Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where the Monsters are: Nightbreed (1990)

Clive Barker's Nightbreed (1990)
starring:  Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg and Anne Bobby

Welcome to Shangrila on Dope!

Aaron Boone is in a constant struggle trying to understand a recurring dream; monsters on the run, a city called Midian in ruins, and him being locked out. His psychiatrists, Dr. Decker, claims that these nightmares are his repressed guilt of something he had committed while supposedly blacking out; a series of murders that appears to be done by a serial killer targeting families.

Convinced that he had committed these crimes, Boone attempted suicide in the middle of a road by getting in the way of a truck. He survived the hit and sent to a hospital, where he meet a deviant named Narcisse, who claims to know the place that appears in Boone's dreams. After teaching Boone of the location of the fabled city, Narcisse starts to tear off the skin off his head, causing panic among the orderly as Boone made his escape.

As he made it to Midian, he encounters some of the "nightbreeds" after sundown, who told him that he's innocent because they can "smell it". One of them chomped down on Boone's shoulder out of hunger and chased him off to the gates of their city. There, the cops were waiting in gunpoint, with Decker calming Boone down and secretly reveals something to him: Decker IS the true killer, and he's trying to frame it all to him. At that, he tricked the squadron into shooting the innocent man, believing they finally caught the "Baby Slasher" and their nightmares are all over.

But it isn't over, not with Boone revived from the bite he got, coming back as a Nightbreed. He was warmly welcomed by the rest of the clan, survivors of a race of monsters, deviants and the like, nearly driven to extinction by superstitious humans. But when Boone's girlfriend, Lori, trying to understand the fate of her lover, decides to drive to Midian in search of her boyfriend's "stolen" body while Decker, knowing Boone somehow survived, tries luring him out and kill him again to keep his secret safe, Midian and its citizens are now in grave danger as they had caught the attention of Decker's sick goal and an overzealous army of redneck locals.

Originally intended to be a three-part horror fantasy epic, Horror Maestro Clive Barker created Nightbreed as an effort to bring one of his novella to life. Interesting enough, the story remained very fateful to the printed work it is based on, which gives a "speedy" feel to it with a fast pace to keep the audience on their toes. The novella, as Barker would described it, was his love note to monsters and a imaginative look on our relationship with them as humans, or as the Nightbreed would call us, "naturals". No matter how much we fear them, we envied them of their powers, of flight, shape shifting or immortality. But in every birth of envy, comes the hatred and intolerance for the things we cannot understand.

Nightbreed is that notion made to film, and it was made to make us all "feel at home". Barker did some very effective scenes to put his notion into work, especially one where Lori was made to see what the breed had went through at the hands of the Naturals; placed sometime during the medieval crusade, hundreds of them slaughtered in various "Medieval Christian" manners. All the horrifying, some of them survived their fate, but forced to watched their kind suffer. You can't help but sometimes feel for them, seeing such torment. (And this is weird coming from a guy who can watch Human Centipede back to back with its sequel. Maybe there's a difference...)

The whole film looked gorgeous enough to ignore it's short comings, and beautifully layered to keep it from turning into a standard slasher or monster film. It's a moral film of prejudice and the like, but it's made with the darkest corners of one's imagination and mysticism, context hidden among the story to keep it all intriguing and unique. The slasher film trope, as much as others find it unnecessary, actually falls in place quite nicely in an exploited kind of manner. Production-wise, everything looked pretty spectacular despite the modest budget, with a finely crafted and breathtaking backgrounds from the sullen city to a quite neighborhood, to the outskirts of Midian to the graveyard it disguised itself as. Following the artistic flow is a wonderfully orchestrated soundtrack, combining ethnicity with bizarre (done by none other than Danny Elfman (Beetlejuice, Batman, The Nightmare Before Christmas, to name a few)

