An absolute oddity in the halls of horror cinema, Clive Barker’s Nightbreed was his passion project, coming hot off the heels of Hellraiser. Adapted from his own story Cabal, night breed is a wild, fractured mess that is not without a certain redeeming charm. From some bugged out gore and practical effects, a wacky and wonderful Danny Elfman score, and some amazing production design …there *is* a lot to like about Nightbreed, but tales of it’s legendary battles with studio execs and censors have led many too overlook some of it’s many failures with fondness.
Here’s the story: Boone (Craig Sheffer) is an 80s bad boy (you can tell by his leather jacket!) who is head over heels in love with plot device girl Lori. Small problem: he is plagued by nightmarish visions of monsters, murder and a bizarre world called Midian, a kind of demilitarized zone between the world of the living and dead. Treating the visions in Boone’s psyche is Dr. Decker (played with a glorious, deadpan weirdness by David Cronenberg!), a man who moonlights as a mass murderer in a scarecrow mask with button eyes and a zippered mouth. Cronenberg successfully convinces Boone that he is actually the city’s most wanted serial killer and pins his own crimes on his patient. The resulting manhunt forces Boone into hiding below a cemetery, where he discovers a cadre of monsters, mutants, and misfits living in secret…. after being murdered by the police.
What results is a bloody battle between good and evil, reality and dream that quickly spins out of control, as Dr. Becker seeks to learn the secrets of the Cabal for his own nefarious purposes. And while Nightbreed is no winner, it’s definitely earned it’s place in genre history on sheer audacity alone. The creature designs are stunning, the energy in the sets and Barker’s own artwork popping off the screen with B-Movie magic. One wonders what could have been if Barker’s originally budgeted and filmed vision came to life, instead of what’s widely considered to be a “Frankenstein” version of his original screenplay, with some reports saying over an HOUR of footage was dropped from the theatrical cut. So while not a masterpiece by any means, Nightbreed is a great and goofy watch for Spooky Season, and streaming on Shudder now with a great restoration, but the director’s cut is the ONLY versions worth a watch.
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