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Pinhead’s Evolution: From Medicine to the Movies

The term “pinhead” is well-known to fans of the Hellraiser and Puppetmaster series. But few may realize that it was originally a slang word for those suffering from microcephaly, a condition marked by a smallness of the skull. Movie audiences had their first brush with microcephaly when Todd Browning made the cult movie Freaks(1932), for which he used actual sideshow performers, including two real “pinheads,” the twins Elvira and Jenny Lee Snow.

Over the years, the term continued to pop up on the pop-culture radar (cf. Zippey the Pinhead, a comic-book character from the ’70s), but it wasn’t until the release of Hellraiser(1987) that it achieved ubiquity — and became divorced from its medical origins: Doug Bradley’s Pinhead character — while studded with pins over his face and skull — doesn’t suffer from small-headedness (in any sense).

When Puppetmaster(1989) came out, it boasted its own Pinhead, this time one who reflected the original meaning of the word: a killer puppet with a wrestler’s build and a comically tiny face. It’s a humorous wink to both Freaks and Hellraiser.

While Bill O’Reilly’s use of pinhead as a put-down has no doubt helped it gain greater currency, he’s yet to inspire a full-on phenomenon with the word. That honor belongs strictly to Puppetmaster.

For a full schedule of the Hellraiser movies on AMC, click here.

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