Clive Barker, Dark Dreamer:
1988 proved to be another busy year for Clive Barker, as another Hellraiser movie was needed and more books needed to be written. He gave up the director’s seat for Hellraiser 2, offering his friend, Peter Atkins, the opportunity to write it. Clive acted as executive producer for Hellbound, whilst pursuing another movie project in Nightbreed. He was also working on a new novel, eager to capitalise on the UK success of Weaveworld.
Barker had actually intended to release Cabal as part of another collection of short stories; in fact, it has been released along with other stories from Books of Blood Volume 6 in the US. In the UK, it was released as a novella, the intention being to release a series of connected stories outlining the mythology of the lost breed. That has never, up to now, materialised, but has given rise to graphic novels, unauthorised anthologies, and the aforementioned movie. What it has become in the intervening years is a cult classic, giving rise to TV programmes like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and movies like Twilight, where the monster can be the sympathetic character and the humans the true monsters. Here, Clive Barker was truly ahead of his time.
Aaron Boone is a man suffering with mental health issues which often lead to him having blackouts. In order to combat his illness, he has turned to psychiatrist, Phillip Decker. During a crisis Boone visits Decker, where the psychiatrist shows him a deck of photographs from crime scenes, crimes which Decker insists Boone committed. The good doctor promises to cover for Boone, just as long as he takes the medication that Decker prescribes. Confused, scared, feeling guilty, and high on the medication that Decker has given him, Boone attempts to commit suicide and throws himself under a truck… but he is not killed and wakes up in a hospital.
In his hospital room is a man named Narcisse, who mistakes Boone for an envoy of a place called Midian. Narcisse insists that he is worthy and begs Boone to take him there, and to prove his worth he is prepared to show Boone his true face. Narcisse sets to work slicing off his own face as an act of faith, and Boone flees in fear of being blamed for the man’s injuries. What Narcisse has given Boone is a destination: if he is a monster, then why not go where the monsters live?
Boone finds Midian, a huge graveyard and necropolis in the north of Canada. He approaches the gates and is met there by Peloquin, a half-man, half-reptile hybrid. Boone tells him of his crimes, and Peloquin laughs and tells him that he is innocent and natural… he is meat. Peloquin bites Boone, and the bite awakens something in Boone’s senses. He flees from Midian and hides in a ghost town, shunned by the monsters and fearful of humanity, he hunkers down. The police arrive, led by Decker, and corner Boone, shooting him at the order of the psychiatrist who has now blamed Boone for the murders in the photographs.
Lori is Boone’s girlfriend and soulmate, and she struggles to make sense of Boone’s crimes or his death. In an effort to find some closure, she sets out to Midian to lay her man to rest. She finds the necropolis in daylight and explores the place, wondering what could possibly have brought Boone to this place. On her exploration she finds a cat-like creature, burning in the sun. She picks up the creature and carries it to the shadows of a mausoleum, where the creature turns into a little girl. The girl’s mother, Rachel, appears and explains to Lori the nature of the Breed, and tells her that Boone is not dead. Lylesberg, the patriarch of Midian, appears and bids Lori to leave, “What is below must remain below,” he says, reciting the law of the Breed.
Devastated at her dismissal and the news that Boone still lives, Lori leaves and is found by Old Zipper Face, the alter ego of Decker. He tells her that it was him that committed the murders that Boone was accused of, that he liked it. He chases her through the necropolis, but is attacked by Boone. Decker escapes and Boone takes an unconscious Lori into the mausoleum, breaking the law of the Breed.
When Lori wakes, she finds Midian in controversy over Boone’s actions. Lylesberg insists that Boone must answer to Baphomet, the god of the Breed. Boone goes off to the god’s chamber to be judged for his crimes, and Lori follows. What she sees astounds her; a city underground peopled by every configuration of monster that her mind could conjure. She comes to Baphomet’s chamber and screams when she sees the divided god in its pillar of white fire.
