BOB KEEN HELLRAISER INTERVIEW, 8/2/95
This is an example of a transcription before I write up the interview for publication. Elements of this piece are probably elsewhere, in a longer piece about the films ... but this is an interesting chat with Bob Keen, presented with mis-spellings and question marks where I wasn't sure what he had said - all things cleaned up and sorted out for the final version. DJH
DJH: We’ll start with Hellraiser I, how did you become involved with it?
BK: Somebody reccomended me after I’d done Highlander. Clive was going to go with the people who did Rawhead Rex but he wasn’t overhappy with them. I got to meet him in the Ritz in London, and Chris Seaton [?] was there as well, and we hit it off. We were as sick as each other; I hadn’t actually read, at the time, I must confess, any of his stuff, I wasn’t aware of who he was but at the time he’d only released the Books of Blood. I immediately went out and read them and really got into his work. We then met again at his house which at the time was in Hampstead and we found that we really could, we had a common ground and could work with each other, and our imaginations really bounced [?] each other, that’s where the basis of our relationship and still our relationship to this day, probably our strongest point is the fact that our imaginations are very easily intertwined.
DJH: Clive does give a lot of input into his films.
CB: Bigger and better than any other director I can think of that I’ve worked with. That’s not to say that any other director I’ve worked with hasn’t been imaginative, it’s just really to say that Clive’s imagination is out on his sleeve. He’s an artist so he can draw, he can articulate as well, he’s incredibly good at describing something and it really becomes like mental ping-pong, you bat the idea over and it’s batted back very fast and you have to bat it back, and he’s one of these people that you have to run to keep up with. He’s incredible, his imagination; I thought I had a good imagination until [I met him ?]. He’s a joy to work with as well.
DJH: The first Hellraiser film was obviously very much setting the scene. Were you in charge of all of it?
BK: It was the whole look of the thing we were interested in and Clive had a lot of that, he had a feel that he wanted, and I think the chains, the lights and the slits and all that kind of stuff grew out of concepts and conversations. In fact, Pinhead’s design grew out of a very interesting conversation. We started off with something that was much more similar to Shinashasi [?] in design, where it was quills and it was very quill-like in design, and it sort of honed down to being simpler. So what happened is we started off with a grid, drawing a grid onto the head and Clive looked at that and went God, that’s it, that’s it! So the grid then became self-imposed markings and the quills got replaced with the nails or the pins. So eighty per cent of what Pinhead is is Clive’s imagination and I think fifteen per cent is what Doug brought to the table and I think five per cent is what we stuck on top of his face. I think an awful lot of Pinhead’s charm, beauty is in Doug’s voice, performance and I think the look is something that Clive had, he saw one we [?] unfold in front of him, it was a joy for him to see that creation come along.
DJH: You’ve got a sketch there, is this an along the way one?
BK: It’s along the way. Clive’s greatest gift I think is the fact that he can see something and instantly know in which direction he wants it to go. The original concept was not like that, it was much more quill-like but he instantly steered it towards that. We were working out for ourselves, in fact that is it, that was the first one, and I think he could see that the self-imposed almost discipline that someone would have to have to sit there and produce this shape was much more appealing, and also he had a great phrase on the film, and that was less is more, and I think that’s very true. It would have been very easy to have put in lots of folds, do the normal monster stuff, but it isn’t, it’s a very simplistic, the colour is very simple, I think that’s why it’s such a striking image that has lasted so long. It’s still on every single poster for a Hellraiser film. It is the image of the pictures.
DJH: The film evolved conceptually, is that the right term? You were doing the visual effects but from the way you talk it’s almost as if you were doing the art direction and the lighting…
BK: I think it was, there was an awful lot of what I like to call pizza and beer conversations where the two of us or sometimes there would be four of us from the group all sitting down and just talking constantly and talking the thing through, I think that was useful for Clive to use us as a sounding board and like I say mental ping-pong table it would be knocked over and knocked back. And there are some aspects of it which were my idea, there are a lot of aspects which were Clive’s idea and there were some aspects of it which were other people on the team’s idea. Again I think it’s Clive’s ability to a) interpret what you’re saying to him and then see how he wants that to run; probably his immense imagination is his true genius.
DJH: How was the original Pinhead done? Because I believe it’s changed slightly with each film.
