The Nightbreed Retrospective: An Introduction

There are moments in our lives that when they happen, don’t seem to be anymore than the passing of time, and are only of importance in retrospect.  For me, that moment came in 2003 while I was at summer school.  A friend gave me a burned CD that would be the catalyst of an epic change in my perspective on writing and on horror itself.

The album was Cradle of Filth’s Midian.  At the time, Cradle was my favorite band, a band that gave me everything my seventeen year old soul needed and Midian was in constant rotation on my disc man (yes, I had a disc man back then, this was pre-Ipod you see) and as is my nature when I become obsessed with something, I begin researching it.  My research into the Midian album lead me to various interviews with the band explaining that the album was thematically based around Clive Barker’s 1990 film, Nightbreed, which in turn was based on the novella, Cabal.

I knew I had to seek this film out, and my research took me all over the internet, to every website that had any shred of info about the film.  But as I said, this was 2003, and while I could go to one of the five video stores (two Blockbuster’s, and three independent stores) in my town to find Nightbreed, my search was fruitless.  I figured I would have to content myself with the information available online, and the hope that one day, when I had a job (and thus money) I would have the good fortune to stumble across a copy of Nightbreed that I would call my own (This happened in 2006, but more on that later).

So what was a young horror fan to do? I knew the film was based on a novella, and as fortune would have it, I found a copy of Cabal in my high school library (don’t ask me how or why a Clive Barker novel, especially one such as Cabal had found its way into my high school library, a library that had only two Stephen King novels I might add), and it seemed that fortune was truly favoring me that afternoon, as I read the back cover of the book I saw that it included the short story The Last Illusion, the basis of my then favorite Barker film, Lord of Illusions.

I checked the book out and eagerly began devouring it on my bus ride home.  Reading Cabal was the equivalent of stepping through the looking-glass, a journey of wonder and terror that left me forever changed.  Never had a read a story that featured such explicit violence and sex, let alone one written with such a frank and flowing style.  The scene where Lori fucks the transforming Boone was what solidified the novel for me. Nothing I had read or seen to that point could prepare more for the beauty and natural ease that Barker brought to the marriage of sex and death, let alone the purity of the message at the heart of the story.  While I had written short stories about monsters being heroes fighting evil humans, Barker had already conquered that land with grace and style that opened my eyes to what was possible with the written word.  Here was a writer who pushed beyond the line that Stephen King (my unquestioned hero then) never seemed to cross, a writer unafraid of shoving the horror right in your face and gleefully laughing as you squirmed.

Just as my first Norwegian black metal album forever changed my perspective of what metal could be, so too had Cabal change my perspective on writing.  Where King had taught me to find the horror in the mundane, Barker taught me there is no such thing as decency in fiction, that self-censorship and the fear of disapproval by a reader is the anathema of creativity, that to flourish and to truly scare your audience, you must be willing to push beyond the boundaries of what they may consider “Right”.

With all that said, I’d like to dedicate this retrospective to Clive, who helped shape my creative view of the world, and without his influence, I wouldn’t still be writing.

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