Boone is banished from Midian by the god, and is about to leave when the city comes under attack from the cops and good old boys of the nearby town. In the tumult of the attack, Boone finds Decker and tears him to pieces as the battle rages around him. Lylesberg releases the Berserkers of the Breed, and the humans are defeated, but at the cost of Midian. Uncovered, the Breed must leave their haven and find new sanctuaries… and Boone must be their leader. He is Cabal.
With the success of Hellraiser, and the promise of more movies in that franchise, Barker realised that his distance from Hollywood would prove to be a stumbling block. In 1988, Barker decided that it was time to circulate in LA. His agents, CAA, introduced him to another of their clients, Mick Garris. The two men found a common ground with their love of horror and got along; Garris was fresh from success with Critters 2 and Barker has just released Hellraiser the year before, so it made sense that they might work together. Over the coming months and years, the pair would pitch a number of projects that would not see the light themselves, but would give rise to other projects that did. Spirit City USA, a series that Barker was developing for ABT, would become Lord of Illusion; there was early talk of adapting the Books of Blood Story, In The Flesh, into a movie as well as Cabal, but neither happened; and neither did their pitch for a movie entitled The Mummy, although that would surface in 1999 under a very different guise to the one that Barker and Garris intended.
Garris did work with Barker on screen, however, casting him in a cameo for Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers (one of the most iconic scenes for horror aficionados, involving Barker, King and Tobe Hooper). Garris also worked on the King/Barker collaboration, Quicksilver Highway, in 97.
With this meeting between Barker and Garris, and Clive’s attempts to work more often in LA, he was certainly signalling his intent and ambition in 1988. LA and the film industry would become influential for Barker in the coming years… but not quite yet.
1989 was dawning, and Barker still had business in England… and with the literary world.
1989 was the year that Barker stepped his literary craft up to another level, penning and releasing the book that would begin what I consider to be the triumvirate of masterpieces that he would create in the next few years: The Great and Secret Show. In fact, it was something of a risk, as Barker would eschew the horror genre completely and step into another realm entirely, and one not easily characterised at the time. With The Great and Secret Show, Barker would embrace his Tolkienesque quality and display his love of E.R. Eddison with great effect, re-writing the rulebook when it comes to fantasy writing and truly becoming the great imaginer of the dark fantastique.
The gamble would pay off, as The Great and Secret Show would earn him bestseller status in both the UK and US for the first time, and also a $2m advance for his next four books. It would place him in the pantheon of great authors of his time, offering him the freedom and cache to be the artist that he truly wanted to be.
The Great & Secret Show (1989)
The book begins with Randolph Jaffe, a true wastrel who struggles to hold down a job, feels no direction and is utterly hopeless. He is absolutely bitter about all of this, feeling that he is above the lot that the world had given him and being wasted in the dead-end world that he inhabits. He works in the post office in Omaha, the centre of America… and hates it. His mood isn’t made any better when he is sent to work in the dead letter office, opening envelopes that the service has failed to deliver. His job is to open up the letters and remove anything of value; consigning the worthless correspondence to the furnace. What he discovers in the dead mail will change his life. Not every letter, but one in every hundred or so envelopes, he sees whispers of a hidden world, a new theology which exists under the surface of humanity. Jaffe hears of the sea of Quiddity, which mankind swims in only three times in their life: the day they are born, the night they sleep beside their true love, and the day they die. He reads about the Ephemeris, the island which stands in Quiddity, and the power that might be derived from that strange place. He searches through the letters then in search of more information of this new religion. He finds it too, along with a strange medallion which piques his fascination even more. In these letters, Randolph Jaffe sees power and knowledge… he sees The Art.
Soon enough, his supervisor and colleagues become distrustful of Jaffe and suspect him of hoarding some of the banal treasures for himself. He hears that his superiors are about to remove him from the dead letter office, and so he kills his supervisor and burns down the dead letter office. He flees Omaha and goes on a quest across America in search of the Art, of the power that it might offer him.
