The Tribes Of The Moon Embrace You
I’m going tell you a story about Clive Barker’s film Nightbreed, conversations since its release 30 years ago, and a secret.
In Nightbreed, Boone (Craig Sheffer) has fearful hallucinations which his psychiatrist, Decker (David Cronenberg), persuades him are evidence of his guilt in four recent family slayings. Horrified, Boone leaves Calgary and his girlfriend, Lori (Anne Bobby), to protect her from the monster he believes himself to be.
While in the hospital after being hit by a truck, he hears of a place called Midian; a place where the monsters go and where all sins are forgiven. It’s home to the Nightbreed — outlandish, fantastical, and beautiful monsters who call themselves the Tribes of the Moon. In the wilds of Alberta, he finds it.
When Lori tracks Boone to Midian, she’s shown a vision of the torture of the Breed by Naturals (humans). A black-robed figure wearing a KKK-style hood reads from a Bible while the Breed are thrown into burning pits. A skull with fangs is dropped on a pile of other misshapen ones. The fanged jaws still move as if screaming.
Later in the film, the Naturals invade Midian leaving many Nightbreed dead and the rest hiding in a barn, seemingly with no hope. The only monster to survive is the real serial killer of the families who’s followed Boone.
For me, the film is about the order of the world, and that monsters, the ‘other’, are destroyed by the fascist Naturals. As Rachel (Catherine Chevalier) says, humans envy the Nightbreed who can fly and change into smoke or a wolf. And what humans envy, they destroy.
Since Nightbreed’s release, which saw the studio change Clive’s “Gone With The Wind with monsters” into a slasher film, I’ve briefly spoken with many LGBTIQ+ fans at conventions. They’ve told me how important the film is to them in terms of self-acceptance and hope. I thanked them but really didn’t understand. The film isn’t what Clive had initially intended and, for me, it depicts that all that is wonderful is usually crushed and destroyed by bigotry, fear, and hatred.
To put my feelings into context, during filming, I was an out gay man and being gay wasn’t good. I’d been told by my theatrical and film agent to stay in the closet. The year before filming, Margaret Thatcher’s government had passed Clause 28, a law which stated that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. A government MP, Peter Bruinvels, said on TV “I do not agree with homosexuality. I think that Clause 28 will help outlaw it and the rest will be done by AIDS, with a substantial number of homosexuals dying of AIDS. I think that’s probably the best way.”
At face value, there’s very little to inspire LGBTIQ+ people to feel accepted in Nightbreed. The love of Boone and Lori is purely heterosexual and apparently functioning, as the original sequence where Boone and Lori talk about his inability to make love was dropped.
I didn’t really buy Alexander Jodorowsky’s view, who was quoted as calling Nightbreed “the first truly gay horror fantasy epic”, proposing that Boone has an unconsummated relationship with Decker. But that didn’t appear to be what people were thinking about.
More recently, in Cabal and Other Annotations by Clive Barker and others, John McManus advanced the idea that Decker is performing some sort of conversion therapy as Boone is suppressing his gayness. This idea is echoed in the original script where Boone can’t make love to Lori as he has violent visions whenever he tries. It’s intriguing and shows great insight, but again, it is not what I thought people were referring to.
A couple of years ago I spoke to someone who explained why Nightbreed was so important to them as a gay teenager. They said the film gave them hope because someone else understood what it felt like to be other, an outsider. It was different from other horror movies where the monster is pure evil and is trying to stalk and slash you, or the monster, such as with Frankenstein’s monster or Quasimodo, is simply a misunderstood victim. In Nightbreed, a community of monsters really are the ‘good guys’. They have also created a society where all wonders are accepted.
Nightbreed gave them hope, as to be accepted and understood is a huge part of happiness. To quote Kinski in the Director’s Cut of the film, Boone “unmade Midian”, an imaginary place. If anything made real by humankind stems from the imagination, then Midian may, too, be made real.
In my mind, Kinski is gay.
When I read the script, I thought he had a crush on Peloquin. To me, Kinski’s a wannabe bad guy who hangs out with the more dangerous Peloquin because he’s just very sexy.
In a scene that didn’t make it into any version of the film, there’s a moment during the destruction of Midian when Lylesburg is urging the Nightbreed to stay below ground while Boone argues they should fight. There were dozens of us in makeup on the three-story set, standing on the rope bridges listening to them. I stood next to an obviously male actor, as he was stripped to the waist and it just felt right to put my arm around him protectively, and I thought; “This is Kinski’s real love. Surely, there are gay Nightbreed?”
The truth is, we all want to belong to a Tribe of the Moon; be that tribe family, friends, online, in dungeons, in clubs, or in the woods. We want and need to belong; to be accepted and celebrated for who we are.
When we’re told our love is unnatural and a sin, that we’ll burn, that we’ll never be happy or find love, and when laws are passed against us, the instinct is to hide, to conform, and to live in the shadows of half-truths and repressed desires fearfully hidden. We need a community of freaks to call our own.
As Peloquin says in Nightbreed, “everything’s true: God’s an astronaut, Oz is over the rainbow …”. Or perhaps that merry old land with such accepting citizens is closer; East of Peace River, near a town called Shereneck, north of Dwyer, in a place called Midian.
Nicholas Vince is an actor, author, playwright, and filmmaker known for playing Chatterer in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Kinski in Nightbreed. He recently wrote and performed his autobiographical play, I Am Monsters!, to great acclaim in London and Las Vegas, and is currently working on his third collection of short stories, Prayers of Desire.