Clive Barker’s second film, after the enormous success of Hellraiser (1988), was Nightbreed. Based on his novella, Cabal, the auteur intended it to be the Star Wars of monster movies. Unfortunately, 20th Century Fox, the distributor, butchered Barker’s dark, thoughtful fantasy film without his knowledge. Released theatrically with a 102-minute running time and marketed as a slasher movie, Nightbreed failed to bring in the revenue of Hellraiser. Through home video, however, it found a core audience, becoming a cult classic. Many who had read the novella knew, as Clive Barker acknowledged in interviews, that there was a wholly different film intended. However, it wouldn’t be until 2014, after much of the missing footage had been found and restored, did fans finally see Nightbreed the way it was intended. The following beat sheet is from 120-minute Director’s Cut that is currently available on Amazon Prime Video and Tubi. A Nightbreed streaming series is also in the works.
Genre: Monster in the House (Supra-natural Monster)
Logline: A troubled young man, Aaron Boone, is drawn to a mythical place called Midian, where a variety of affable monsters are hiding from humanity. Meanwhile, a sadistic serial killer is looking for a patsy.
Written and directed by: Clive Barker (based on his novella, Cabal)
Screenplay ghostwritten by Mark Frost
MITH Cousins: The Witch, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, The Exorcist, Candyman, Hocus Pocus, Black Sunday, The Blair Witch Project, The Babadook, The Dunwich Horror, The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Plague of the Zombies, Cry of the Banshee, Onibaba, Wake Wood, Kwaidan, The Guardian, Masque of the Red Death, The Demon, Viy, Night of the Demon, Burn Witch Burn, The Lair of the White Worm
Opening Image (1): Fantastic images of monsters and compelling wall paintings, all to a sweeping Danny Elfman score (one of his most underrated). We don’t know that these wall paintings—frantic images of monsters, beautiful and hideous, as if we’re in a cemetery and being chased, running for the gates for safety—are a prophecy that will be fulfilled.
Set-Up (1-10): Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) awakens from a bad dream. He doesn’t understand these “monster dreams,” but he soon will. His girlfriend, Lori Winston (Anne Bobby), tells him that they should get out of Calgary, Canada, for relaxation.
Theme Stated (4): Lori tells him that she wants to get away from work and phone calls, to be alone together, and away from it all. They are each an outlier in their own way, only finding peace with one another. The theme is finding a safe haven for outsiders at all costs.
Set-Up (Cont’d) Boone receives a cryptic call from Dr. Philip K. Decker (David Cronenberg), telling him to come in. The doctor, in his darkened office, has a suitcase in front of him. Opening it, he says to himself, “God help us all.” What does this mean? In a residential neighborhood, a man wearing a death mask and dark trench coat, wielding a glimmering, surgical Liston knife, slices and dices a family.
Catalyst (12): Aaron meets with Decker. The doctor asks him about Midian and monsters. Midian is the city of monsters where Aaron escapes to in his dreams. “A place where all of your sins are forgiven,” the doctor says. “Do you know what sins?” Decker shows Aaron some disturbing images of murder victims—six families killed within 10 months. Decker tells Aaron he’ll give him 24 hours to turn himself in.
Debate (12-23): Aaron takes the pills prescribed by Decker. He hallucinates, nearly burns down his apartment, and walks in front of a truck. Aaron is admitted to a hospital. The doctor tells him he’s on a “bad trip.” What? It’s supposed to be the mood-stabilizing drug lithium, but it’s a lab-quality hallucinogenic.
While he’s convalescing on a gurney, Aaron hears a voice from the next room. It’s a strange man, Narcisse (Hugh Ross). He’s peering into the stormy darkness and speaking of Midian. He says that Midian is where the monsters go—they forgive you of your sins if you’re worthy. Narcisse, who has some mental problems, believes that Aaron is from Midian and “testing” him. So the man pulls out a pair of razors and slices off his face to show his “true face.” In the melee, the doctors show up, as does Decker. Knowing that Decker betrayed him and will again, Aaron makes a run for it.
Decker tells Detective Joyce (Hugh Quarshie) that he needs some time alone with the dying Narcisse to find out what Aaron Boone may have done with him and where he’s gone. Decker has his trusty doctor’s bag with him—this doesn’t look good.
Break into Two (23): Aaron escapes the city in his truck. Thanks to Narcisse’s direction, he finds Midian, the cemetery in his dreams—a necropolis. He parks his truck, opens the iron-wrought gate with an “M” on it, and wanders through the old cemetery. He’s made his choice to cross over into the special world. As the sun sets, Aaron finds a comfy crypt to relax against, and he falls asleep…
Fun and Games (30-53): After nightfall, a stray dog awakens Aaron. Soon, he’s surrounded by a few strange men, more monsters than men, ones that seem familiar (from his dreams). One standout is Peloquin (Oliver Parker), a hideous demon creature. Aaron says that he belongs here in Midian; he’s worthy. Peloquin says he can smell innocence, and Aaron has killed no one (Decker lied); he’s Natural, not Nightbreed. Peloquin says that Boone is “meat for the beast” and takes a healthy bite out of his shoulder.