BK: Yes, only very slightly. On the first film we thought we were going to have major problems holding all these pins out right and perfectly straight So what we did is we built, a really laborious process, we had a little tiny piece of brass with a little tiny piece of rubber underneath so it wouldn’t mark Doug’s face, and that was pushed through, on top of the brass there was a pin, and it was pushed through, then each and every pin on the first film was actually a hollow piece of brass with a head made to look like a nail, so they were very light, and they would then sit [fit?] over the pin going through. That’s the main difference, also the number of prosthetic pieces, the first film had probably about five pieces at least to make, which took a long time. We also pre-coloured to an extent but nowhere as much as by the time we did III and IV when the pieces were very pre-coloured.
DJH: So there was make-up that had to go on on top?
BK: Natural pigments, yeah. They were base coloured, but it was taking something like four hours to make you up. By the time we got to the second feature. For the first picture it didn’t matter so much, I think Doug’s days were quite few.
DJH: I think Gary said he was only on screen for about six minutes in the entire film.
BK: That’s exactly it, so the actual days was quite a short number, and really the story was about, it’s interesting that Pinhead emerged out of that because really the story initially was a love story, what someone will do for love. And the real monster was Julie, that she would do anything for love, or not depending on how you look at it. But I think that sort of evolved and I think the fans really latched onto Pinhead, in fact the whole Cenobite culture, much stronger than we probably intended them to. But that’s the way it goes, you can never tell what’s going to happen.
DJH: Because the whole concept of the Cenobites is the boundary between pleasure and pain.
BK: That was always said, that was always something we knew we were getting into with Hellraiser, that was there even in the first draft of the script. I think we always knew you were putting fingers into stuff that up until that time had not been touched in mainstream cinema.
DJH: More so that Pinhead, Pinhead looks very serene, almost regal…
BK: I always thought of him as at least a general.
DJH: I mean there’s no sense that he’s in any particular discomfort…
BK: Apart form having the strips torn out of his stomach…
DJH: I mean in terms of his bearing; but when you come to something like Chatterer…
BK: Chatterer wasn’t called Chatterer for a long time. Before he was actually named Chatterer he was known as Poor Bastard, and that probably was a better name for him. As a character, having your eyelids sewn up and pulled over and having your gums revealed and your head scraped [?] is probably not the most pleasant of things in the world. He seems so happy with it, you know. It’s very difficult to understand.
DJH: The pleasure through pain stuff was presumably influencing the design of this sort of thing.
BK: I think once we’d hit on the demons and the whole pain or pleasure concept that it really became very clear. I’ve said this before but I could probably sit here and design Cenobites for another ten years because the variation on a theme does become, you know what is a Cenobite and what is someone who is not a Cenobite. I think that’s a very interesting line, I think that’s also to do with purity of image. We were very, very careful about costume, about colouring, about all the aspects of all the Cenobites to start off with and that gave us a very strong look, it’s very stylised.
DJH: It’s almost ritual striation, there’s nothing random here, it’s all planned…
BK: That’s exactly it and I think that’s what we were looking for in our monsters, that we were looking for this strange ornament [aura], of almost like I said self-imposed discipline to it. Against that you’ve got the strange decayed order of the rebuilding of Frank which is something completely different.
DJH: I want to talk about the other elements and the strongest one is Frank. It is still extraordinary, the rebirth of Frank out of the floorboards.
BK: The birth is a very interesting thing. What happened with the birth was, we’d already shot if you like a dry version which was Frank’s remains breaking out of the wall.
DJH: You mean dry as in dust?
BK: Dust, all that sort of thing. And when New World saw the picture they realised that the potential for this film was a lot bigger than they originally planned. I think that no-one had realised or no-one believed that the concept was going to be as powerful. We knew it was special. So at the end of the picture they decided to flex in some more money. So the birth of Frank was actually done in a different studio to the rest of the film, on a different set because they’d already pulled down the set, afterwards we went back and did the birth of Frank. That was really a great opportunity for me to run with something. Clive said, a couple of paragraphs about making it visceral and I was allowed to really come up with the goods then. That was the great opportunity and we then bounced, I storyboarded that concept, which was very close to what we had, bounced around a few ideas, added a few things in and then we went for it in a big way. It was very gooey [?], we were using a lot of melt down effects and tons and tons of slime, you wouldn’t believe how much slime. What people don’t realise is that the holes in the floor, the way the set was built, meant that our slime was constantly running over all the operators underneath. Underneath the table you were sitting there with,
DJH: It was like a puppet stage almost?
