Warner Bros. // 1990 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 6th, 2001
"They are the Nightbreed, denizens of a world beyond death, beyond imagination...perhaps beyond anything you've ever seen."
Lots of drugs. Lots of drugs and lots of booze. That's what I think was going on during Clive Barker's college years. I'm not being judgmental or incriminating, just speculating. How else can you account for his odd books and bizarre movies? Just look at the cinematic freak shows Barker has made or written: Lord of Illusions, Candyman, and the crème de le crème, Hellraiser. Have you actually seen any of his films? It's like dipping your head into a barrel full of Draino and LSD. In 1990 Clive Barker directed his second big budget film Nightbreed, the story of horrible monsters living beneath a cemetery in Calgary (insert your own Canadian joke here, "eh"). Starring Craig Sheffer (A River Runs Through It), Annie Bobby (TVs "Cop Rock") and director/sometimes actor David Cronenberg (Scanners, The Fly remake), Nightbreed opens up a fresh wound on your TV care of Warner Brothers.
Midian is a mythical place where the monsters live. Some people will do anything to go there...even die.
Aaron Boone (Sheffer) has been struggling with horrific dreams of Midian. He lives with his girlfriend (Bobby) and has been undergoing therapy under the care of Dr. Decker (Cronenberg). After Decker shows Boone some pictures of a slaughtered family, Decker suggests that maybe Boone is to blame. Though Boone can't recall doing this gruesome deed, he can't say for sure that he's innocent.
Framed for the murders of several dead families, Boone escapes to a cemetery that contains the entrance to the mythical Midian. Here some frighteningly ugly monsters greet and attack Boone. Fleeing the cemetery, Boone runs smack dab into Decker and a barricade of police who are prepared to arrest Boone for his "supposed" crimes. With Decker's deceptive help, the police open fire and gun Boone down.
Boone, however, doesn't want to stay down. The bite incurred by one of the Nightbreed brings him back from the dead and leads him to Midian. There one of the elders named Lylesberg (Doug Bradley, who also played "Pinhead" in Barker's Hellraiser series) initiates him into the Nightbreed. Among the deformed and grotesque, Boone discovers that he is part of a prophecy to lead the Nightbreed into a new dawn, but not without a cost -- Decker has been tracking Boone and is prepared to do what he can to bring about the destruction of Midian and the Nightbreed.
Boone is the only hope the Nightbreed have of preserving their way of life and surviving the animal known as "man."
Nightbreed plays on a very large scale. It is a horror film with grand ideas. For those assuming this will be just another typical slasher flick, think again.
I don't always digest Clive Barker movies easily. His films can sometimes be preachy, often times gross, and usually more than a little disturbing. Even so, Barker often puts more thought and effort into his scripts than most horror films attempt. Although I may be repulsed (and hey, that's part of the fun), I am often drawn to his fantastical imagination. The ideas expressed in Nightbreed reverse the horror movie mythology: what if the monsters were the good guys? Barker even turns that premise on its head by making the monsters neither good nor bad -- they just are. The Nightbreed have violent tendencies towards humans, but not until the humans penetrate their lair. Like a bear protecting its cubs, they seem to kill only when provoked or their way of life is threatened. Although some of Barker's ideas aren't fleshed out (I never did understand why people would want to live in Midian; almost all the monsters look like they are in pain, and if so, why protect that kind of lifestyle?), he still has the sense to ask the right kind of questions.
Nightbreed achieves its success by enveloping the viewer in a dark, foreboding mood. Though the film doesn't succeed on all levels, it does transcend its genre to become something more than "just" a horror movie. The characters are not one-dimensional teenagers or idiotic adults. They understand the world they're in, and are very aware of the dangers Midian possesses. Craig Sheffer as Boone is a fine leading man, if a bit bland at times. It's never very clear what Boone exactly is -- a hard-ass biker thug? A misunderstood rebel? The ambiguity is a bit frustrating, though that may lie more in Barker's script than in Sheffer's acting. The actor who gets the most mileage in Nightbreed is director/actor David Cronenberg. Cronenberg is mostly known for his directing efforts on such classics as Dead Ringers, his remake of The Fly, and eXistenZ. On occasion, the director has also dabbled in acting, appearing in such films as Last Night and the upcoming Jason X. Here Cronenberg is superbly creepy as the double-crossing Decker. Playing the role with an icy coolness that would chill Ma Parker, Cronenberg brings something extra special to Barker's vision. In fact, my opinion is that Nightbreed wouldn't have been half as good without Cronenberg's inclusion. Everyone else, as one character happily puts it, is "meat for the beast."
If, however, you're also looking for style as well as substance, Nightbreed will be your cup of tea. The effects people on Nightbreed, as well as production designer Steve Harbdie, do a fantastic job or realizing the world and inhabitants of Midian. From dark devils to slobbering "Berserkers," everything in Midian is like something out of your darkest nightmare. The underground lair is a twist and turn of bridges and caves that make Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's winding caverns look like a relaxing vacation. Unlike typical "stalk 'n' slash" horror flicks, Nightbreed is a complex vision that makes the viewer think while he's throwing up.
Nightbreed is presented in "matted" 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Supplied from "an all new digital transfer," Nightbreed looks very good. Colors were bright and flesh tones solid. The black levels were usually very dark, though some grayness was spotted (as well as a small amount of grain in some darker shots). Though there are slight problems, overall this is an excellent transfer by Warner Brothers.
Audio is presented in a brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Warner has also done a solid job on this new mix, utilizing all speakers to capacity. Though it's not as aggressive as other discs, Nightbreed displays a very nice mix that envelops the listener in the world of Midian. Also a standout is Danny Elfman's (Beetlejuice, Batman) darkly romantic orchestral score. Elfman is one of the best film composers working today, and his early '90s scores are some of the highlights of the business. Dialogue, effects, and music were all clear. Also included is a Dolby Surround 2.0 track in English, as well as French, English and Spanish subtitles.
Well, at least Nightbreed hits two out of three. With well-done audio and video features, Nightbreed had to suffer somewhere, and I guess it's in the bonus material. The only extras Warner has seen fit to provide is an anamorphic theatrical trailer and some cast and crew information.
I think you may be able to find this title at around $14.99 or so. If you're a fan of finely produced horror movies or Clive Barker's work, Nightbreed will make a nice addition to your DVD collection. Though Nightbreed is lacking in supplements, the video and audio portions almost make up for it...almost.
Nightbreed is acquitted on all charges. Warner is slapped with a minor fine for the exclusion of any substantial bonus materials.
Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* Cast and Crew Film Highlights