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  • Rev Horror

Nightbreed

Dir. Clive Barker (1990)

A young man goes to the land of monsters while a serial killer is on the loose.


I've got a confession to make. Despite my intense love for all things Clive Barker and a deep involvement with the horror genre, I had never seen Nightbreed before watching recently with a group of friends. I had somehow managed to avoid this cult classic until present day, and I really don't have any excuse as to why. In fact, I own two different versions of the film, both Scream Factory's outstandingly beautiful release of the standard version and a bootleg version of the Director's Cut, referred to by fans as the Cabal Cut, named after the Barker novel upon which the film is based. And I gotta say, even though I waited almost 35 years after release to check it out... I kinda wish I had waited another 35.


Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer, not the old Yankees player) is a troubled young man. He's recently undergone intense psychiatric treatment from the mysterious and dangerous Dr. Philip K. Decker (David Cronenberg), and this leaves him infatuated with the idea of a distant land called Midian. It is to this underground world full of monsters to which Aaron is drawn, taking his girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby, who mysteriously has two first names) along for the ride. With Decker in pursuit, the two must seek to help the misunderstood monsters in their efforts to become accepted above ground, hoping that the general public can ignore their monstrous appearances and look beneath the surface to find creatures with hearts of gold.

Except they're not misunderstood. The monsters at the heart of the story are continually seeking to murder and eat surface dwellers, which close observers will notice is actually not a feature of people with hearts of gold. I understand the point of the film, and it's one that has been made numerous times before this film and after. Men are the real monsters, don't judge a book by its cover, blah blah blah. The problem with Nightbreed isn't the message but the delivery. In what I'm assuming (because it's Barker) is intended to be an LGBT/guilt allegory, the "normal" people view the residents of Midian as monsters because they're different. Ok, fine. But they're also viewed that way because they fucking eat people. That really strikes a blow to the positivity in the film's lore and largely prevents it from getting anything more than an eye roll from viewers.

I get this is a cult classic, and far be it from me to criticize anyone for what they love. God knows there are far worse movies that have tremendous cult followings. But Nightbreed is not a good movie. It's barely entertaining through most of its runtime, and while the creature and special effects are phenomenal as expected, there's very little else to find here. In fact, the last half of the movie is basically Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, filled with wooden bridge fights and weird chanting. If you're looking for a straight up monster movie, there are many films that are better, and if you're looking for an adventure flick with some creepy characters, I can think of at least two Indiana Jones movies that fit the bill.

I will, however, give credit to Barker's brilliance in casting Cronenberg as his lead baddie. Decker is a fantastic character, with one of the scarier looking masks in horror history, and the entire film is worth watching for him alone. The monster design is also fantastic, and it can't be overstated how much it adds to what would otherwise be an entirely forgettable and largely confusing film. It's a veritable smorgasbord of effects work, and that part of the movie is great all the way through. Again, it's not the watchability of the film that is an issue here, because horror fans are used to wading through a lot of shit to get their nuggets of gold. But from a legend like Barker, with an enormous assist from Cronenberg, there's no reason this film should be as bad as it is. And to be spoken of with such reverence, I really expected to be missing out on a lot more than I was.


Who this movie is for: Creature feature fans, Barker faithful, Psilocybin users


Bottom line: I really wanted to like this film, and part of me feels like I should give it another shot to see if I missed something the first time around. Unfortunately, it's just not an interesting-enough film to give it a second go. The monsters are rad, the effects work is fantastic, and Cronenberg delivers an all-time performance as the creepy Dr. Dekker. The rest of the film, with its mixed metaphors and jumbled-as-all-hell plot, just didn't work for me. It's still a classic, though, and if you somehow haven't already seen it, you might as well give it a go.

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