BK: Exactly, it was a raised set and there were people underneath and no matter what you wore, all day long the slime would trickle down and it would get down your neck and down the back of your trousers, it was fairly gross to be underneath it. That really gave us, that imagery then gave us that strong start to Frank and I think that was a great creational moment.
DJH: Was it a rod puppet?
BK: It was a lot of different techniques. There was rod puppetry for sure for some of the arms stuff, table work for the fingers, there was radio control for the head…
DJH: I know it’s all in reverse but where the spinal column thrusts itself into the brain pan as it appeared on the floor.
BK: All of that stuff was, there was a lot more in fact shot, there’s a really weird sequence where these eyes merge out of the brain and solidify and stuff like that and there’s flesh running up the arms and all the rest of it. There’s only so much, if you actually look at it I think it’s as tight as you ever could want it as far as effects are concerned and if it gets any longer people will start losing interest so it was right to cut that.
DJH: How long did it take to do all that? How much time did they give you?
BK: Not enough, as I remember it was about four weeks to get everything together for that, which was very, very tight.
DJH: That sounds quite generous actually in film terms. Four weeks to do just one effect?!
BK: It wasn’t just one effect. There was an awful lot of other effects as well that were done at that time.
DJH: So it was a general beefing up but that was the main sequence?
BK: That was the main thing that they beefed up and there was several things with the boxed, doing more stuff. It was about half as much work again as we’d done on the picture so it was a lot of work, a lot of bits and pieces. It paid off, because there are moments I think everyone remembers. Everybody who’s seen Hellraiser remembers Frank and that’s a very good moment. Then after that we then realised that Frank needed to go through much more stages than we’d originally planned. We’d originally planned three make-up stages which went as I saw it, went from raw meat through to an underskeleton with flesh and bones. The process enlarged by the fact that we knew we’d seen the birth of Frank and then story-wise, just after that, we were going to see him crawling around. We actually had a child actor who was brilliant, in a miniature suit crawling around so we could get some idea of a feeling of growth of him. All the original mechanical stuff that was done with a puppet was all scrapped at that point, so there was a big chunk of work taken out as well, and then Frank sort of grew out of that, I mean his flesh, One of my proudest moments is where he’s still not dressed and the flesh is just, you really do feel
DJH: Just hanging off the bones almost.
BK: Yeah. A lot of it helped by the fact that…
DJH: Is this a puppet? How is he in there?
BK: No this is the real [actor]. The guy playing it, Oliver Smith, was thin to the point of [emaciation], this guy was a walking bag of bones, he still is. And consequently was great because you could put prosthetics all over him and it would build up and you would still feel that depth. It’s about an inch and a half [away from his chest], a lot of it is done with colour as well. There’s an awful lot of painting the darkness in but I feel very strongly that Frank was probably one of the best things we’ve done. It still stands up to this day. It’s a head to toe job. It is a full body suit with prosthetics on hand and head.
DJH: Did you see blood running through veins?
BK: You see goo moving. What we would do was just before the take we made this goo up which had like two or three different colours in it, stranded, and then we’d plonk a load of this onto the top of his head and then you’d see that move down all the time so you’ve got this constant feeling that the flesh is still moving, the flesh is still creeping and that’s the effect we were all after.
DJH: I think the final thing was this thing, this strange thing that suddenly appears out of nowhere.
BK: The Engineer. We wanted Hellraiser to be the ultimate thrill ride. The Engineer wasn’t in the original script and I think we wanted an opportunity to do a big creature and Clive was up for that and we felt that Hell could have other things in it and other creatures. I think it was a great opportunity for us to do a creature and it was a great opportunity for Clive to have another big scare, so it kind of grew.
DJH: There’s a big chase sequence in the middle where she’s after the box..
BK: She opens the box; it gave a good narrative to the film. I could have missed the Engineer I must admit, I wish that maybe on Hellraiser III and IV we had had a chance to do other creatures in Hell, it would have been nice.
