09 January 2010


To begin with there was The Hellbound Heart and Cabal, both short but intense novellas by author Clive Barker. Scarcely a year later he created Hellraiser, a film version of The Hellbound Heart, producing an intelligent but gory horror. Following the success of Hellraiser - and it was a success, introducing some of the most enduring and grotesque images of horror ever seen - Clive and a Hellraiser-impressed Fox were keen to follow up with something better. That's where Cabal came in.

Naming the project after Cabal's main protagonists, the Nightbreed, Barker adapted and shaped the novella to produce a complex script involving a shadowy underworld of exiled horrors. The Nightbreed are not accepted by society; each one has killed and is, through the power of their brokendeity Baphomet, provided with some sort of power, or at least something that makes them different; the changes in question are not always beneficial. Young Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), carefully framed for multiple, bloody murders by his psychiatrist, Decker (reassuringly played by David Cronenberg), makes his way to Midian, 'where the monsters live'. He's followed, of course, and pretty soon Decker turns out not only to be homicidal, but genocidal, too. The monsters must die, particularly as Boone is one of them and knows Decker's secret, and thus Nightbreed becomes more than simply a horror film, taking on the role of an allegory about intolerance. Primarily, of course, it's a horror film, as shown by the make-up effects, the ambitious sets, and copious quantities of blood. It's subtle horror, too - the scene in which a family is deliberately and matter-of-factly slaughtered by Decker is chillingly plausible.

Sadly, though moderately popular on release, Nightbreed has not stood the test of time. Like Hellraiser, upon its release Nightbreed was accompanied by a range of tie-in books, computer games and comics. Unlike Hellraiser, however, it failed to spawn a sequel (although this is not necessarily a bad thing), and (more importantly) failed to produce an enduring image: Hellraiser had Pinhead, the chief Cenobite, whose pin-studded visage has since become a universal symbol of the horrific. Nightbreed has no such icon - despite its lavish sets, equally grotesque make-up effects and intelligent script, it has simply faded. A recent DVD release may go some way toward reviving it, but ultimately Nightbreed has had its chance and missed it, for whatever reason. It's a shame; maybe Nightbreed wasn't the perfect horror film, but it was by no means a bad film.

Don't forget the Danny Elfman soundtrack, either. Nightbreed was supposed to be a success - the next big Barker movie. So what went wrong? Nightbreed was dogged by unforeseen complexities. Marc Almond, given a part by Clive as a friendly gesture, was later forced to pull out, leaving the film with one Almond-sized full body prosthetic and no-one to fill it. The complex underworld of Midian was expensive to produce - all rope bridges and suspended walkways; corners had to be cut. Add to this, too, the twenty-five minutes of material Barker was forced to remove. Fox were unhappy with the explicit horror and unpleasant sexual imagery - in the original cut the Berserkers, described by other Nightbreed as 'mad bastards', were equipped with savage, penis-like heads, not dissimilar to that of Rawhead Rex in an earlier Barker film. Add to this mix, also, more than a little overacting on the part of Hugh Ross, and some dreadful eighties hair on the part of Anne Bobby.

The end of Nightbreed clearly leaves the way open for a sequel. It is unlikely to ever appear, of course, but just in case, the DVD edition is readily available. Now may very well be the time to acquaint yourself with the novella Cabal, closely followed by the film...

Nightbreed was directed by Clive Barker and produced by Gabriella Martinelli and Joe Roth. It was released in 1990 featuring the acting talents of Craig Sheffer as Aaron Boone, Anne Bobby as Lori Desinger and David Cronenberg as Dr. Philip Decker. The music, released on CD but difficult to obtain, was composed by Danny Elfman.

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