“Queer reception doesn’t stand outside personal and cultural histories; it is part of the articulation of these histories,”(Doty 80). In this paper I will be applying Alexander Doty’s essay, There’s Something Queer Here, to the 1990 Clive Barker film, Nightbreed. There were many elements, subtext, and symbolism within it that I recognized to be very queer. A queer reading of this film is simply, “the recognition and articulation of the complex range of queerness that has been in popular culture texts and their audiences all along,”(Doty 84). Could it be true? As one monster put it in Nightbreed, “Everything is true. God’s an Astronaut. Oz is Over the Rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live.”
Aaron Boone, a young man with a passionate relationship with a woman named Lori, keeps having nightmares about a mythical place called Midian where grotesque monsters live. He longs to go there because he feels as though that is where he belongs. He confides this to his psychiatrist, Dr. Phillip K. Decker, who is played by David Cronenberg, who convinces Aaron that he has been killing people in his sleep, and succeeds in framing Aaron for the series of murders in the area. Aaron runs away to where he believes Midian is and runs into some monsters that threaten to eat him. Aaron is eventually gunned down by police, only to be resurrected and initiated into the Nightbreed, the creatures that reside in Midian. The rest of the film is about Lori trying to rescue Aaron (who doesn’t really want to be rescued), battle between humans and the Nightbreed, and the final face-off between Aaron and Dr. Decker.
According to Doty, “The queer often operates within the nonqueer, as the nonqueer does within the queer (whether in reception, texts or producers),”(Doty 73). Clive Barker, writer/director and the author of the novel Cabal which this film is based on, is himself a gay man. Although the story is about a heterosexual male, “heterocentrist texts can contain queer elements,” (Doty 72). Aaron felt as though he was a deviant and an outcast of society. He felt that he was some sort of monster. Queer people are often seen and treated as monstrosities or deviants to the ‘natural’ order of things and are often exiled from mainstream culture. Through this film, even “heterosexual, straight-identifying people can experience queer moments,”( Doty 72).
Dr. Phillip K. Decker turns out to be the mask-wearing killer with an obsessive quest to destroy the Nightbreed. He says to one of his victims before killing them, “Miss Winston, everybody has a secret face.” Perhaps that secret face is Dr. Decker’s repressed homosexuality, and his desire to destroy the Nightbreed is the representation of a homophobic closet-case. Between Aaron and Dr. Decker, a homoerotic sexual tension is hinted at throughout the course of the film, which then gets consummated with the thrust of a knife and Aaron saying, “Time for one last dance?” During the battle with the police and a white male heterocentrist militia against the Midian monsters, a priest named Ashberry who believed the monsters to be demons from hell, sees the carnage around him, and tries to make the militia men stop. He is then beaten and called a “faggot.” Ashberry runs into Midian and finds the idol of Bahemet, to which he takes off his priest collar and swears allegiance to only to be splashed with blood and his body burned and transformed.
The monsters in Midian as well as the monsters in all of Clive Barker’s films are not necessarily evil, just misunderstood. Doty suggests how horror and melodrama, “actually encourage queer positioning as they exploit the spectacle of heterosexual romance, straight domesticity, and traditional gender roles gone awry,”( Doty 83). Midian is perhaps a darker representation of the rainbow, opposite to that of Oz, but Nightbreed is the queer fantasy horror epic that perfectly articulates the complexities of the queer experience through the medium of the horror genre.