Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (1990) is truly a resounding mash of monsters. It’s a story for anyone who has ever felt they were on the outside, fighting for understanding, love, and acceptance. It’s also a story that asks if understanding, love, and acceptance is worth fighting for from people that harbor ill will.
Nightbreed follows Boone (Craig Sheffer) dreams of monsters leading him to the mysterious underground community of Midian where the Nightbreed live. The Nightbreed are a community of beings who have been shunned from the world due to their physical differences and paranormal capabilities. They have been driven underground by those who do not understand or accept them but these creatures are not ultimately dangerous. There’s a bad seed or two, of course, but their drive for nastiness is based on the ugliness that has been shown to them. They’re God’s rejects, the things spoken about in the Bible and reinterpreted by humans to represent sin. And so, the Nightbreed are a perfect metaphor for any sort of difference that is not accepted in the real world.
Writer and director Clive Barker, who is a queer individual, presented Midian in such a way that one can sense the queer sensibilities that float through the city as well as through the Nightbreed who reside there. Being a film in the early 90s that was supposed to be mainstream, that aspect isn’t as blatant as it could have been. The film itself was treated like a resident of Midian as production company Morgan Creek Entertainment, and distributor Twentieth Century Fox, didn’t fully understand it. The film’s promotional material treated it like a slasher-esque romp, leaving out the residents of Midian and focusing on the film’s masked killer Decker (David Cronenberg).
The theatrical release snipped the majority of Barker’s original message, that sometimes the monsters are the innocent ones. Thankfully, he has since been able to piece together a cut of the film that portrays his original message. Having watched just the Director’s Cut, I can say that his message is clear. The Nightbreed represent the ones without a voice, the ones who must work beyond their means for acceptance and justice, the ones who feel that they must hide who they are for their safety. This is extremely present within the film’s finale when Midian is overtaken by a mob with pitchforks and torches. Except, this is the 20th century and those pitchforks and torches are replaced with guns and explosives. The mob goes through Midian, taking out the Nightbreed as if it’s a party. It’s up to Boone, Lori, and the Nightbreed to wage war back against them to protect Midian.
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Midian could have continued to stay hidden but the ties between Decker and Boone are what led to their discovery, and to Midian’s ultimate demise. Baphomet (the eldest of the Nightbreed and creator of Midian) unhappy that his world is under attack, plans to destroy Midian, placing it upon Boone to rebuild after the destruction. So what part could Boone play in a queer representation of Nightbreed?
I’ve placed him in the role of ally, but that gives off a vibe that a straight individual will save the day. Even in the film, Boone’s rise within Midian is a part of a prophecy. In the Director’s Cut, it’s shown that the final moments between Lori and him are a part of that prophecy. The love between the two leads to Lori killing herself so that Boone will make her a part of the Nightbreed.
What I wouldn’t have given for a queer couple to have replaced Boone and Lori. I’m not knocking what was portrayed. Allies are needed within the queer community. Sometimes, it’s their voices that are heard before queer voices, and who’s to say that either Boone or Lori aren’t a little queer themselves? Although written and directed by a queer individual, It was still a mainstream 90s film without much room for blatant representation.
I would like to give some love to Ohnaka (Simon Bamford). This is purely speculation, but there’s something about his character’s aura that gave off a queer sensibility. It could also be his flirtatious response to Narcisse (Hugh Ross) who I believe could identify as queer. While these two are partially cemented in my head as the most queer of the Nightbreed, there are aspects of many of the underdeveloped creatures that could have been just as queer.
There’s been some work among Clive Barker with SyFy to create a TV series based on Barker’s material (book and film). Barked told ComingSoon that he was currently working on the bible of the Nightbreed, and it was revealed that Mike Dougherty (Krampus) would be taking on directing duties. “It’s exciting, after 30 years, to go back to these characters and find out who’s still speaking to me, who wants their story told,” Barked shared back in September. There’s such a huge world that can come out of Nightbreed. The stories that can be told have the ability to be epic, to be emotional, and to be incredibly queer.
Barker had a lot to say with Nightbreed and with his book, Cabal, that the film was based on. Eerily, it represents the world that we’re living in, 30 years later. Have you been able to experience Nightbreed since its rise out of Midian those 30 years ago? What’s your first memory of the film? Who’s your favorite of the Nightbreed? Let us know on our Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!