DJH: So presumably when you did all this there wasn’t any particular thought of there being any sequels.
BK: I don’t think you ever sit there and work on a film and think well there’s going to be four sequels, it’s the start of a huge franchise. What we did know is that we were doing something special. I think we were all convinced that it wouldn’t be popular because we thought it was so different and I think that included Clive. We none of us knew that it was going to be as popular.
DJH: Or that it was going to be the horror icon of the eighties.
BK: Exactly, I don’t think any of us were aware of that. Probably that image has stalked Clive a little bit more than it has stalked us and I think he still feels fairly stalked by that image. He just recently did an interview where his main line was if there was never another Hellraiser film made I wouldn’t be an unhappy man, I think that’s probably the truth and I understand that. There’s an awful lot more to Clive than Hellraiser.
DJH: So Hellbound: Hellraiser II seemed to come round fairly quickly.
BK: I think what happened, obviously New Line realised they had a huge hit and consequently they thought let’s do another one and let’s go into Hell. I think it was remarkably quick. The film came out and within months we were actually in production and the schedule for it was nightmarishly difficult, very difficult indeed.
DJH: This is far more of a sequel than the others in the series.… this one is really picking up from the first film.
BK: Same characters; it’s to do with the fact that there are set characters that come over from the first picture into the second picture. I think there is a link with he third and fourth film but certainly by the time the fourth film comes round it’s a less obvious link. The third film does have elements and we find out more about who the character Pinhead was and stuff like that.
DJH: I’ve read somewhere the comment that they've become successively more Pinhead orientated.
BK: I think that’s obviously down to what the fans want. It’s a sort of direct statement.
DJH: For the second film we've got a skinless Julia.
BK: I think that was a continuation of a tradition. I’d hoped that we’d carry on doing that tradition down the line, a whole skinless family or a skinless horse or something like that. Julia was obviously a progression from what Frank was. We also wanted to make her very sexy and making her come over in such a way that she still is appealing but has no skin is obviously a challenge and a half and in fact it meant taking what was real and throwing it away. Because what was real with Frank worked.
DJH: Real in the sense that if you take a body apart that is the sort of thing you would see.
BK: You’d be pretty damn close. If you took the skin off someone like Julia it just really wouldn’t be the same thing. At least on number three you got to see how he does it! So it’s an interesting process. Julia was just an extension of what we’d learnt from Frank and then trying to keep the sexy aspect.
DJH: Again it’s a full suit?
BK: Full body suit. [It was another actress], The same as with Frank, it was easier to find somebody who was very thin, a dancer in fact [and then build up]. Little John did a superb job with the colour and painting and all of that, it’s a lovely job.
DJH: You can see here it’s all very slimy but presumably the colour is all there first.
BK: Yes, it’s very rich before the slime goes on. You have to be careful as well that you don’t lose everything, that it doesn’t become a red blob. We’d done a lot of research on colour tones and we were using a lot of pure black, although it doesn’t read as pure black, and pure white for highlighting. By the time you’ve put the bloody slime over the top, everything was mutated down. You need something that will kick through that.
DJH: Then there’s Channard of course.
BK: Yes, old Cheesegrater Face.
DJH: He was the first one we saw being made.
BK: Yes, I think he’s the most disappointing for me. We never really got a chance to go back as in detail to see a Cenobite being made and I think I would have liked to have gone back and work with Channard a little bit more.
DJH: I was never quite sure what this thing was supposed to be.
BK: I think it’s a giant prick that happens to be stuck into his head, I thought that was fairly obvious! I think Channard, it’s an interesting image.
DJH: Going into the internal logic of these things and talking about the first film being driven by this pleasure/pain barrier, then you come into the second film and I think in context there’s not much doubt that Channard is all but a Cenobite in person, he’s not a very nice person, he relishes this aspect of it.
BK: I think it’s a fascination for him, a fascination that has plagued his life since childhood. He’s collecting the boxes, the human brain and the whole fascination with the insides as well as the outsides.
DJH: So how much did this thematic aspect have on developing the look of Channard?
