Anatomy of a Monster: History of the movie Pin

80’s horror writer, Andrew Neiderman, published his novel Pin in 1981. Described as a waspy gothic drama with incestuous undertones, the dark themes resonated with fans of fellow horror novelist, V.C. Andrews. Following her passing in 1986, Neiderman was the natural choice to become her ghost writer. The novel Pin was passed to a Canadian doctor suddenly turned horror director, Sandor Stern. Stern found Neiderman’s characters to be tragically alluring. Especially the story’s focal point, a medical office’s anatomical dummy. With the author consulting the good doctor, Stern would adapt the book for the big screen and direct Pin for New World Pictures.

A Plastic Nightmare

Brother and sister, Leon and Ursula, grow up in a life of luxury and emotional repression. Mother hovers over her children with a vacuum and dustpan. Strict and sterile, furniture covered in plastic and crisp white clothes. The wealthy Dr. Linden is their father, cold and buried in his work. In his private practice, he keeps a life-sized anatomical model. A visible man named “Pinocchio” or Pin for short. Using ventriloquism, Dr. Linden converses with Pin to entertain younger patients and educate his children. Leon and Ursula learn the facts of life as explained by Pin, with warmth and affection. The emotional qualities that Dr. Linden denies his own son and daughter. Pin becomes a parental surrogate, always thoughtful and knowing just the right thing to say. Offering gentle words of advice to comfort the friendless siblings. Ursula discovers Dr. Linden’s illusion early on, but her brother believes Pin is truly alive. Leon even begins sneaking into his father’s office to beg Pin for conversation. But the endearing fantasy becomes awkward and unnatural with age. Awakening a sinister gaze from the medical dummy’s plastic eyes. Pin suddenly seems to be everywhere and answering Leon’s requests for advice, even when Dr. Linden isn’t around. Meddling in relationships and putting ideas in Leon’s head. Unlike Pinocchio, Pin’s nose never grows because he never tells a lie. Everything he does is in the best interest of the Linden siblings. He is a member of the family, after all.

David Hewlett plays the often-guileless Leon as an adult. Hewlett is recognizable from other sci-fi thrillers like Splice, Cube, and Scanners II: The New Order. Cynthia Preston is the beautiful Ursula. Having previously starred in the 1999 television series Total Recall 2070 as Olivia Hume. Dr. Linden is played by Terry O’Quinn. Favorited to horror fans as the sinister Jerry Blake in The Stepfather and Stepfather II: Make Room For Daddy. Character actor, Jonathan Banks, lends his voice to Pin. Going from the gruff figure he’s best known as in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, to the calm and inanimate titular villain. Writer and director of the movie Pin, Sandor Stern, is best known as writer of the original screenplay for 1979’s The Amityville Horror. He had even adapted Duplicates, another Neiderman novel, as a made for tv sci-fi thriller.

By the time the movie Pin had finished shooting and editing, New World had dissolved their feature films division. The Roger Corman company had intended to release it as one of their last films but decided against it, last minute. Sandor Stern had to travel to San Francisco for a delayed post-production, where the first screening flopped at Century City. Not wanting to put any more money into it, New World released Pin direct-to-video in January of 1989.

As with all good films with rotten luck in distribution, the movie Pin slowly gained a cult following. In December of 1991, a print had found its way to the Manhattan Film Forum for a two-week run. Receiving excellent reviews, Pin was picked up for another two-week run in a San Francisco art house theater. Critics raved that Pin was severely overlooked when it comes to split personality horror films. Sharing the familial repression of Hitchcock’s Psycho and slasher thrills in 1978’s Magic. Themes of grief and identity loss can also be seen in the ventriloquist drama, The Great Gabbo.

“I have never lied to you or for you.”

In early 2011, Bloody Disgusting confirmed that Sandor Stern would be returning to direct a remake of the movie Pin. Andrew Neiderman had retained the original rights and together they set to rewrite a script closer to the novel. Updated and with more horror elements but no interest in a re-do manifested. Writer, Jack Reher, reached out to Neiderman and Stern begging to pen the first draft. Reher was a long-time fan of the movie and novel, claiming a re-imagining was his passion. Unfortunately for him, Stern and Neiderman hated it and told Reher to forget the whole thing. A few years later, producers were contacting the men about wanting to do this movie. Discovering that Jack Reher had been fanning a script around on social media without permissions or rights. In an interview with Flickering Myth, Reher assured fans that the remake would elevate the movie with Nicholas Bogner scheduled to direct. After a few cease-and-desist letters, Reher gave up on the remake and seems to have reinvented himself a few times since then.

