Director – Clive Barker
Cast – Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charles Haid, Hugh Quarshie, Hugh Ross, Doug Bradley, Catherine Chevalier, Malcolm Smith, Bob Sessions, Oliver Parker
Release Year – 1990
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Nightbreed has always come recommended to me by my buds, but I ungraciously took way too long to get to this sophomore feature film effort from the great Clive Barker. After immortalizing himself with Hellraiser in 1987, Barker gave us this fantastic tale of macabre and social warfare between the beasts of the underworld and mankind, which along with his ever-superb direction and usage of director David Cronenberg in an antagonist role, resulted in an awesome watch of true unrelenting horror for fans of the genre.
After coming across a community of mutant outcasts of various physical forms and abilities, Aaron Boon, on the run from authorities, is killed during a police operation by his very own psychiatrist, Dr. Philip K. Decker(David Cronenberg). However, before being killed he was bitten by one of the mutants, enabling him to attain life after death, and he quickly joins the mutant colony, termed Midian. This proves costly for the colony though, as Boon inadvertently lead Dr. Decker to the colony, and a war between the colony of Midian, Dr. Decker, and the intolerant police force ensues, forcing the peace-seeking mutants to fight back against the world that sent them there.
Nightbreed is just another reason why Clive Barker should come back to the genre as a writer AND director. He gave us three solid films, Hellraiser, Nightbreed, and Lord of Illusions, all within just a few years of one another, and left the filmmaking business as quick as he came in. Now I will say that he took the high route of leaving at the top of his game, without ever giving us a dud, but I really just wish he would come back. Please Clive?
I really was not sure what to expect with this story. I knew that it involved mutants, and David Cronenberg, but aside from that I had never seen anything else regarding the story, nor had I seen any trailers. Well, as usual, Clive took a somewhat simple story and turned it into a masterpiece of horror. From the get-go we are thrown into the horrific world that Aaron Boon lives in, accused of 14 heinous murders that he himself does not remember committing. His girlfriend, Lori, is the sweetheart every man wants as she supports him in everything he does and with all of her heart, serving as his solid rock to stand on in his screwed up life. His psychiatrist, Dr. Decker, seems to be his trusted outlet and confidant, but that trust is soon revealed to be Aaron’s downfall when Decker sets him up to be killed, a purposeful move that would(and did) allow Decker to follow Aaron to the town of Midian, which Decker has a personal vendetta against. I loved how Decker was moonlighting as a savage slasher donning one of the creepiest masks I have ever seen, which aided the horror in the film and came unsurprising given Barker’s masterful understanding of this genre. We get some great class warfare going on between the reasoning behind the outcasts living in Midian and the intolerant assholes looking to rid the world of them, and this builds up to an incredible third act and final sequence consisting of the final battle between the two forces. Of course, with Barker you can never have too much horror, and he closes out the film in awesome fashion, with a nice shout-out to Cronenberg’s Videodrome as well.
Barker’s direction is awesome as usual, and he opens the film with possibly the most horrific opening sequence of the 1990s. His usage of live-action FX is incredible, and as per his style he employs many awesome looking creatures as well. His execution of characters is good, and it was great to see Cronenberg have more than just a cameo acting role and in fact serve as two diabolical characters(in a sense). He did not give the greatest performance, but he was enjoyable and gave us good horror, and that is what matters. The rest of the performances were good, which came required given the first half of the film plays heavy on characters, namely Aaron Boon. Doug Bradley(“Pinhead” in Hellraiser series) gave a great performance as Dirk Lylesberg, the leader of Midian, although voiceovers were used to give the character more of a German accent, which did not set well with Bradley, and I don’t blame him. Barker’s execution of the horror is fantastic, and I personally found his usage of Decker as the masked slasher to be supremely awesome. In fact, I wish Barker would have saved that character for a separate film and given us another awesome effort, but I suppose I will have to settle with Nightbreed for the meantime. We get a fair amount of gore, all of which comes in live-action fashion, and the final battle at the end of the film was incredibly awesome and made up for some of the film’s slower sequences. I was enjoying the film up to the final battle, but I was needing that extra “umph” to really make me see this as a awesome watch, and sure enough the final battle in all of its mutant vs. human glory did it for me. We get intense gun battles, lots of killing, and great horror which never stopped developing, especially when the Aaron Boon convinced Dirk Lylesberg to release the “reinforcements”, which added nothing but creature-induced gory goodness to the screen. All in all, this final sequence is one of the best that I have ever seen, and it solidified this film as a true testament of great horror filmmaking.
Overall, Nightbreed is another awesome Clive Barker film that brings is usual creative horror elements with a great storyline consisting of supreme horror, class warfare, and a strong love element as well. His direction is fantastic, and he lays on the creature action in heavy amounts, resulting in one of the best horror films of the 1990s and highly recommended watch from me.