Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-07-20 10:33:00

Clive Barker – Cabal

268 Pages

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man

Clive Barker’s had some terrible luck when it comes to movie adaptations. Sure, he’s got Hellraiser 1&2 under his belt, two of the finest horror movies of all time, and Candyman was fairly decent, but aside from that, by and large, he’s gotten the shaft each and every time. The Hellraiser sequels have ranged from ‘surprisingly good’ to ‘oh sweet lord, no’, Lord of Illusions was either hilarious or pitiful, depending on who you asked, and the most recent adaptation, Midnight Meat Train, was, in a word, abysmal, being related to the original short story in name and basic concept alone. Which would’ve been perfectly acceptable if the movie hadn’t committed the cardinal sin of being terrible. Of all the adaptations, however, Nightbreed holds a special place for many. Helraiser aside, it demonstrates arguably the greatest breadth of Barker’s vision, the freaks and monsters that populate his mind. The quality of the film itself is debatable, but for sheer visual impact, it’s definitely a keeper.

Cabal is the book it was based on, and with a few deviations, the two are remarkably close to each other. Our main character is Boone, a man with some serious mental issues, to put it mildly. While being treated by his doctor, Deckard, he comes to realise that he may be a serial killer, responsible for the deaths of dozens. One unsuccessful suicide attempt later, he has a purpose: he heads to Midian, a necropolis of the lost and damned, where monsters like him can find respite and absolution. But upon arrival, he’s attacked and told that, despite his beliefs, he’s actually innocent. Running from his assailants, he’s discovered by the police and shot down on the spot.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there.

Cabal is arguably Clive Barker by numbers. All his typical themes and obsessions are here: transformation, both overt and otherwise, the sacred and the profane, the thin line between the mundane and the magical and, of course, his obsession with the flesh. Midian is filled with the Nightbreed, monsters of all shapes and sizes that have banded together for mutual protection. The breed are a true phantasmagoria of the weird, grotesque and bizarre, from the dog-headed painter to the man made of a flock of birds. Most of them are just mentioned in passing, but it gives a fascinating view of the larger world.

Less impressive is the main central theme. So let me get this straight: the Breed are the ones who look all scary and weird, but the ignorant hicks that want to stomp them out immediately upon discovery are the real monsters here, you don’t say, do go on. It’s a tired, hackneyed theme and, unfortunately, it’s not one that’s particularly dealt with well. The only character from the town that comes across as having any real decency is the priest, held over a barrel by the arrogant sherrif for being a transvestite, and even he’s unfairly treated throughout the story, his only real role being to show how not everyone is a complete bastard while simultaniously having the literal and metaphorical crap kicked out of him. He also seems to be setting up a plot hook for a sequel, which would explain a lot more, but it’s been over 20 years and we’ve not seen much more since, so who knows.

Worse are the two sex scenes which… well, Barker came out as being gay some years after this book was published, and in retrospect, it’s not entirely surprising. You ever seen that episode of South Park where Mr. Garrison tries to write a book, and everything ends up having a fixation with wangs? It’s like that. Each scene basically boils down to “Penis penis penis, penis is awesome, penis penis, did I put enough detail into describing the penis? Alsonakedgirlmasturbatingonabed, okay, back to the freaks!” Without that knowledge, it seems a little suspect, and with, comes across as outright hilarious. More so especially if that South Park episode happens to pop in your head at the time.

If you’re looking to get into some Clive Barker, this, along with the Books of Blood collections, is a great place to start. Yes, as I said, it’s somewhat formulaic, but it covers everything you’d probably want to know about the man’s work, and it’s easier to get into than something like, say, Weaveworld or Imajica. It’s short, reasonably to the point and filled wth some nice moments of action and horror, with some occasional moments and lines that shine wonderfully. Consider it the literary equivilent of a ‘Best Of’ album and be done with it.

The story of the Nightbreed was continued in a series of comics, published in the early 90s by Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint, alongside a Hellraiser anthology. The comics primarily take the canon of the film with elements of the book added to fill out the gaps. The Hellraiser comics have been reprinted recently, so there’s every chance the Breed will rise again. For now, we, like the characters at the end of the tale, will need to wait and see.

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