His quest brings him to a strange place called The Loop, where he meets a man named Kissoon. Kissoon is a shaman, wielder of The Art, and member of a group of seventeen murdered adepts named The Shoal. Jaffe implores Kissoon to teach him, but he is refused and sent away.
Not to be denied, Jaffe soon finds another way to obtain power. He meets Richard Fletcher, a brilliant scientist who is addicted to mescaline. Fletcher is a dreamer, always asking “Will I be sky?” He has engineered a substance called the Nuncio, a force which speeds up evolution. With the Nuncio, Fletcher has already caused an ape to evolve into a boy and Jaffe sees the possibilities that the Nuncio presents. He imbibes it, feeling the power of the substance coursing through him. Unfortunately for Jaffe, Fletcher has also been exposed to the effects of the Nuncio, and pits himself against Jaffe. They battle each other for many years, all across America, until they are exhausted and come to rest, totally exhausted in a non-descript area of the States.
In Palomo Grove, four virgins go swimming in a lake which appears from nowhere during a summer storm. When they emerge, each one is filled with carnal urges which cover a basic need, that of fertility. Of the four, one is barren and kills herself. Three others conceive and deliver children, but one of them kills her child, which leaves three: Tommy-Ray and Jo-Beth Maguire, twins borne of Jaffe’s seed, and Harold Katz, borne of Fletcher’s. The scene has been set for an endgame, but it would take eighteen years for it to reach apotheosis.
Buddy Vance is a comedian who has made Palomo Grove his home. He falls down a fissure while out running, where he comes into contact with Jaffe and Fletcher. He is dying, and sees the pair, by turns, as wasted old men and spirits locked in grim combat. Through sly persuasion, Jaffe takes Vance’s worst fears and nightmares, turning them into creatures called terrata, which he uses to escape the chasm that has kept him trapped with Fletcher. On his part, Fletcher takes a dream from Vance, called hallucinogenia, gives chase, and both men go in search of their offspring.
Nathan Grillo arrives in Palomo Grove to investigate the disappearance of Buddy Vance. Grillo is a shamed journalist, feeding on the weird and horrific in American society for publications like National Enquirer. For Grillo, the disappearance of Vance is manna from heaven. Until Vance resurfaces and arranges a party at his house in the town, inviting the great and good from Hollywood to attend. His house is a shrine to carnival, a literal funhouse. Grillo sneaks into the party, and witnesses the strangeness that ensues.
Buddy Vance is not Buddy Vance at all, but is Jaffe disguised by a sway. Jaffe’s plan is to lure these people to the town and make them bear witness to his moment of glory, and make an army of their nightmares..
Meanwhile, Fletcher has realised that his hallucinogenia is no match for Jaffe’s terrata, and he has no time to raise more. He passes the secrets of the Nuncio to Tesla Bombeck, before he sets himself on fire in an act of self-sacrifice. There is a crowd of townspeople watching the scene unfold, and Fletcher’s spirit touches each of them, which in turn inspires their hallucinogenia.
Tesla sets out to find the remnants of Fletcher’s Nuncio to destroy it, but Tommy-Ray Maguire is inspired by his father by now and tries to take it from her. In the scuffle, Tommy-Ray is touched by the Nuncio and is transformed into the Death Boy and he flees back to Palomo Grove. Gravely wounded from the battle, Tesla also tastes the Nuncio, and is transported to New Mexico, to the town of Trinity, where she meets Kissoon and is utterly disgusted by him.
Meanwhile, Jaffe is slowly becoming drunk on his own power to deceive. In the rush, he goes beyond his intention to create terrata and decides to show his audience his true power, to rip away the screen of reality and show the gathered there what lies beneath the veneer of the world. He takes a handful of the wall in his hand and pulls, bending the substance of the house out of true and revealing the secret world that exists beyond the veil. He pulls, revealing more and more, and slowly becoming consumed by it. Harold Katz and Jo-Beth Maguire arrive with an army of hallucinogenia, intending to take on Jaffe and his terrata, and witness the downfall of Jo-Beth’s father… just as Tommy-Ray arrives, too late to save him.
