Doug Bradley Discusses Thorns, His Latest Terrifying Film

Doug Bradley eternally etched himself into the nightmares of a generation as the ghastly Pinhead from the Hellraiser saga. Now this horror legend is once again delving into the abyss of terror in his latest film, Thorns.

Thorns thrusts us into a chilling scenario where an ex-priest, now working for NASA is sent to investigate an observatory that appears to have cut off all communication after it received a cryptic signal from the depths of space. As the ex-priest begins to investigate, he soon discovers that this observatory has become the focal point of an unfolding apocalypse. It is a narrative that explores the convergence of science and prophecy, of cosmic events and earthly desires, prophesying doom on a biblical scale.

We at Horror Facts got the opportunity to sit down with Bradley and Thorns director Doug Schulze to delve into this upcoming tale starring one of horror’s most revered icons. Amidst discussions of human nature, the film probes our collective intrigue with the unknown and the potent lure of apocalyptic myths.

With a career steeped in antagonists who dwell in the darkest corners of our imagination, Thorns looks to continue his storied legacy, as the film looks to expand into new realms of darkness, beckoning audiences to witness the unraveling of humanity’s end. As we delved deeper into Bradley’s latest on-screen incarnation, it became evident that this titan of terror is far from finished with his journey into the heart of darkness, offering a fresh hell for a new era of horror enthusiasts.

Doug Bradley
Image of Doug Schulze and Doug Bradley

Horror Facts: Thank you, I appreciate you taking the time to speak to Horror Facts today.

Doug Schulze – Our pleasure.

HF: Thorns deals with humans ushering in the biblical apocalypse while the Hellraiser films, which you are so iconically linked to, dealt more with humans seeking extreme experiences. What, if any, common themes around humanity’s inner darkness did you see across both films’ storylines?

Doug Bradley: It’s not something that was in my mind at all when I read the script and I said yes to it. There are elements in the tone of some of Archbishop Jenkins’ later speeches which rang a slight bell in my head, but that’s more about the way in which Pinhead would objectively comment on human beings and their foibles from a kind of distant and slightly condescending point of view, and Jenkins has some of that tone in his later speeches; but certainly also in the way that in Hellraiser, although obliviously there is a great deal of talk about Hell, Clive was very, very careful to avoid that Hell being defined strictly in terms of Christian theology. In Hellbound, there’s the line where Kirsty has gone into Hell looking for her father and she is told he is in his own Hell, just as you are in yours. So, that feeling that we are all creating Hell for ourselves or, indeed, Heaven for ourselves, as we go along from day to day is very much a kind of present idea in Hellraiser. This is slightly different in Thorns because organized religion is very much a player in this, but certainly, Thorns also carries the idea that, while people may be looking to wider theological issues and beliefs in solutions up in the heavens, we can, if we’re not careful, also be creating Hell on Earth around us, which becomes the real Hell. So, in all, these are big ideas and big issues that are all at play in Thorns.

Image of the Ghost Behind Gabe – Photo Courtesy of Thorns

HF: The apocalypse is a common theme across many religions and cultures. What do you think it is about the idea of an apocalypse that continues to fascinate humankind?      

DB: I think it’s kind of inherent in our obsession with the origin questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What’s the point of all of this? What goes hand in hand with that, I think, is, Where’s it all go? and Where’s it all leading to? And we’re kind of obsessed with that on a personal level that we need to somehow comfort and convince ourselves that something will continue when the body is dead, contrary to all evidence. You know, it’s not something my dog has – he just celebrated his tenth birthday and I don’t think he’s especially worried about what might happen to him when his earthly days are done. And then we have those questions in our minds in terms of the human race and the planet itself, and because Thorns deals with the interface between science and religion, in many ways very, very recently, science has begun to be able to answer those questions to some extent so we know that our sun is a middle-aged star that is going to die and, when it dies, this planet is done, and we know roughly the age of the planet, and we know it’s age in proportion to a universe which we think is about 14 billion years old – although recently science has come up with some evidence that suggests that it might be much, much older than that – but we remain convinced that this little tiny blip in the history of the universe called the human race is somehow super important. I’m not sure that’s true but people build and create pillows of comfort in belief and faith to prop themselves up and help them sleep at night. I think that’s always, for me, on a human level as much as anything else, a fascinating trade-off.