Just like in the opening images, Aaron Boone runs for his life, chased by monsters, to the Midian cemetery gates. Only this time, there’s a twist. Detective Joyce and the local police are waiting for him—and so is Dr. Decker. The doctor says he can talk to Boone. He approaches him, then lies and says Aaron has a gun, hitting the dirt. The police fire, and in a folly of gunshots, Aaron Boone is killed in cold blood.
Lori identifies the body and talks to Decker and Joyce. Boone wasn’t violent and had never hurt anyone before. Decker says everyone has a “secret face.” Boone’s body is wheeled into pathology for an autopsy. After several bullets are pulled out of his corpse, the doctors take a coffee break. Peloquin’s animal bite seems to have magical properties. It resurrects Aaron Boone, and he escapes.
B Story (30): Lori packs her bags. After talking to Decker, she will find this Midian place that her dead lover was obsessed with—maybe she’ll find some answers or even him. Inevitably, she will discover Boone and help guide him to do the right thing.
Fun and Games (cont’d): Dr. Decker sits at a table filled with various exotic knives. He listens to a recording of Boone talking about Midian—there, after he’s dead, he’ll live forever. Angered, the doctor smashes the tape player against the wall. Lori arrives at a cowboy bar on the outskirts of Midian. She meets a spirited barfly, Sheryl Ann (Debora Weston), whom she confides in about Boone. Cheryl Anne agrees to help.
In the underworld of Midian, Narcisse guides Boone around. Since no place on Earth wanted them, they’re now consigned to the world where monsters live. Boone goes through the mystical ceremony of Baphomet led by Dirk Lylesberg (Doug Bradley), and he is “knighted” a Nightbreed.
The next morning, Lori and hung-over Sheryl Ann head out to Midian. They find the ancient cemetery.
Lori explores the cemetery looking for some answers about Boone. A Brian Froud-looking creature suffers in the sun. Lori saves the child, named Babette (Kim/Nina Robertson), and gives it to her mother, Rachel (Catherine Chevalier). Dirk Lylesberg appears from below. Lori wants answers about Boone from him. He won’t give them: “What is below remains below. That is the Law.” She follows Lylesberg and his monstrous entourage down the steps of a mausoleum. Below are violent and hideous monsters that attack her. She escapes.
Lori returns to the car to find Sheryl Ann dead, slashed to death. The killer from earlier comes after her—it’s Dr. Decker. He wants to slay Lori to bring Boone out of hiding. She escapes back into Midian.
Below, Boone is restrained. He wants to help Lori—but when he became Nightbreed, he left the affairs of the natural world behind. Dr. Decker stalks Lori. Boone disobeys Lylesberg and rushes to save Lori from his demented doctor.
Midpoint (53): False Victory. Decker stabs Boone, but he’s already dead. Boone and Narcisse are going to kill Decker. Decker flees, and after turning into a beast, Boone goes after him. However, Narcisse is about to kill Lori—she screams. Boone returns to help her. This crosses the A and B stories of Lori and Boone. It also raises the stakes as it’s only a matter of time before they’re discovered. This sets the inevitable time clock into motion.
Bad Guys Close In (53-75): Lylesberg tells Boone to take Lori and go live among the Naturals; that is the Law. Boone asks who made the Law, and Lylesberg says, “Baphomet.” Boone goes to appeal to the deity. Decker stops off at a gas station to use a phone. He calls Detective Joyce, telling him to organize the police. He tries to needle more information about Midian from the old attendant. The doctor tortures the old man. We learn that Decker is killing breeders (“filth making filth”) and in his fascist ideals, cleansing the earth of what he deems as undesirables. The mad doctor then kills the attendant, getting enough information to destroy Midian.
Rachel explains to Lori that the Nightbreed are the last of the tribes of freaks and shapeshifters. However, humankind has nearly destroyed them. Only this last bastion exists. They were killed because they were envied by the living with the powers to fly, turn into smoke, and truly know the night; some Nightbreed exist on a higher plane and cannot be killed. Babette, who can project images into other’s minds, “shows” Lori the carnage that violent fundamentalists did to destroy the many tribes of Nightbreed.
