Nightbreed – USA, 1990

‘A new reason to fear the night’

Nightbreed is a 1990 American fantasy horror feature film written and directed by Clive Barker (Hellraiser), based on his 1988 novel Cabal. The movie stars Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby and director David Cronenberg.

On its release, the movie was a commercial and mostly critical failure. In several interviews, Barker protested that 20th Century Fox tried to sell it as a standard slasher film, and that the powers-that-be had no real working knowledge of Nightbreed’s story. However, since its initial theatrical release, Nightbreed has developed a cult following.

Plot:

A young man named Aaron Boone (Craig Scheffer) is plagued by dreams of a city called Midian, a place where monsters can go to be forgiven and accepted. As a means of coping with these recurring nightmares, and at the request of his girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby), Boone is seeing psychotherapist Dr. Phillip K. Decker (David Cronenberg), who convinces Boone that he has committed a series of gruesome murders.

In reality, Decker is a serial killer who dons a grotesque mask and has been murdering several families, all whom he sees as disgusting “breeders”. Decker attempts to pin the blame for his killing spree on Boone. He gives Boone a bottle of lithium (actually LSD) and twenty four hours to turn himself in. Boone wanders the streets in a hallucinogenic haze. He is hit by a truck and taken to a hospital.

In the hospital, Boone overhears the drug addled cries of Narcisse (Hugh Ross), who is waiting for the monsters to take him to Midian. Narcisse, led to believe Boone is a messenger from Midian sent to test him, tells Boone the way, before tearing the skin from his face with a pair of razors, in order to show his “true face”. Boone escapes the hospital and makes his way to Midian, an entire city standing under a massive graveyard.

Reviews:

“Technically; Barker gunned out an atmospheric film, with often kinetic camera moves (props to DP Robin Vidgeon for his fine work). The score by Danny Elfman was ideal and captured the wonder, horror and sadness found in this tale. The practical FX were on the money as well even by today’s standards (for the most part that is, some haven’t aged well, like that dude in a blubber suit)…” Arrow in the Head

“While the film features a startling array of briefly seen monsters, it doesn’t find much for them to do except be unhelpful bystanders in the battle between the blandly unmonstrous hero and the mad doctor.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

” …even in its butchered form, was probably better than it was credited as being at the time, and there’s no denying that the Director’s Cut absolutely smooths out some of the rough edges and provides better context for both Boone and Lori as well as the monsters in Midian. But performances are all over the place here (Mr. Cronenberg, don’t quit your day job), and Barker doesn’t quite have the directorial control that the subject requires.” Jeffrey Kauffman, Blu-ray.com

“As a feast of sights and sounds, Nightbreed is a sumptuous triumph.  Unfortunately, the Frankensteined edit truncates the story at its knees and nearly everything else about the project causes it to fall face first in the dirt.  Not without redeemable charms, Nightbreed is far too bloated by its own ambition to have ever had a chance of succeeding with compromised creativity or with an abbreviated runtime.” Ian Sedensky, Culture Crypt

“Barker piles on more subversive subtext than his story can bear — it’s a monster movie, after all — but his daft, Grand Guignol vision has real power. The quality that freaked out the studio, Barker’s ambition, is precisely what makes Nightbreed so impressive.” Ty Burr, Entertainment Weekly

“This film was my first introduction to Clive Barker and his world of outcasts and mutants, which even at such a young age, I absolutely related to. The makeup is beautiful, and I was just as transfixed trying to take note of every detail now as I was the first time. And that opening sequence? Hot damn, it’s still perfectly gorgeous and unsettling no matter how many times you watch it.” Horror Honeys

“With two-dimensional characters (whiny heroes, growling Nightbreed, bullish cops, redneck good-ol-boys), viewers might struggle for anyone to identify with, forced to content themselves with the noisy, cartoonish mayhem, extraordinary art direction, and latex creations by a venerable team of makeup technicians, including Bob Keen, Geoffrey Portass, and Kate Murray.” Horror 101 with Dr. AC

“In its attempt to make monsters more human and humanity more monstrous, the depth and feeling of the film suffers and nobody comes off as anything so much as props, exercises in effects and cliche. Old monster movies are objects of derision for the shoddiness of their work, visible zippers on costumes giving the game away. Here, you can see the zippers on the monsters and the people alike.” Cliff Evans, A Lifetime in Dark Rooms

” …it’s not enough for Nightbreed to focus on a secret society of monsters and its prophecies, so it follows that there would also be a bloodthirsty butcher from a slasher flick hunting them down. That the two modes sometimes find difficulty jelling seems besides the point—the film might be exhausting, but it’s equally as breathtaking whenever Barker really lets loose and indulges the most unhinged parts of his macabre id…” Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror!

Nightbreed might have been a monster movie milestone, if Clive Barker’s directorial abilities had kept pace with his skill as a master of British horror fiction. Unfortunately, Nightbreed probably will be remembered as much for its haphazard plotting and underdeveloped characters as its delightfully daring concept” Henry Mietkiewicz, Toronto Star

Choice dialogue:

Philip K. Decker (David Cronenberg): “Families like cesspools, filth making filth making filth.”

nightbreed blu-ray

Nightbreed Director's Cut Blu-ray

Cast and characters:

  • Craig Sheffer … Aaron Boone / Cabal
  • Anne Bobby … Lori Winston
  • David Cronenberg … Dr. Philip K. Decker
  • Charles Haid … Captain Eigerman
  • Hugh Quarshie … Detective Joyce
  • Hugh Ross … Narcisse
  • Doug Bradley … Dirk Lylesberg
  • Catherine Chevalier … Rachel
  • Malcolm Smith … Ashberry
  • Bob Sessions … Pettine
  • Oliver Parker … Peloquin
  • Debora Weston … Sheryl Ann
  • Nicholas Vince … Kinski
  • Simon Bamford … Ohnaka
  • Kim Robertson … Babette
  • Nina Robertson … Babette
  • Christine McCorkindale … Shuna Sassi
  • Tony Bluto … Leroy Gomm
  • Vincent Keene … Devil Lude
  • Bernard Henry … Baphomet
  • Richard Van Spall … Drummer
  • David Young … Otis and Clay
  • Valda Aviks … Mellissa Rickman
  • Mac McDonald … Lou Rickman
  • Richard Bowman … Rickman Boy
  • McNally Sagal … Motel Receptionist
  • Daniel Kash … Labowitz
  • Bradley Lavelle … Cormack
  • Stephen Hoye … Gibbs
  • Tom Hunsinger … Tommy
  • George Roth … Kane
  • Peter Marinker … Pathologist
  • Lindsay Holiday … Morgue Assistant
  • Kenneth Nelson … Emergency Doctor
  • Carolyn Jones … Emergency Nurse
  • Ted Maynard … Bartender
  • Mitch Webb … Jail Cell Doctor
  • Scott Gilmore … Ambush Cop
  • Eric Loren … Ambush Cop
  • John Agar … Decker’s Victim

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One Comment on “Nightbreed – USA, 1990”

  1. A film of massive imagination and huge ambition. A city of subterranean monsters? Yes please! Peloquin and Shuna Sassi rocked my world, and Decker’s mask is way too cool! “He’s meat! Meat for the beast!” One of my faves.

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