Though largely overlooked as another early 90’s video slasher, the movie Pin remains a favorite. Highly regarded as a psychological horror gem, genuinely disturbing and twisted. The audience will find themselves sympathizing with every tortured character throughout their lives. Each scene is a puzzle piece that makes up a larger motion picture that will stick with you.

The Hellraiser Puzzle Box: History and Influence of the Iconic Artifact

Shivering with sweat in a dark room, a man kneels on bare floorboards. Illuminated by candles, he works feverishly to solve the puzzle box in his hands. An ornate construction, made up of sliding panels and mysterious chambers. The air flexes with a distant tolling bell as polished pieces click into place. Out of it, a banal melody plays on a hidden mechanism. The din is reduced to a naked scream as the gates of hell open.

What is your pleasure, sir?

Clive Barker’s horror novella, The Hellbound Heart was first published in 1986. Dissatisfied with other film adaptations of his work, Barker made his directorial debut with Hellraiser in 1987. An almost verbatim adaptation of the novella. The film was the beginning of a multimedia franchise expanding on The Hellbound Heart. With each sequel peeling away more layers of Barker’s dark dreamscape. The doors of which are opened by a 3-inch cube called the “Lament Configuration”.

The box was originally called “the Lemarchand Configuration” in Barker’s novella. Known to most humans as only a rumor on the lips of a derelict. Several boxes were thought to exist but few were willing to track one down. Described as charts of the interface between the real and realer still. A box would break the surface of the trivial delights of human condition. The novella mentions one being locked away in the vaults of The Vatican. Another said to have been used by the Marquis De Sade while imprisoned in the Bastille. 

All boxes were said to be created by a French craftsman, Philip LeMarchand. Previously famed for creating mechanical birds, he constructed a tool in the form of a toybox. A puzzle that to solve would mean to travel across the schism. LeMarchand’s background would develop later in Epic’s Hellraiser comic series that ran from 1989-1993 with the support of Barker. In them, LeMarchand was described as a mass murderer using human fat and bone in the construction of his boxes. The film Hellraiser IV: Bloodline would portray LeMarchand as an ingenious toymaker hired by an aristocratic occultist. The crafting of lament configuration would curse LeMarchand’s bloodline.

The existence of multiple boxes seems to have found its inspiration by way of the occult world. Some suggest it is reminiscent of the 13 Crystal Skulls mythology. Or more seriously, The Key of Solomon, a Renaissance grimoire of seals that command spirits. Barker once explained wanting access to hell in the book and movie. “Explored by something rather different than drawing a circle on the floor with magical symbols around it.” The idea of a puzzle came from childhood memories of his grandfather. A ship’s cook, having returned from a trip to the Far East with souvenirs. After one particular trip, Barker was given a carved wooden puzzle box.

In The Hellbound Heart, the Lemarchand Configuration was described as smooth, black lacquered faces with hidden pressure points. A surface reflecting faces of souls caught up in the obsession. Inside were the mirrored innards of fluted slots and oiled pegs. The cinematic version of the Lament Configuration was made of polished wood and brass. Special effects designer, Simon Sayce had studied ancient writings and symbolism from North Africa to China. He notes the inlaid characters of box’s brass work were inspired by surgical tools from an exhibit at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Later to be seen in the film as the disembodied torture devices summoned by the box.  

The instructions to solving the Lament Configuration were part pragmatic and part metaphysical. The puzzle requires a cunning mind and nimble fingers. But to truly open it requires a dark desire for knowing. Desperate individuals seeking pleasure beyond mortal understanding. “You have to become aware of the Lament Configurations”, claims Doug Bradley. Longtime friend of Barker and actor that portrayed lead cenobite, Pinhead. “And then you have to find one, and then solve the puzzle. It’s not just the physical act of opening the box. It’s the motivation behind it.”

Barker’s Configuration has lent its inspiration to the modern urban legend/Creepypasta called The Devil’s Toybox. Part of a Halloween roadside attraction in rural Louisiana. It is described as a single room shack with 6 inward facing mirrors. The attraction’s challenge is to step inside for as long as possible without losing your mind. Another inspired object of the same name is used by paranormal investigators. These Devil’s Toy Boxes are much smaller mirrored contraptions. Popularized by Joshua P. Warren on Coast to Coast AM, it is believed to create an endless loop of energy. Some claim it attracts spirits and demons. Others utilize it to trap and remove negative entities.

The puzzle box remains an iconic artifact. Possessing an intricate mythology splashed across the pages of books, comics, and the big screen. Inspiring artwork, jewelry, toys, and a wide variety of other replicas. Many online merchants peddle puzzles that might offer access to paradise instead of hell. What kind of doors can you unlock with your own Lament Configuration? What is your pleasure?

Originally published Spring 2021

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