Directed Clive Barker.
Starring Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charles Haid and Doug Bradley.
Mental patient Aaron Boone is haunted by recurring nightmares of a monster-infested town named Midian. Convinced by his psychiatrist that he has committed several grisly murders, Boone goes on the run, seeking refuge in the town from his dreams. A place where ‘where the monsters live’.
Horror has always been full of monsters. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons etc. You name it and the silver screen, the printed page or the painted picture has been awash with some kind nightmarish creature ready to peel the flesh from our bones.
Except, what if the monsters are not the ones we think they are? What if those we think of as monsters are actually victims? What if the real monsters are actually us? It’s these questions and the chaotic goodness that ensures when we answer them that is the focus of Clive Barker’s monster horror epic Nightbreed.
While the title and general premise would suggest that Nightbreed would be another dark horror story in the vein of his directorial debut Hellraiser. With Nightbreed however, Barker goes in a very different and more interesting direction, starting his film off as a psychological slasher before transforming into a colourful action-packed demon filled fantasy horror.
As I suggested in my introduction, Nightbreed is a very different take on the monster movie, taking what we normally think of as “monsters” and turns it on its head in a clever bit of role reversal. The titular Nightbreed might look like something from the darkest corners of Hell with a twisted sense of humour, but really most of them are merely just social outcasts who want nothing more than to live and raise their families in peace.
Represented by violent gun-toting militias, corrupt power-mad authority figures and psychopathic murderers, Barker makes it clear as day that up against all the various nightmares creatures in fiction, no monster is deadlier or destructive than humanity.
The Nightbreed only kill in self-defence, and while one member does contemplate killing Boone for meat, they really have no desire to murder people and even have laws prohibiting it. On the other hand, the humans of the film are depicted as psychopathic violent thugs who have little problem with attempting to commit genocide against the woman and children of the Nightbreed, with many clearly having fun doing so.
The bait and switch approach towards the film’s story is what keeps it feeling fresh and exciting and you do find yourself coming to care for these various ghoulish creatures and you find yourself elated when they begin to fight back against the attacking humans in film’s explosive final battle.
On the acting front, Craig Sheffer cuts a fine heroic figure as Boone, the wrongly framed man who finds himself unwittingly drafted into the ranks of the Nightbreed, eventually leading them into battle against humanity. In a rare acting role as the main villain of the film, the murderous Dr Decker, famed horror director David Cronenberg steals the show with his restrained and sinister performance full of menace and icy coolness and (at least according to eccentric director Alejandro Jodorowsky) laced with understated homoerotic undertones.
The aspects of the film that I loved the most are the spectacular special effects and make-up. The sights on show are some of the finest creature creations in horror cinema with the sheer variety of monster and ghouls on display making every moment spent in the company of the Nightbreed feel like you’re in horror nirvana. I loved the time spent with the Nightbreed and I found myself obsessively scanning the screen trying to catch a good look at the various creatures and their various visual touches which range from the very subtle to those which are hard to miss.
The film also boasts a wonderful musical score courtesy of the great Danny Elfman who dips into his usual bag of quirky musical stylings to give us a score that manages to make the Nightbreed’s adventure feel both horrifying and heroic in equal measure. The film’s opening theme is a personal highlight with the mixture of the score and imagery on screen creating quite the ghoulish atmosphere. Although the score is brilliant, Elfman does sometimes veer into his musical past at times, with some of the musical cues suggesting that Batman is about to drop in at any moment.
Nightbreed is very much a slow burner for its first half, with the film spending a significant amount of its runtime developing both the characters and it’s world, however, this build up is rarely dull and keeps you invested as we learn more about the world of Median and it’s people. Although the film does have a few moments where it feels like some things are missing (even in the director’s cut), such as Boone suddenly reappearance in Median after returning from death early in the film. However, these moments are far and few between and don’t do much harm to the overall film.
The second half is when things really take off as the evil humans launch their assault against Median forcing the Nightbreed into a brilliant monster brawl where all hell quite literally breaks loose in a climatic that rivals Army of Darkness as one of the most fun horror finales of all time. The film even has a final Indiana Jones-style rope bridge fight between Boone and Decker that’s a great bit of fun to watch. All in all this entire second half is simply a joy to behold and is as a gloriously fun finale to a gloriously fun film.
The only part that left me feeling annoyed at all was the ending which teases for a sequel that sadly never came. And for an extra kick in the balls, the film even teases us a potential villain for the follow-up, although the differing cuts leave it confused as to who the villain might be. Regardless though, this film deserved a sequel or two, and the lack of one robbed us of what could have been a great horror franchise. Here’s hoping the planned TV show gives us a follow-up worthy of the wait.
With great pacing that effectively builds to an explosive finale, some wonderfully ghoulish horror make-up that terrifies and intrigues and a spectacularly subversive take on a familiar monster story, Nightbreed is a tremendously fun horror adventure that I highly recommend for those looking to root for the monsters.
Check it out and if you can I’d recommend you check out the director’s cut to see it the way Barker always intended. Either way, it’s a lot of fun.
Scare Rating: ? ?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★