fetish.
Some people experience pleasure in the pain of getting a tattoo, or feel turned on looking at someone with tattoos.
The combination of a Pinhead image and a tattoo may be more than one person’s kink!
Pinhead is Based on an Aztec God
Villains come and go, but the best ones are written with exquisite detail and intention.
Pinhead is based on a Mesoamerican god known as Xipe Totec or “The Flayed One.”
He is a god of spring and represents death and rebirth- a major theme in the Hellraiser movies.
Xipe Totec flays his skin and sacrifices himself in order to feed his people.
The legend says that he would slice open his skin, then emerge from the rotting flesh after 20 days, which brought forth spring vegetation.
In some ways, getting a Pinhead tattoo is an example of a great way to get a mythological creature without appropriating something from another culture.
Pinhead is a great example of a character that draws inspiration from rather than directly taking.
What Does a Pinhead Tattoo Symbolize?
Pinhead’s character shifts and changes throughout the Hellraiser franchise, so it’s really about which incarnation appeals to you.
This could be an interesting discussion to have with a fan – one that would be opened up by your new ink!
Pinhead Tattoo Ideas
If you don’t mind having a piece that’s going to turn heads, a Pinhead tattoo is a really cool idea for a die-hard Hellraiser fan.
Think you’ve got what it takes?
Check out our gallery for some examples of Pinhead tattoos.