Nightbreed is a fantasy-horror film that was written & directed by Clive Barker, releasing in 1990. 2020 marks the 30 year anniversary. It’s closely based on a short novel called Cabal by Barker. Aaron Boone is falsely led to believe by his doctor that he is a serial killer. On the run, Boone eventually finds refuge in an abandoned cemetery called Midian. There he encounters a tribe of hideous monsters and outcasts known as the “Nightbreed” where they hide from humanity.
Firstly, it’s important to state that the version of this film that I watched was the director’s cut. Nightbreed was a critical & commercial failure upon release. Barker & Doug Bradley have publically stated that this happened in part due to medalling producers. Basically, it was torn apart to be more of a horror film and its metaphors and messaging were heavily muddled because of this. Barker eventually pieced it back together and this is considered to be more true to his original idea.
Aaron Boone dreams of Midian, a city where monsters are accepted. At the request of girlfriend Lori, Boone is seeing psychotherapist Dr. Phillip Decker (David Cronenberg, yes that one). He convinces Boone that he committed a series of murders. Decker is actually a masked, family-hating serial killer who has murdered several families.
He drugs Boone and orders him to turn himself in. Before he can do so, Boone is struck by a truck and taken to a hospital. There, Boone overhears the rants of Narcisse, a seemingly insane man who seeks to enter Midian. Convinced that Boone is there to test him, Narcisse gives Boone directions to the hidden city. Afterwards, Narcisse tears the skin off his face in order to show his “true” face. He is quickly subdued by hospital staff, and Boone leaves.
Boone makes his way to Midian, a city beneath a massive graveyard in the middle of nowhere. He encounters supernatural creatures Kinski and Peloquin. Kinski says they should bring him below, but Peloquin refuses to allow in a normal human. He claims to be a murderer, but Peloquin smells his innocence and attacks him. Boone escapes, only to encounter a squad of police officers led by Decker. Boone is gunned down after Decker tries to get him to turn himself in and then yells that Boone has a gun. Due to Peloquin’s bite, Boone returns to life in the morgue. When he returns to Midian, he finds Narcisse there and is inducted into their society by the Nightbreed’s leader; Dirk Lylesburg (Doug Bradley). In an initiation ceremony, Boone’s touched by the blood of their deity, Baphomet.
Seeking to understand why Boone left her, Lori investigates Midian. Can she find Boone? What will happen when the outside world finds out about the Nightbreed? What will Decker do? Check out the film to find out, it’s worth your time.
Nightbreed feels like a film that has been messed with a little too many times. However, due to viewing the director’s cut I do feel that the story and messaging are delivered in a mostly coherent way. That’s not to say that it isn’t confusing at times. Early on, the film doesn’t do the best job of explaining things. It can be tough to really know what is going on. Still, sticking with it is your best bet as it does become clearer. Simply put, the primary message is delivered well. The Nightbreed are the oppressed good guys and society is evil. It’s just a shame that the story is convoluted to the point where it almost lost me.
Decker and his whole storyline with Boone is the biggest issue. It feels so tacked on and unnecessary, distracting too much from the primary narrative. Still, David Cronenberg delivers a surprisingly good performance as Decker.
Nightbreed is somewhat lacking on terms of gore and depravity. This film released on the heels of Hellraiser. I expected something else from Barker so in a way I can sort of understand why even the producers were confused. Barker was hot and that was due to his horror films. They didn’t want this dark fantasy film. Still, that’s what Barker wanted to make. There’s gore but don’t expect Hellraiser levels.
Something that deserves highlighting is the sets, costumes and practical effects. Calling them spectacular is an understatement. There are so many different creature effects, it’s a feast for the eyes if you enjoy practical effects work. The team behind it all went above and beyond. This film is now 30 years old and it all holds up so damn well. Seeing the effects makes watching Nightbreed worthwhile all by itself.
One thing I really didn’t enjoy was the musical score. It’s done somewhat surprisingly by Danny Elfman. In 1989 Elfman did the music for Batman and in 1990 he did Edward Scissorhands & Nightbreed. The soundtrack in Nightbreed is shockingly similar to those other movies. So much so I’m convinced sections were simply reused. I know this is meant to be dark fantasy but it just didn’t fit in my opinion. It’s far too whimsical and just doesn’t work at all.
The acting throughout is decent. Craig Sheffer as Boone is fine but way too forgettable. Doug Bradley is completed wasted because he’s barely recognizable. In the original cut, they literally dubbed his voice with a German accent. At least his original voice work is added here. I really liked Hugh Ross as Narcisse. He’s probably the only one having any fun and it comes across in entertaining fashion.
Overall, Nightbreed is somewhat of a mixed bag. It’s a wild, multi-genre film that can feel like an acid trip of confusion. I’d struggle to describe what it’s about in terms of the plot. Still, its message is strong and I appreciated what it was going for. It’s worth seeing, especially for the stunning effects.
Nightbreed - 7.5/10