HF: Thorns explores humanity’s dark side like Hellraiser did. Did you draw on your experience playing Pinhead to portray the morally ambiguous Archbishop Jenkins?     

DB: I didn’t consciously. I’m the same actor and as we’ve been discussing, some of the themes and ideas are similar, but I approached Archbishop Jenkins thinking only about Archbishop Jenkins, and only about his place within the movie. I wasn’t consciously connecting anything back to Pinhead or Hellraiser.

Gabe Confronts the Creature – Photo Courtesy of Thorns

HF: Pinhead directly inflicts pain while Archbishop Jenkins’ actions are more about manipulation. As an actor, which approach do you find more intriguing to take on?

DB: Pinhead tangentially inflicts pain on people. We don’t see him inflicting pain directly on people too often. Death of Frank in Hellraiser, certainly, and there was a whole nightclub wiped out in Hellraiser 3 – sorry about that – but he’s also a manipulator, I think. Jenkins is a manipulator at a couple of removes. I think it’s a slightly more complicated position because Jenkins is physically separated from the main action of Thorns. He drops in almost as a commentator and summarizer on what’s going on, I think. Manipulators are always fun, you know, aren’t they? Go on, you know you want to agree with me. You do. You know you do.

HF: Further examining the theme of the darkness and desire inside humanity, which Thorns looks at, what is it about these ideas that you think continues to fascinate viewers?  

DS: There is a curiosity behind what’s inside the closet, what’s in the dark room, that sort of thing. I know we like to go to horror films because we like to – for some reason – we like to experience the thrill in a safe environment where, at the end, we can walk away and we haven’t been harmed. But for some reason, we want to almost pretend we might be harmed and/or we might do the harming. But at the end of the day, we know it’s all make-believe. So, why do people continually want to go and explore the dark side? Boy, that could be a good other Zoom. [Points to Doug Bradley] Perhaps you could share a good reason.

DB: I don’t know. Not so much these days, but I used to get asked, “Why horror?” like I had to defend it somehow. Or the standard journalistic question would be, “With so many horrific things happening in our world, why do we need more horror on the screen?” Which I always thought was a bit of a fatuous question and self-answering in a way. So, If I’m asked the question, “Why horror?” I tend to answer it by asking, “Why comedy?” because nobody questions comedy. Nobody questions the fact that we laugh at things and, in fact, when you start to break comedy down, comedy is quite nasty. If the basic joke is a guy walks down the street and slips on a banana skin and lands on his backside, we think that’s funny, but we’re laughing at somebody’s misfortune; we’re laughing at something going wrong for somebody. If we’ve already been introduced to that individual and, for some reason, we don’t like him and he walks down the street and he slips on a banana skin and hurts himself, then we laugh harder, and we relish his pain and discomfort. I think the answer is that horror is the dark side, which is the flip side to the light, and these two things are different sides of the same coin. It’s the human condition. The dark is a fundamental part of the human condition, and if we ignore that and try to pretend that it isn’t there and try to not discuss those ideas, I think it’s very dangerous for us. And then religion and horror – they share the same language. They’re concerned about the same things. It’s birth and life and death and flesh and blood and damnation, salvation, redemption, resurrection. it’s all the same language.

DS: I would add it’s not just horror. Arenas fill and sell out constantly. And you can’t tell me that people that watch hockey games really like watching people score goals. People love watching hockey players fight. People love watching boxers box and beat each other. Why do we watch MMA fighting?

DB: I loves me the UFC and the more blood that is getting spread across the canvas, the happier I am, and I happily admit it.

DS: So, in a way though, I think the filmmaker, what we’re really doing – and I think when you begin to see darker content hitting cinemas – I think filmmakers are holding a mirror up to society quite often, and they’re forcing society to kind of reflect upon itself. So that’s where I think we differentiate a bit. But in the same way, I guess, that the sporting event is giving the people what they want, just like in the Roman Colosseum. Nothing’s changed. 

Image of Gabe and the Nun – Photo Courtesy of Thorns

HF: What do you believe is the overall message that viewers should take away from watching Thorns? Is it a cautionary tale?

DS: Yeah. I think there are two worlds. The story is built around the belief of predetermination or free will, and we explore those topics. I’m not really trying to tell you which way to think about your life in general, but those are the topics that are explored in the film. Hopefully, you understand that when you see the film – not just the monster film – and it makes you think a little bit.

