Sunday, April 4, 2010

Twist the Whole Thing

“Cabal” turns nearly everything over. Clive Barker succeeds in making the cops and doctors the bad guys, and the things, the monsters, the Nightbreed under the cemetery, well, not quite the good guys, but the guys the reader roots for anyway.

Boone is at best a confused, guilt-ridden, and weak person. At worst he’s crazy in a dangerous serial killer kind of way. It turns out he’s not a serial killer, but he may not be completely sane either.

The serial killer turns out to be Decker, Boone’s psychiatrist, and for most of this story Decker pulls everyone’s strings in an effort to cover for nearly a dozen murders (more, actually as Decker confesses to Boone) so he can continue his killing spree in a new location. All he has to do is pin his past killings on Boone and slip off to another happy hunting ground. But Boone’s girlfriend Lori won’t buy into the story and Boone won’t stay dead.

Unfortunately the reader is right there with Lori, not believing the story. Decker has found a perfectly willing patsy in Boone, and Boone is happily going along with the idea that he was some kind of mass murderer, but the Nightbreed Peloquin knows Boone is innocent of spilling blood. The exchange between Boone and Decker on pages 47 and 48 is the first twist of the story:

“I killed nobody,” he murmured.

I know that,” Decker replied.

“That’s why I couldn’t remember any of the rooms. I was never there.”

“But you remember now,” Decker said.

“Only because –” Boone stopped, and stared at the man in the charcoal suit, “because you showed me.”

Taught you,” Decker corrected him.

This exchange is chilling, and the reader can happily be carried along by this notion. But the pesky details crop up. Eleven separate murders is a lot of forensics, a lot of timelines, a lot of evidence that has to line up and be verified. If Barker had Decker trying to pin one or two murders on Boone, maybe the reader goes with it. But eleven? There is just too much that has to happen perfectly for Boone to fit into eleven separate murder scenes perfectly. Modern forensics and police procedurals kind of ruin this type of plot point.

Once Boone gets to Midian, once the Nightbreed are fully engaged as part of this story then it becomes a near masterpiece. Clive Barker takes the creatures of the night and paints them as just another species of sentient being. Humans call them monsters, and they do prey on humanity when they can, but so do lions and tigers and bears (oh my) and we generally don’t consider them monsters. Barker shows them as misunderstood and the prey of humanity in their own right. Towards the end of this story Barker sums the Breed up very well: “The un-people, the anti-tribe, humanity’s sack unpicked and sewn together again with the moon inside” (185).

This is a great description for the Breed. They truly are creatures of the night. As Midian is razed into non-existence by the humans Barker takes the opportunity to show all forms and non-forms for the inhabitants. All manner of creatures are described fleeing the onslaught. This was excellent as it showed the Breed as a diverse group of creatures, not just a bevy of vampires or a cluster of werewolves. The creatures are unique and original and truly monstrous, just like humans.

Another great point for this story is that as awesome and supernatural as the Nightbreed are, they can be fought and destroyed by the humans. So many monster stories feature creatures that humans have no hope against, yet humans are the rulers of the planet. The Breed are in hiding because the balance of power, from a sheer numbers perspective, is in favor of the humans. This adds to their sympathy from the reader and helps them root for these creatures of the night.

The title for this story, “Cabal,” does bug me from a strict definition perspective. Boone is renamed Cabal by the Baptizer Baphomet. A cabal, by definition, is a group. Boone is tasked with being the one who rebuilds Midian somewhere else, somewhere more acceptable. So, the reader tries to give cabal the meaning of bringing the many who are Nightbreed back together in one place, but that doesn’t really fit either. Then the reader tries to say the Cabal is Boone from his human days and now Cabal is the Nightbreed creature he has become, but that is only two entities (and really only one). So, one has to guess that Barker just dug the word cabal and that is fine, if a little distracting.

Overall the genius of this story is that the Christian humans are the bad guys. They attack what they don’t understand and the Nightbreed just want to be left alone. Now, the Breed aren’t completely innocent. Peloquin attacks and nearly kills Boone when he first gets to Midian. He sees Boone as nothing more than meat. But this tale is excellent for giving the Breed their place on the hero side of the good/bad ledger.

Barker has always had a gift for creating supernatural creatures of an epic and memorable quality. The Nightbreed of “Cabal” may be his crowning achievement, even more than the Cenobites.


  1. I love Clive Barker - for many reasons, but mainly because he takes the time (as you noted) to twist the tropes of horror fiction. The humans are bad, the monsters are good. The benevolent doctor is the serial killer, and the gothic setting (my favorite topic) is even twisted - Midian is the safe place, despite it meeting all the requirements of the Gothic.

    I also liked how Barker used the concept of the "other" as forming their own community.


  2. Now think for a moment just how many stories have used this very storyline (that the monsters are the good guys) and you'll see just how influential Barker (and his influences) are. For crying out loud, have you seen the movie "Small Soldiers?"

  3. And, for the record, I think the 'breed are my favorites over the Cenobites, though Pinhead is still the pope of Hell...