The trio are sucked out of the real world and into Quiddity. They swim for a time, and the sea joins Jo-Beth and Harold together. They come onto the island of Ephemeris. Here, Tommy-Ray sees the Iad Uroboros, a seething mass of darkness which contains horrors beyond the imagining of man. The sight inspires him, and he takes that inspiration back into the real world.
Tesla and Grillo descend into the bowels of Palomo Grove, into the chasm that had claimed Buddy Vance, in search of whatever the experience in the house had left of Jaffe. They find him, bereft and bitter after his failure to wield the Art. What follows is a scene reminiscent of the game of riddles in The Hobbit, where Gollum and Bilbo Baggins trade riddles in return for Bilbo’s freedom. Jaffe leads Tesla as she tries to make sense of the things that she has seen, egging her on to the most profound discovery and explanation of the medallion that he first discovered all those years before Palomo Grove and the Nuncio.
Grillo and Tesla emerge from the chasm to the death of Palomo Grove, as the town destroys itself and sinks into the earth.
This is not the end though… not quite. Tesla returns to Trinity and The Loop, where she encounters Kissoon once again. This time, she knows the power that she wields and can control it. She uncovers the secret of the place, the pivotal moment of human history in the twentieth century, frozen in time and made a prison. She confronts Kissoon and discovers his crimes, and destroys the Loop… and a remnant of the Iad Uroboros. She has come into her power and revealed herself as a saving power in the human world.
1989 ended on a high and with triumph for Barker, as The Great and Secret Show gave him his first success, both critical and commercial. He moved forward with confidence into the New Year, with a new challenge before him… but 1990 would prove to be frustrating, and darken his view of the workings of Hollywood for the rest of his life.
Come back tomorrow for Part 3 of this fantastic retrospective on Clive Barker.
Paul Flewitt is a horror/dark fantasy author. He was born on the 24th April 1982 in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield.
Always an avid reader, Paul put pen to paper for the first time in 1999 and came very close to inking a deal with a small press. Due to circumstances unforeseen, this work has never been released, but it did give Paul a drive to achieve within the arts.
In the early 2000’s, Paul concentrated on music; writing song lyrics for his brother and his own bands. Paul was lead singer in a few rock bands during this time and still garners inspiration from music to this day. Paul gave up his musical aspirations in 2009.
In late 2012, Paul became unemployed and decided to make a serious attempt to make a name for himself as a writer. He went to work, penning several short stories and even dusting off the manuscript that had almost been published over a decade earlier. His efforts culminated in his first work being published in mid-2013, the flash fiction piece “Smoke” can be found in OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes: A Tribute To Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.
2013 was a productive year as he released his short story “Paradise Park” in both J. Ellington Ashton’s All That Remains anthology and separate anthology, Thirteen Vol 3. He also completed his debut novella in this time. Poor Jeffrey was first released to much praise in February 2014. In July 2014 his short story “Always Beneath” was released as part of CHBB’s Dark Light Four anthology.
In 2015 Paul contributed to two further anthologies: Demonology (Climbing Out) from Lycopolis Press and Behind Closed Doors (Apartment 16c) with fellow authors Matt Shaw, Michael Bray, Stuart Keane, and more.In 2016, Paul wrote the monologue, The Silent Invader, for a pitch TV series entitled Fragments of Fear. The resulting episode can be viewed now on YouTube, but the show was never aired. The text for the monologue was published in Matt Shaw’s Masters Of Horror anthology in 2017.
Paul continues to work on further material.
He remains in Sheffield, where he lives with his partner and two children. He consorts with his beta reading demons on a daily basis.
You can find more information on Paul Flewitt and his works here…