A misunderstood monster masterpiece?

We return to Midian to unravel the Secrets of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed

Nightbreed, featuring David Cronenberg

Even after 10 years, it is still almost impossible to define Clive Barker’s monster extravaganza Nightbreed. Was it a failure? Yes. Is it a success? Yes, that too...

A Shivers feature by Jake Newton

Selected from Shivers #81

This was Clive Barker’s second film, begun when he was riding high on his startling world-wide success with 1987’s Hellraiser. But here the set-up was completely different. Whereas Hellraiser had been shot with a small crew in one North London house, Nightbreed utilized practically the whole of Pinewood studios to create a fabulous underworld, a distaff Oz somewhere under the rainbow.

Novel Approach

Nightbreed was adapted from Barker’s 1989 novel Cabal, but the reverse may also be true. Cabal differs from much of Barker’s output in that it is considerably shorter and has a much more linear narrative – it is not difficult to belive that it was written as a screenplay, adapted into a book, and then subsequently adapted back again.

Bob Keen and Geoff Portass, special effects technicians on Hellraiser and founders of the Image Animation company, maintain that Barker gave them a personal scene-by-scene performance of what he was planning for Nightbreed before Cabal was even written down.

Nightbreed was made by Morgan Creek films and 20th Century Fox. Barker was allowed more or less complete creative control during filming but there was considerable studio interference afterwards. It would be easy to say that Barker’s vision was scuppered by the unfeeling studio, and while this is certainly true to an extent, some of the blame for the film’s mixed success must undoubtedly lie with Barker.


Clive Barker is now one of the most prominent gay writers and film-makers in Hollywood, but he had not come out publicly in 1990 when Nightbreed was released. It must be said that he drops some pretty big hints in the film, however. It is a veritable hymn to acceptance and the fearful crimes delivered upon the ‘different’ by the supposedly ‘normal’. All of the principal characters in Nightbreed are monstrous, but Barker’s stated intention was to show the physical ‘monsters’, the disfigured and deformed Breed themselves, were the most sympathetic characters of all.

“When Garbo first saw Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête,” Barker told the seminal comic magazine Deadline, “in which the noble beast is transformed into a handsome prince through love, she reputedly said ‘Give me back my beautiful beast!’

“Without wishing to get too Freudian about it,” Barker insisted, “in dreams we are all unnatural. One of the great dreams of humanity is to be protean, to have the ability to change and allow ones inner condition to be reflected in the outer condition.” He gave the shape-changer Rachel a keynote speech to Lori in which she says “You call us monsters but when you dream, it’s of flying or changing or living without death. You envy us… and what you envy… you destroy...”

Telling the Tale

The story is simple. During a rash of attacks by a psychopathic serial killer, a young man called Boone (Craig Shaffer) is convinced into believing that he is the murderer by his psychiatrist, Decker (David Cronenberg).

After a failed suicide attempt under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs given to him by Decker, Boone learns of a region called Midian which is supposedly inhabited by monsters. Still believing that he is a mass murderer, Boone abandons his girlfriend Lori (Ann Bobby) and makes his way to the area. Decker – who is actually the serial killer – gives chase.

Boone discovers Midian to be a vast cemetary, where, after sunset, he is attacked by a savage creature called Peloquin. Peloquin’s bite transforms Boone into one of the Nightbreed, weird creatures, the last of the Tribes of the Moon, who live hidden from the eyes of man in a vast complex of tunnels under the necropolis. But Decker’s hatred extends even to these monsters, and he allies himself with a fascistic local police chief called Eigerman to launch an all-out attack on Midian.

In an underground temple, Boone encounters Baphomet, the God of Midian, and is told that he will be the saviour of the Nightbreed. But with enemies all around them, there is nowhere to run. There follows an apocalyptic battle between Eigerman’s mob and the ranks of the Nightbreed.

See next month’s Shivers for the full story of the fall of the Nightbreed!

Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction

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