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.


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 …

Darke Reviews | Hellraiser (1987)|

This film really feels like it came out earlier than it did. For some reason my brain kept thinking this came out in the early 80’s rather than the late 80’s. Granted some of the fashion in the film does actually date it fairly well. I recently had an opportunity read some interview transcripts regarding the making of this film, courtesy of io9. This makes the film yet another one of the classic great films shot on a low budget (less than $1mm) and considered an indie film. I think that is worthy of some commentary.

Some of the greatest horror movies come from what is not seen vs. what is seen. My best friend, generally dislikes horror, but much of it comes from having a face you can see. It stops being as scary. To quote an underrated movie, “If he has a voice he has a throat, if he has a throat, he has a body.”   These independent, low budget films, can’t afford to show much. The directors and crew need to get creative on how to build the tension and make things scary. Pinhead, by example, probably has less than 8 minutes on screen total out of the films 94 minute running time. Jaws, another example of a monster that is barely shown. Granted Jaws is due to technical issues, but the lack of vision of the monster forced Spielberg to get creative with other kills. This made the film scarier.

Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws, Hellraiser, Psycho, Friday the 13th, all of these films are considered iconic, classic, staples of modern horror. Every other film in their genre is compared to them and as you begin to add budget to them and sequels the quality diminishes.Is the secret to successful horror a distinct lack of budget?

Look at the modern day films, such as Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity, both extremely cheap to make and both insanely successful in the box office. Both rely on what they don’t show you and because of that are scarier. As they progress, ok lets focus on PA here, Blair Witch 2 was …godawful, they become less intense and less effective in arousing a fear emotion from us. The bigger the budget, the less scary movies become as the director is able to follow whim than be limited by it. Those limitations are what pushes the creative minds to achieve success. Even Michael Bay worked better with less budget, check out the video for Meatloafs I would do anything for Love as an example.

So Hellraiser? Is it scary?

Well, it is from one of the most beautifully deranged minds in horror, Clive Barker. Based on one of his own stories The Hellbound Heart, which was nearly the title but the studio was afraid someone would think it was a romance. Boy would they have been surprised. He is both writer and director, so any changes from the original story really are on him and those limitations I spoke to earlier.

The movie starts out with the story of Frank, a man so depraved that life itself holds no sensation for him and he explores something to find new heights of pleasure and pain. For this he pays a price, as all things come with one. We cut to some time later when Franks brother Larry and his wife Julia move into his old home. Though Julia has some very specific memories of the place and Frank. Larry’s daughter Kirsty is also moving back close to home and stops by for a visit. A small accident and a little blood later and Frank is freed from his prison and much like the Mummy needs to pull himself back together to be whole again. Julia agrees to help, but as all murder plots go things begin to unravel as the bodies stack up.

Notice, no mention of the monsters? There’s a reason for that. They play such a small part in the film, but are special to the horror. They are the Cenobites, the guardians of a place not dissimilar to hell, a place where pleasure and pain become one. They have such weight on screen their physical presence, even without dialogue tells you all you need to know. But then they do give them dialogue, the figure now known as Pinhead, but then Cenobite leader makes Hell almost tempting as it is terrifying. I don’t normally put quotes from films in a review but honestly…how do you not get chills from some of these lines?

“Oh, no tears please. It’s a waste of good suffering.”

“Explorers…in the further regions of experience. Demons to some. Angels to others.”

It’s just excellent. Sadly, most of the acting strength comes from those few minutes of Doug Bradley on screen as Pinhead. Andrew Robinson as Larry, Claire Higgins as Julia, and Sean Chapman/Oliver Smith as Frank do ok. They don’t sell me anything, other than the build up. I almost feel as if they are going through the motions. Frank probably is one of the more terrifying villains with his look through the movie. Kirsty is our typical Last Girl though, strong in ways she didn’t know she could be. She reminds me much of Nancy from Nightmare on Elm Street. She’s a survivor and when the cenobites show the first time, her mind saves her not any muscle.

From a technical standpoint, the movie is one of the more grotesque out there. The lack of budget forced much in the way of practical effects and we are thankful. Every effect surrounding Frank is a thing of exquisite grotesquery. The Cenobites are iconic images that at one point Barker thought might be too silly in bright light. Even the final creature, the machinist, while you can tell is a puppet by some respects is far more terrifying than a CG version of it ever could be.


Hellraiser is one of the scariest films ever made in the creature feature department. It gives us a manifestation of hell that we can understand and are afraid of. The thought of suffering is bad, but seeing a potential option for its outcome is unpleasant. It is a gore flick don’t get me wrong and some effects do not hold up all these years later (and some didn’t hold up then); but it is an iconic film of horror.

Should you watch it though? Honestly, this one is only for the fans of gore in their movies. Psychological horror fans probably won’t get nearly as much out of it.

Hellraiser is an icon for a reason and it will stand the test of time, but it is certainly not for everyone.

So…what is your pleasure?