The Measure Of Monsters And Men: A Review Of Nightbreed (1990)



Written/Directed by Clive Barker Starring Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg, Anne Bobby
Music by Danny Elfman

1h 42min | Action, Fantasy, Horror | 16 February 1990 (USA)

Update (June 11, 2016): Follow this link for the Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut review.

Clive Barker. The man. The myth. The legend. He’s not a man of subtlety or scant details in his writing, always pushing the envelope in the most fucked up, sordid, nigh-on unimaginable ways possible. There are varying opinions about whether or not his brilliance extends to his directorial career. Nightbreed should have been called Clive Barker’s X-Men. But it’s not mutants that we’re dealing with this time — it’s monsters. Barker has always had a mild fetish for monsters, his most famous undoubtedly being Pinhead from the Hellraiser films. In this movie, however, the monsters aren’t sent from hell to exact horrible vengeance on wrong doers or those just unlucky enough to play with a certain puzzle box; they’re just trying to survive in a hostile land.

The beginning of the film is a little muddled when it comes to the finer details, so here’s the basic layout: Troubled leather-jacket-wearing bad boy Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer, A River Runs Through It) is plagued with nightmares of strange monsters that live in a long-forgotten land called Midian. His shrink, Doctor Phillip K. Decker (famed film director David Cronenberg), is intrigued with the young man’s notions of this mystical land — but is also a psychopathic serial killer who has no intention of helping Boone. He instead convinces Boone that he has been committing the string of family murders in the area that Decker is actually responsible for, gives him some “lithium” to take and 24 hours to turn himself into the police. Thrown into the mix somewhere is Boone’s wide-eyed, innocent girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby, Bioshock).

Nightbreed (1990)

Nightbreed (1990) - Lori

Lo and behold, Boone pops a few of the fake lithiums, wanders down a highway and is hit by a large truck and taken to the hospital. While there, he meets the delusional Narcisse, a man who is waiting for the monsters to take him to Midian. “I’m an actor, see. There’s a face beneath this face,” Narcisse tells Boone right before he pulls a good deal of his face off with a pair of nearby surgical scissors.

Decker arrives with the police during this unfortunate scene and everyone naturally assumes that Boone is responsible for carving part of Narcisse’s face off. Boone escapes from the hospital and Decker’s intimidating yet emotionless glances, unsurprisingly accidentally fleeing to Midian, housed beneath a large cemetery.

Boone encounters Kinski and Peloquin, who proceed to have a lengthy debate as to whether or not Boone is food for the horde. Boone tries to explain that he belongs at Midian because he’s a murderer, and the monsters tell him that Decker has been lying all along. Peloquin drops this gem on us: “Shut the fuck up. You’re meat. … Everything is true. God’s an astronaut, Oz is over the rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live… and you came to die.”

Nightbreed (1990) - Peloquin

As Peloquin readies himself for the feast and bites Boone, our tragically hip, early-’90s hero flees the graveyard — or tries to. Decker has led the police to the cemetery. Boone is gunned down in what I’m presuming is an unintentionally hilarious scene of Decker telling the cops that Boone has a gun, the police shooting him what seems to be 10-plus times, and an officer screaming, “Hold your fire!” far, far too late. But Boone’s story isn’t over yet; it’s just waiting to be told.

Nightbreed (1990)Peloquin’s bite revives Boone from the dead at the morgue, making him a Nightbreed. He goes back to Midian where he is inducted into the ages-old monster society by Lylesberg (Doug Bradley, Hellraiser). In the meantime, Boone’s scrappy girlfriend starts to poke around for more information about what really happened to her beloved.

When you get right down to it, Nightbreed is a wonderful cult classic that isn’t just about horror and shock, it also focuses on what seems to be one of Barker’s favorite subjects — what sets man apart from monster. Humans hate or envy anything remotely different than them and are prone to destroying it, no matter how peacefully whatever it is that they’ve taken a disliking to previously was. As always, Barker roots for the supernatural team.

Clive Barker's Nightbreed (1990)

The lack of detail in the film is one of its major downfalls. Nightbreed would have been better served as a mini-series. There’s simply too many unanswered questions, too much potential for origin stories and background that isn’t covered here. The movie was supposed to be longer, but the studio cut at least 25 minutes of it before the release.

As far as the special effects, makeup, and blood categories go, they’re all what you’d expect from a film made circa 1990 – although I suspect that there a few of the effects that were even corny in those times. That being said, the unique look of the monsters range from campy to straight up creepy. There’s not a ton of gore in this picture and it’s not very bloody, but it doesn’t detract from the overall package.

Nightbreed (1990) - David Cronenberg

The real highlight of the film is director David Cronenberg. He’s not a stranger to the horror genre, having directed flicks like The Brood, Scanners, Dead Zone, and Videodrome. His role as masked serial killer/psychologist Phillip K. Decker is one that could have easily gone right into a total cheese factory, but Cronenberg brings a remarkable amount of eeriness to the table. He’s easily the best part of the film, bringing a certain levity to the movie.

The Verdict

If your life has been lacking in monsters lately, I heartily recommend this film. With Clive Barker writing and directing, it at least has a little something to interest most horror fans. The mythology of the film could have been better expanded upon but in the end, it still makes for a decent film that doesn’t require too much thought process unless you want to actively dissect the philosophy of men and monsters in Nightbreed.

Nightbreed (1990) Trailer

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