Written and directed by Clive Barker, Nightbreed is a different type of horror movie. It features an intricate and fully-fleshed out fantasy world that only visually resembles a living nightmare. Behind all the scary and gross creatures and scenes is a tragedy with a lot of emotions. It feels like a dark fairy tale blended with familiar horror elements. The movie is based on the novella Cabal, released two years earlier. Flawed and filled with a lot of underdeveloped ideas, it is barely held together by great visuals and a foreboding atmosphere. However, it’s strangely intriguing, right off the bat showing you its wares.
After directing one of the best horror movies ever released, Hellraiser, Barker seems to bit off more than he could chew. This was an incredibly ambitious project with a lot of moving parts and characters. A true challenge even for the most experienced directors and let alone newcomers. Newcomers with the additional burden of being the authors of the source material. A television show based on this movie was announced a couple of years ago and it seems like it’s finally going to be released sometime in 2022. This format is a much better medium for such a complex world and story, so keep an eye on it.
Aaron Boone is a young man with a strange problem. He keeps having these nightmares about a strange place called Midian. A place populated by all kinds of monsters that are calling to him. Worried about his health, Lory, his girlfriend, convinces him to see a psychotherapist Dr. Phillip Decker. However, this will only make his condition worse…
At the time it was released, nobody liked Nightbreed. Audiences, critics and even Barker himself weren’t satisfied with the end product for various reasons. However, as time went on, the movie slowly started gathering more and more fans eventually becoming a cult classic. It also inspired the British black metal band Cradle of Filth’s fourth album titled Midian. Despite the somewhat silly intro, there are some really visceral and gory scenes here. For me, the worst one was in the insane asylum with Narcisse. It was just so fucking gnarly that I can still picture it in my head.
All this doesn’t mean that the movie is perfect. In all honesty, it’s far from it. Pacing and tone are off, the script is too pretentious at times, acting is also problematic along with disjointed storytelling. The stark difference between the creative, original and imaginative design of the monsters along with phenomenal make-up and the blurry narrative keeps jabbing at you. You can clearly feel the immense potential that the story has and a lot of different influences trying to mold it into something. The studios were pushing for a standard-issue slasher, causing problems with Barker. I recommend you watch the Shout! Factory cut with a runtime of exactly two hours. It features a lot of new scenes and a much better atmosphere.
Ultimately, I think that what makes or breaks this movie is your willingness to suspend belief and just go on this journey into the underworld. By focusing on the positives you’ll soon see and feel what was Barker trying to do here. At the same time, every step of the way, you could trash the movie, breaking the immersion. The choice is yours. And just to be clear, if it caught me on another day, I’m sure I would be trashing Nightbreed. It just so happens to be that I was willing to go along with it. It’s a glorious mess that if you like horror movies should at least check out. Enjoy.
Director: Clive Barker
Writers: Clive Barker, Mark Frost
Cast: Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg, Charles Haid, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley, Catherine Chevalier, Oliver Parker, Nicholas Vince
Fun Facts: In the Bible, Midian was the land in which Moses lived for forty years in self-imposed exile. It was in Midian that God appeared to Moses as the burning bush, telling him to go back to Egypt to free the Israelites.