Morgan Creek-Warner Bros./1990/Directed by Clive Barker
Available on DVD
There’s a lot one can say about this little gem of a fantasy/horror film. Often overlooked by horror fans and critics alike, Clive Barker’s Nightbreed has managed to garner quite a cult following over the twenty-two years since its initial release. Dark, twisted, imaginative, and visually stunning, the film transcends the horror genre in many ways. For fans of monsters and practical make-up FX, Nightbreed is stocked with creatures the likes of which have never graced the screen before, as the film depicts a whole city full of fantastical nightstalkers!
The film’s story centers around Boone, a troubled young man plagued by nightmares of a place called Midian and the monsters that dwell there. His shrink, Dr. Decker (who has quite a dark side himself), convinces Boone that he may be responsible for a recent string of brutal murders and prescribes him some dubious medication, urging him to turn himself in to the authorities. Some major plot twists ensue, and it’s not long before Boone realizes his connection to the mythical city of Midian, and the reasons for his recurring dreams of the place and the creatures that dwell there. He discovers that Midian is real, as are the monsters that dwell there, and Boone inadvertently threatens to bring destruction upon them all as Mankind wages all-out war with the Nightbreed.
Clive Barker, both as a writer and filmmaker, is known to weave layers upon layers of meaning and symbolism into his work, and Nightbreed is no different. Based on his short novella, Cabal, it’s a film that fell victim to censorship and poor marketing in its day. Neither fully fantasy nor horror, the story melds the two genres, making Nightbreed a very unique film during the slasher sequel-heavy era of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Growing up during the eighties, I had begun to get bored with the countless sequels to fare like Friday The 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare On Elm Street. As good as some of those films were, it started to seem like these franchises were nothing more than cash cows for their respective studios. Films like Barker’s Nightbreed and the original Hellraiser (which he also wrote and directed) seemed like breaths of fresh air in an increasingly stale genre.
While some of the computer-generated effects seem a little dated, Nightbreed’s impressive menagerie of monster make-up effects are as striking today as they were in 1990. Anyone who is familiar with Clive Barker’s novels and paintings knows he creates creatures that are, well, weird, and the FX team working on Nightbreed (a great many of whom also served to create FX for the first two Hellraiser films) did a fantastic job of bringing these horrors of Midian to life. The film is a visual feast for any monster fan.
Craig Sheffer portrays Boone, and does a great job at playing the human-turned-monster. The real treat of the cast, though, is horror director David Cronenberg, who in a rare turn plays the evil Dr. Decker with such cool, creepy charm that it’s no surprise the character has become a fan favorite. Doug Bradley (“Pinhead” himself, from the Hellraiser franchise) turns in a fine performance as Lylesberg, the ill-fated leader of the Nightbreed. Danny Elfman’s score to the film is chilling and evocative, and perfectly fitting to bring Barker’s vision to life.
The story and script remain strong and valid, and at the heart of this deluxe monster film we find a great morality tale that examines our fear of people and cultures that are different from us. Midian’s creatures turn out to be the heroes of this story, and the real monsters turn out to be… us. Nightbreed speaks to the outsider in all of us, and by the end of the film, you may find yourself wanting to pack your bags and move in with the Tribes Of The Moon.
It’s worth mentioning that there were huge segments of footage omitted from Nightbreed, and that fans have been clamoring for a Director’s Cut of the film for years. A few years ago, at a HorrorHound Weekend convention, a full version of the film was screened for a packed house (with Clive Barker, Doug Bradley, and numerous other Nightbreed luminaries in attendance) and to rave reviews, so hopefully audiences may be treated to this rumored restored edition in the near future. British extreme heavy metal band Cradle Of Filth managed to write and record a whole album based off of Nightbreed (“Midian”, released on Halloween, 2000) with Doug Bradley doing narration for the opus. Bradley has gone on to collaborate with the band on nearly every release since then.
If you’re a horror fan and you’ve never seen Nightbreed, you’re certainly missing out. If you haven’t seen it in quite some time, then it’s a film worth revisiting, especially around this time of year.