There are fewer characters in horror cinema that are as beloved or as iconic as Pinhead from Clive Barker's Hellraiser films. Unlike most of the slasher characters of the 80s, whose motivation could be described as simply carnage, Pinhead (not his actual name, but rather a colloquialism for his appearance) was a monster with grand plans and even grander mythology. He didn't collect souls like some penny-ante devil. Instead, he was the genie in the bottle, giving jaded sensualists the experiences that they craved only to a much more gruesome extent than could be imagined.
Yet, despite many other horror icons of the 80s being given new lives in remakes, video games, and merchandising, Pinhead has slipped into the background. New sequels have been made with depressing regularity, each one more abysmal than the last. Money is spent on make-up and character designs and precious little is saved for decent actors, a solid screenplay, or any kind of professional effect work. Even longtime Pinhead actor Doug Bradley has left the franchise, turning the role over to different actors of varying abilities.
It's hard to pin down (haha) exactly what happened to the Hellraiser legacy and why it had degenerated so completely. I personally believe that it is due to three specific factors; the stewardship of Dimension films, the lack of a central vision around the franchise, and the ambitious nature of the source material.
The foremost factor in Pinhead's fall into niche obscurity is that Dimension films alongside various production crews squandered the story. The films were no longer released in theaters after the third sequel (Hellraiser: Bloodline) and, as the late 90s/early 2000s Direct-to-DVD movies were taking in more and more of a market share in video rental stores, Hellraiser films were being churned out to meet the demand. Scripts were changed to add Pinhead's character to the storyline and quality of content took a big drop as decent budgets weren't given to production. Instead, producers believed that the Hellraiser name would bring in the audiences.
Second, the movies lacked any kind of core concept philosophy to unify the series. The success of the first films rely directly on Clive Barker, one of the premier fantasists of the 1980s and his fusion of Faustian pacts with BDSM erotica. It created an erotic tableau of torturous lust and sensual cruelty that captured filmgoers imaginations. Pinhead stood in elegant contrast to the formulaic slashers of the day, and he brought an elegance to evil, making the gore an artistic statement rather than a mere play to gross out audiences. Without a smart hand at the wheel, later editions of the Hellraiser franchise feel like poor rehashes of the original concept without the ideology behind it.
Finally, there's the simple problem that Pinhead's world is somewhat too grand for repeat viewings. A person can remake Friday the 13th or other slasher sequels forever because the story doesn't change all that much. Hellraiser, on the other hand, is about lust and torment and requires a more thoughtful approach. You cannot deal with these grand ideas while also making a cash-grab slasher movie.
There's a part of me that always wants to see more Pinhead. He's one of my favorite monsters of all time. However, he is a representative of that classical monster archetype of the tempter; the person who seduces their victims with false gifts until they lose their soul. It's an idea that is as old as Milton's interpretation of the Devil in Paradise Lost. Perhaps it's time to bid farewell to this majestic monster, as Barker did in Scarlet Gospels, and look for other puzzle boxes to open.