BK: None. Channard’s design was actually done as an alternative Cenobite design for the first film and when we came to do the second film, we picked up the two hundred drawings we had from the first film and looked through and found, and thought Ooh look, Cheesegrater, that’ll be great, and went with that. I think Channard could have done with a little bit more thought and a little bit more level that could have been placed on it. I think the imagery isn’t as pure as some of the other imagery. But it does have people wincing still.
DJH: Looking at the Cenobites in the first film and in some of the other films, you can see how people would say I’d quite like to be Pinhead…
BK: I’ve never actually thought that but it’s an interesting idea!
DJH: Neither have I, but I know some people do. But why would anyone want to have a cheesegrater slammed over their face?
BK: Maybe that’s my problem with it, I can’t actually put my finger on what’s wrong with Channard; It’s obviously about the constraints of bondage, it’s all to do with the freedom of constraint and everything else and my problem I think is… maybe it’s the fact we see Channard being made in front of us that it takes some of that magic away.
DJH: But you see Pinhead as well in three, and it doesn’t take it away.
BK: Yes you do; maybe that’s because you’ve already seen Pinhead and you already know Pinhead and you’re going back to the creation of Pinhead.
DJH: If you take it back again - you see pierced ears, no problem with that, most people have got pierced ears. You get pierced ears all the way round, you get people now with pierced noses, pierced eyebrows, nipples, belly buttons. The Cenobite type thing is almost an extension of this. It’s saying what can I do to my body that is going to be attractive?
BK: I think it’s exactly that, and individual. I think a very important point is the individuality of what people are willing to go through and put themselves up for.
DJH: And you show it with pride.
BK: Yes, I’ve changed my body, I’m no longer a human as you can see them.
DJH: And again I find that hard to apply to Channard.
BK: I think that’s probably true.
DJH: He didn’t change his body, it was done for him, he had no say in this.
BK: I think you’re absolutely right, that is some of the problem with Channard. But you work on these things and you work through, it’s only insight afterwards that you can actually … Channard is a disappointment for me but for a lot of people he fulfilled what they were after.
DJH: Frank was in the second film as well.
BK: Yes, Frank was back.
DJH: This was obviously a new costume.
BK: At the end of the day they’re pretty much hanging around, nearly everything was new for the second film.
DJH: Coming back to Pinhead again, how did this then change?
BK: Just the number of pieces was reduced, the technique was still the same by the second film, [the plates with the pins pushed through], that was still the same. What we did was reduce the number of pieces down to three, I believe. That speeded the process up drastically. We had to speed it up even further by the time we got to three, being on for even more number of days, he was suffering even more. It’s just how far can you go with this.
DJH: The female one.
BK: Right. Which was actually in the first film and reprised in the second one. She’s a very elegant creature, the female Cenobite. This idea that she has this piece of metal which runs through her face and it opens the wound and keeps the wound open in her throat, is much more in keeping with that special individuality maybe than I think Channard is. Technically it was an interesting one. To get the wire running through the face we went up and round the top of the head, so she had a piece of metal that went up and round the top of her head [following the line of the skull], and we connect to that the wires that link up through. She’s a very elegant beast and shows again that purity of image.
DJH: This is carried forward to the fourth film with Anglique.
BK: The same idea, but slightly different. You know that Angelique is a Cenobite when you look at a photograph, you don’t need to know which film she’s from. But I think that’s why I’m talking about purity of image.
DJH: Butterball was the other one.
BK: Or Fat Bastard… Sad Bastard and Fat Bastard as they were known. Butterball was an interesting idea, he’s almost baby-like in his grossness and the idea that they’d sewn his eyes up and filed his teeth down didn’t seem to make a great deal of problems for him. A very popular image, for us a very simple one, an overhead mask, as was Chatterer. Very quick to apply. Necessity slightly drove the machine on the first one. With the female Cenobite and Pinhead being prosthetics, we knew we wouldn’t have enough time or enough crew to have the others as prosthetics so they were overhead masks.
DJH: They’ve all got mutilated flesh type bits in the costume, are they literally part of the costume?
BK: Yes they are. That’s practically the only way of doing it because of the time factor. Having so many on the screen at the same time. So all this is part of the costume. It did mean at the end of the day we ended up having to clean everything for a good hour, two hours after the make-up had come off to make sure everything was clean because that was the same piece you were going to use the next day. You had to take a lot more care of something than if we were throwing it away.
David J Howe