HF: Playing the iconic Pinhead established you as a major figure in horror. When taking on new occult roles like Archbishop Jenkins, do you feel pressure to live up to that legacy? 

DB: No. Same answer as I gave you before. It’s a new script, new role, new job, new director, new thing. So, no. I mean you try to be as good as you can be and not disappoint people because you’re obviously aware. You know, Hellraiser was my first movie, so I came to that role with absolutely no expectations of what it might be and if you’d ask me at the time did I expect great things to come out of this, I would have said to you, “You kidding me? I’m playing a character with no name, buried under latex, who’s on screen for less than 10 minutes, and I’m being paid union minimum rates for the privilege. If they pay me any less, I’m probably officially an extra.” The idea of having played that role and nearly 40 years later I’d be sitting in a cinema in Michigan answering questions about the film, I would have thought you lost your mind. None of that ever crossed my mind. Obviously, when I came to… – particularly by the time I did Hellraiser 3 – I was by then aware of what was happening in fandom in relation to Hellraiser, and to Pinhead in particular, and by extension, to me. So, I did then have weight of expectations, but not with subsequent stuff that I do. It’s as I say: it’s a new thing, new script; you do as you always do as an actor. You can prepare and you can research and you can do all of that, but ultimately, you stand on your marks and somebody says, “Action” and you flap your lips and you hope it makes sense. You just hold your nose and jump, and that’s what you always do.

Image of Archbishop Jenkins – Photo Courtesy of Thorns

HF: Throughout your career, you’ve seen the impact of your performances on fans and the horror community. What do you hope the legacy of your work will be, and how do you think Thorns fits into that narrative?     

DB: I don’t think about my legacy. The only thing I can hope for in terms of a legacy is if, when I’m gone, people will say, “He was a pretty good actor,” that will do for me. If people say in relation to that, “Yeah, there was a little movie he shot in Michigan in the early 2020’s called Thorns, which was kind of a science/religion apocalypse movie. It’s pretty neat. You should check it out,” on whatever kind of streaming service by then…Maybe you’ll just have to think, “Thorns,” and the movie will play in your head. But that’s it, really. I don’t have any great thoughts in my head about my legacy. I don’t suppose I’ll be inaugurating the Doug Bradley presidential library when I’m dead and gone. If people remember me as being a decent actor who did good work, that’s enough for me.  

HF: Where and how can people see Thorns.  

DS: People in the Michigan area will get a sneak peak on February 17 at the Emagine Royal Oak for the film’s red carpet, which is nearly sold out. Less than a week after that, on Friday, February 23, it will start to release in Michigan, Kansas City, San Diego, and a few other theatres. The film will begin a slow roll out and then, March 13th it goes wider. We’re not sure how wide yet, but the audience that sees it prior will help determine that. So, hopefully everybody gets out to the theatre to check out Thorns.

HF: Thank you taking the time to speak to Horror Facts today about your new film, Thorns.

DB: You’re welcome.  

DS: Thank you for your time.

Doug Bradley
Image of Doug Bradley

As our conversation with the legendary Doug Bradley and director Doug Schulze comes to a close, it becomes abundantly clear that their latest collaboration, Thorns, is set to unleash a new wave of terror upon audiences.

Thorns is poised to be a chilling and thought-provoking experience for horror enthusiasts. This narrative, intertwining science and prophecy, plunges viewers into an unfolding apocalypse of biblical proportions.

For those eager to experience this nightmarish tale, mark your calendars. Thorns will be hitting theaters in select cities, starting with a sneak peek at the Emagine Royal Oak on February 17th, followed by its official release on February 23rd in Michigan, Kansas City, San Diego, and other select locations. Be sure to check your local listings for showtimes. Then, as the film begins its slow roll-out, the audience’s response will play a pivotal role in determining its wider release, scheduled for March 13th.

As we anticipate the release of Thorns, let us acknowledge Bradley’s continued reign as a master of horror. Fans, old and new, make sure you go check out Thorns in theaters to witness Bradley as he unveils a fresh hell for a new era of enthusiasts. Let’s support this terrifying endeavor and ensure that Thorns reaches even greater depths of darkness.