Pinhead Wizard

We've never seen anything like it -- a strange hybrid of animal and vegetable. Beneath a shiny crimson crown are segmented layers of pinkish crustacean abdomen, and below that, a bright red base like a big single foot, oozing out semiliquid. We stare at the unnatural thing between us, so luridly colored in contrast to the white tablecloth. It's organic, yes . . . but not alive. Not alive as we understand it. Before they were fused together by the hand of some mad genius, the thing's parts lived once, scuttling across the floor of the ocean, or wriggling up out of the earth toward the sun. But now . . .

Now it's lunch.

Excuse the descriptive excesses toward what is, after all, only a prawn salad. The mad genius who created it is only Michael DeMaria, the chef at Michael's at the Citadel in Scottsdale. But I'm in a rather Lovecraftian mood thanks to my lunch companion, Doug Bradley, an actor in the horror movie Hellraiser and its four sequels. Earlier, when I told my wife I was going to lunch with Pinhead, she asked, "Which pinhead?" No, no, not one of my friends, I had to explain. With the Pinhead.

And for a pinhead, he's ordered well. He had been uneasy about the prawn salad, because the menu promises that it's topped with a Parmesan emulsion. "An emulsion?" he asks. "Isn't that something you put on walls?" But he placed the order anyway, sighing, "I don't do very well with menus . . . I like it better when somebody tells me, 'This is what you're having for dinner.'"

He lucks out this time, anyway. The stack of tomato slices and garlic-tinged shellfish that is set in front of Bradley looks, at first glance, like it could be a prop from one of his movies. But at a longer glance, it looks delicious, and Bradley pronounces it so after a couple of bites. As wonderful as my arugula, endive, apple and walnut salad tastes, I still wish I'd ordered what he did.

Even though it would be fanboy silliness to expect anything else, I can't help but smile at the contrast between the monstrous character he plays and the soft-spoken, balding English guy he is out of makeup, chatting with erudition about the paradoxes of Calvinist theology and bemoaning the American inability to appreciate soccer. A Liverpool native who now lives in London with his wife and two children, the fortysomething Bradley, in the Valley for a quick personal appearance at Rawhide's Ghostown (which continues, sans Bradley, through October 31), was a jobbing, more-or-less unknown actor in 1987, when he was cast by writer/director Clive Barker in Hellraiser the first.

He had the inside track for the job. He and Barker, regarded by many as the most important contemporary horror writer after Stephen King, had been high school friends.

"I first met him in rehearsals for a school play," says Bradley. "Even at school, even before I met him, he was writing his own plays and was given license to do so by a progressive headmaster who, some years earlier, had allowed a student at the same school to rehearse a skiffle band called the Quarrymen. That was John Lennon. So he [the headmaster] has got a lot to answer for."

After school, Bradley continued to work in Barker's plays in small theaters, and when Barker's directorial debut in the movies came along, he didn't forget his old chum, though neither of them could have known what they were starting.

"When we made the first movie, the character of Pinhead wasn't onscreen very much at all. Absolutely central to the story, but not there very much. I'm buried pretty far down in the credits [17th!], I was paid union minimum, and I was billed as 'Lead Cenobite,' which I treasure."

Yet it was this secondary character that caught on with audiences. The affectionate moniker that fans later, er, pinned on this denizen of the netherworld refers to his S&M headwear -- dozens of nails driven into his pale, hairless skull in tidy rows.

Our main courses arrive. Bradley, who has cleaned the plate of every bite of his prawn salad, has chosen the chicken and pasta, and it's clear he's on a roll, menu-wise. "This is my favorite," the waiter tells him as he sets it down. My choice -- a pastrami sandwich with mild horseradish sauce and a side of fine potato salad -- is more traditionally lunchy, but no less inviting. We dig in, and I ask him bluntly what it feels like to be a sex symbol.

He chuckles. "I think I have to separate me from the character here." His modesty is becoming, perhaps, but the description isn't a mischaracterization. Pinhead's popularity may have been due, in part, to the fact that his chilling visage was what appeared on Hellraiser's poster. But it also arose from the erotic appeal that the figure seemed to hold for many women. "From the first," admits Bradley, "there was a response to the character from females that was directly -- to the point of alarmingly -- sexual." I ask if this was a surprise.

"Yes. I think I'm right in saying that Pinhead's being on the poster was the second call." The first choice was another character, a bloody man with no skin, but the studio eighty-sixed this as too gruesome.

"So they settled for a guy with a lot of nails driven into his head," says Bradley, laughing.

"The fan thing didn't really catch up with me until the second movie, when I went to a convention in Los Angeles. In retrospect, though, I can't imagine that we didn't realize all along that this is an extraordinary image. It's not a riff on anything that's gone before. It's a received image, if you will; the nails are going into his head."

His personality is similarly magnetic rather than aggressive. "He's not waiting in the shadows to kill you with a knife or something. And the language!" Bradley smiles happily as he intones, "'I've got all eternity to know your flesh.'"

There's a downside to cult celebrity, of course -- the ghetto of horror-movie typecasting. Though he's appeared occasionally in mainstream movies such as An Ideal Husband and onstage in a recent London production of Inherit the Wind, most of Bradley's credits have been in the creep shows. But, says the actor, "I think this is universal for actors. . . . The ghetto-izing doesn't go on in our heads. I don't consider myself a 'horror actor.' It's in the minds of producers, in the minds of casting directors, it's in the minds of fans, to some extent, and it's in the minds of critics, I must say. There's a kind of snobbishness, as well, that I run into at times, you know, 'Oh, that's all very well, but it's not really acting. It's not ahhhhh-cting.' It's absolutely rubbish. . . . You can see that absence of ghetto-izing in Shakespeare, that's what makes him great. The whole of the world, the whole of life, and everything in it is his palette."

Sure, but speaking of Shakespeare, doesn't Bradley aspire to say, "To be or not to be"? He grins.

"Instead, I get to say, 'I'll tear your soul apart!' Which is pretty good."

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M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead