Darke Reviews – Nightbreed (1990)


This is another by request review to fill out the month and one of the more schlocky films in this months set of reviews. First let me say I am going to be reviewing the newly released (as in today) directors cut of the film. This is also one of the few times I have read the original source material for the film. When it first came out fourteen year old me enjoyed the late 80’s awesomeness of this movie, even in how ridiculous some of it was. I wanted to escape to Midian, I wanted to be with the monsters, I belong there; so I did the most logical thing at the time and rode my bike over to the library and checked out Cabal by Clive Barker. I devoured the book in a night and then found the comics that expanded the universe later – still have the comics, lost a purchased copy of the book over the years and moves.  Now I have watched it off and on over the years and I realized nostalgia glasses needed to be removed, but the world it created was still something intriguing to me. I was delighted to see that a directors cut was coming out this year.

So, it is a film from the end of an era, the end of the 80’s – should it be watched now?

Loaded question, let’s get to the vivisection.

Based on the Novel by Clive Barker, screenplay by Clive Barker, and directed by Clive Barker. This can either be a colossal mess or a colossal success. Turns out that success may not be dependent upon the man, but rather the studio as well. Barker, shortly after the films release and its commercial and critical flop quickly decried the studio. The studio here is 20th Century Fox; now I wouldn’t say Fox was known for its meddling into films (Wolverine, X-3) or that it exerted influence to get what it wanted over the creators rendering the final project lesser or doomed to failure (Firefly/Serenity). I wouldn’t say Fox executives are known for making total hatchet jobs of good works…but then again I don’t have to say it. History has for me over the years. So when someone is quick to blame the studio and that someone is the creator of the original work and the film work, then well…doubts are bound to creep in and hard to ignore.

Barker is noted as saying that Fox wanted to make more of a slasher film riding the wave of the other slashers of the late 80’s. They couldn’t comprehend a story in which monsters could be heroes, which at the time was a fairly alien concept. Some of these decision makers were probably legacy holdovers from the 1930s and 40’s censorship boards that decreed, and I kid you not, that Monsters must die at the end of the film no matter how sympathetic they may be – they cannot win or survive. Obviously these are not the same men, but their influence was still strong and mostly likely had some impact in the botched attempt for this story. Barker, for his part wanted to tell a story about monsters a real story about monsters, one that speaks to a part of all of us.

“There’s a corner of all of us that envies their powers and would love to live forever, or to fly, or to change shape at will.” (Clive Barker / 1988 / Chains of Love )

It’s true and I think this is why the monsters attract us so, Dracula, the Wolfman? Don’t they touch on those loves and those desires? Wouldn’t you have wanted to see a movie about monsters that are beautiful, alien, and attractive on ways that speak to us at a primal level. I know I did then and would now.

“You call us Monsters, but when you dream, you dream of what we can do…you envy us.” – Rachel, Nightbreed

I know that I wanted to see the movie that the comics and the novel brought me, but instead we got Nightbreed. This is the story of Boone (Craig Sheffer), twice loser who has vivid dreams of a place called Midian. A place where the monsters live, a place where he feels he belongs. His girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) supports him, while his doctor Philip K Decker (Philip K Dick much?) seems to have ulterior motives. Boone does find his way to Midian and finds the monsters of his dreams. Only to find a worse monster chasing him. Lori follows close behind determined to save her boyfriends life and braves the monsters of Midian to do so. Boone ends up having to make a choice between the life he has or the life he had, with dozens of lives at stake either way. Which does he choose? Which should he choose?

Which would you choose?

The acting is almost painfully bad and sadly what we come to expect of horror movies of this period. Craig Sheffer (One Tree Hill, River Runs Through It) is too corny for words most times.  David Cronenberg (director of Videodrome, The Dead Zone, the Fly) as Dr. Decker is a special brand of sociopath that makes me wonder how he kept his medical license or anyone would be stupid enough to follow him. Anne Bobby (Bioshocks Brigid), pulling her best Jennifer Grey impression, is a highlight of the film with horror movie heroine strength throughout. I rather enjoy and admire her and how unflinching she is. She is a person some could aspire to be who finds beauty in the beast.  The rest of the cast is a mixture of those who can over act and those who can’t act at all. I can’t even begin to discuss how ludicrous act III of the movie gets with the “locals”. Watching this cut of the film it is even more painful.

Effects wise? The movie uses classic matte paintings for many backgrounds and I kind of love it for that. I miss that to be honest, the artistry of them was something to appreciate compared to some of the CG backgrounds we get today. Oh sure, the CG is certainly more photo real in many respects and can blend seamlessly over these matte backgrounds were something special. The computer effects when used are abysmal and that is the best word I can use. The make up effects on the other hand are a mixture of bizarre to disturbingly beautiful.  They can be comically laughable, heart wrenchingly sympathetic, and out right monstrous. Even the worst of them in all their silliness allows you to appreciate the range these monsters, these people can have. Not all of them have special gifts, in fact some are very much like the Morlocks of the X-Men universe, they just had the luck to be born different.

Danny Elfman’s score does not do this movie justice. The man’s use of horns is so completely unsubtle I can’t help but wonder if the movie is worse for it.

TL;DR?

This is not a good movie. Not by a long shot, but how I long to see what it could have been. Even the directors cut does not improve the film and I feel that had we seen what was intended vs. what was allowed to be filmed I could say otherwise.

If you have nostalgia for this movie, please please continue to enjoy it as I do, but I hope you are not blind to its epic badness.

If you need a beer and pizza horror movie that you can laugh at with your friends, now 25 years after this was made, I have a movie for you right here.

I cannot in good conscience say to see the film unless either condition is true, even the directors gut. If, you are a fan though, click here and help celebrate it.

SpoilerGive me the damn alternate ending any day where she becomes one of the Breed …

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2 thoughts on “Darke Reviews – Nightbreed (1990)

  1. So the extra footage… worth adding in or no? Did it add to the original in explanations in any way? I’m definitely a fan of the original – but definitely because it was the first where we really get to side with the monsters and want them to win. And oh, how I wish it would have been given the right treatment to start. I wonder how a remake would do in today’s age…

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