Lori searches the bowels of Midian looking for Boone. It’s a house of horrors with slimy, slithering monsters occupying every room. She runs into Peloquin, who wants her to “join the family” by biting her. Dr. Decker and Detective Joyce meet Police Captain Eigerman (Charles Haid), who has a fascist, right-wing militia that he’ll use to eviscerate the residents of Midian. Ohnaka (Simon Bamford) guides Lori to Boone in the Baphomet’s tabernacle. She convinces him to leave Midian, and they return to the motel, followed by Decker. The doctor calls in the police. Boone and Lori discover all of the people Decker killed in the motel. More murders he wants to pin on Boone. The SWAT team shows up.
All Is Lost (74): At the sight of all the blood from murdered victims, Boone turns into his monster form and satieties himself on the carnage—a whiff of death moment. The SWAT team closes in on him; Lori manages to escape. Boone’s locked away in a cell. Cigar-chomping Eigerman waits in the cell and brutalizes the prisoner for being “a freak and a cannibal.”
Dark Night of the Soul (74-82): A doctor examines Boone. He has no heartbeat or pulse—he’s dead but walking around. Eigerman gets wind of this and freaks out. He goes into his stock of assault rifles and grenade launchers. Over in Midian, a squad of Eigerman’s police officers, led by Detective Joyce, search the cemetery. They find Ohnaka and drag him out into the sunlight, brutalizing him. Ohnaka burns to death, pleading for mercy as the indifferent officers look on.
Narcisse and Rachel drive up to the Shere Neck Police Department, meeting Lori. They go inside and spring Boone. The reason: Midian needs Boone. He went into Baphomet’s chamber, spoke to the underworld deity, and survived. No Nightbreed has ever done that. Maybe Baphomet imparted some knowledge to Boone that will save the Nightbreed.
Lori goes into Boone’s cell, and she kisses him. He turns into a beast, excited for her flesh. She doesn’t mind. She loves him for who—or what—he is. True love. Eigerman, teamed up with drunkard Reverend Ashberry, rushes to Midian. With their army of police and civilian militia (some wearing red caps), they wire Midian with explosives and set them off. Decker reveals his case of killing tools to Detective Joyce, using it as a distraction. Decker kills Joyce. Now the mad doctor, armed with his mask and knives, has free reign to kill—and find Boone.
Break into Three (82): Boone, Lori, Narcisse, and Rachel race back to Midian to save it, but it’s too late. The walls of the crypts are crashing down on the monsters hiding from the sun. A and B stories cross; this is no longer the safe haven for outsiders.
— Gathering of the Team: As many Breed are killed by Naturals above, Boone convinces the Midian residents, against Dirk Lylesberg’s wishes, that they must fight to save their children.
— Executing the Plan: The surviving residents of Midian attack the gun-toting milia. They’re outgunned, literally, though. It’s not looking good for Nightbreed against so many Naturals.
— High Tower Surprise: Baphomet plans to blow up Midian to save it from the Naturals. Not good.
— Dig, Deep Down: Boone suggests they release the Berserkers—huge rage monsters kept locked up. Before he can release them, though, Lylesberg is shot and killed. Boone releases the monsters. The cannibalistic, humanoid, underground dwellers rise and rip the milia to shreds. They retreat, leaving the remains of Midian destroyed and burning.
Boone fights with Decker in their inevitable dance of death. (Decker is a monster, too—a human monster, who envies Boone; his strange fixation with his former patient borders on an almost unrequited, obsessive love/hate relationship.) Decker lunges a sword through Boone. He embraces his former doctor, impaling him in a phallic-like gesture, and kills him.
Boone goes into Baphomet’s tabernacle. In the act of faith, Boone allows the deity to embrace and speak to him. He tells Boone that he destroyed Midian, an inevitable act according to the prophecy. Now he must relocate and rebuild to save Baphomet from his enemies (Theme Stated). He grants Boone the power—he is no longer Boone—he is Cabal!
— Executing a New Plan: Boone and Lori escape the crumbling, exploding Midian. They rush away from the burning fields. Lori wants to come with him. No, he will come for her when he’s finished. When, she asks, when she’s 90, and he’s still the same age? With Decker’s sword (which she grabbed earlier), she stabs herself. Before she dies, Cabal (Boone) bites her, a vampiric way of giving her new life.
Back in the destroyed Midian, Ashberry has renounced his religion. He tried to gain allegiance to Baphomet but was burned instead, scorching his face. This also gave him heightened powers, which he plans to use to “burn” all of the Nightbreed. Captain Eigerman appears from the rubble. He wants to help. Before Eigerman was powerful and in charge, now it’s Ashberry. Ashberry kills Eigerman. He doesn’t need him on his next mission. Hiding in a barn in a lonely field, the remaining Nightbreed await Cabal (Boone) to lead them to a new safe haven.
Final Image (113): Cabal (Boone) and Lori, standing on a desolate hill. She’s Nightbreed like him. Joined forever. Just like the painting on the wall, this prophecy was foretold. Now it’s up to Cabal (Boone) to save the last of his kind. The one who unmade Midian.