And to add the flair of the city, it's citizens didn't come off simple. With outstanding special effects and make-up, the residents of Midian came in all shape and sizes enough to choke a ten-ton sumo wrestler. Each with their own powers and/or deformity, the nightbreeds are not your usual gnarling and savage beasts (though some does looked like one), but instead they're made with affection and human like personality that made them likable and sympathetic enough to root for. Heck, we even had a local "natural" who tried to defend the clan, but dearly paid a price of his own life when the killer got to him. Among the colorful performances went on to Peloquin (Oliver Parker), a rogue who can go feral and survive a fight, Shuna Sassi (Christine McCorkindale), the quilled lover of Peloquin who showed her fighting spirit when the time called it, Rachel (Catherine Chevalier), a siren made out of smoke, Lylesburg (Hellraiser's Doug Bradley), the chief of the breed and of course, Narcisse (Hugh Ross), the comic relief of the clan but none other just as tough. Hidden deeper into their city are the Bersekers, monster that are beyond control and will ravage anyone, including their fellow nightbreed.

In contrast to the monsters, the film boasts an unusual villain: men. "The Naturals", in a reversed role, were the true monsters in this film, and none of them came to much blind hatred to these monsters as Dr. Decker, the true "Baby Slasher" whose obsession on ridding the world of "breeders" (AKA innocent families) came as far as destroying an entire civilization. Playing our resident slasher is Body-Horror master David Cronenberg, whose performance in this film, masked or not, sends chill down my spine as he rambles about his "work" and his delusion of being Death personified. Among other villains were Captain Eigerman, played by Charles Haid, whose vigilante character nearly took the life of hundred of defenseless breeds, but cowers as the tables began to turn on them. (thus earning him my award of biggest douche of the year!)

There is another, a priest called Ashberry (Malcolm Smith) who started off pretty neutral, then at one point sides with the breed, and then later bears a grudge against them for "burning him". (like that's not entirely his fault.)

Stuck in the middle of it all were Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) and Lori Designer (Anne Bobby), whose love angle obviously derived from your usual tar-struck lovers kind of romance, that between a Nightbreed and a Natural. In the end, Boone saving Lori from Decker results to the vigilantes hunting the breeds down and it was up to Boone to fix it all.

The film's flaw draws from it's strength, which is that it tries to be a lot of things. As perfectly layered as it is, it runs a little too fast to get it all done right. There's a sheer magnitude on all things, characters, subtext, plot, that it punched a lot of holes here and there, and left it there to be forgotten. Not to mention the groan-worthy ending that screams, literally, and asking for a sequel. But since Clive barker intentionally wished to make this into a trilogy, I guess there's a reason for all the quick pacing, underdeveloped characters and monumental plotholes.

I'm never into fantasy epics (hence my ho-hum attitude towards Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter series) but this little Novella-based mini-epic does a fine job at it. Heart-warming at times, and dreadful in another, Nightbreed is a cult-classic deserving its title and perhaps more. Who knows? Maybe we'll get our sequel...or perhaps a Dr. Decker movie? I'll pay good money to see that latter one!

1 female throat slashed with blade
1 male throat cut with blade
1 boy killed offscreen
1 female found slashed to death and nailed to a tree
1 male nightbreed beheaded (flashback)
1 female nightbreed thrown into pit (flashback)
a number of nightbreeds were seen killed in flashback
1 male knifed on the chest
1 male found beheaded
1 female stabbed with a blade
3 males found slaughtered
1 male nightbreed exposed to the sun, explodes into dust
1 male accidentally shot
1 male had his throat cut with blade
1 male accidentally drives to a pit, falls and decimated in his own truck
1 nightbreed shot
1 male stabbed with dagger
1 nightbreed shot
1 nightbreed shot to death
1 male clawed through the chest
1 male had his neck broken
1 nightbreed shot
1 nightbreed set ablaze with flamethrower
1 nightbreed shot
1 male gets a poison quill shot to his neck
1 male had quills shot to his face
1 male had quills shot to his back
1 nightbreed shot to death with automatic rifle
1 nightbreed bludgeoned with rifles
1 male had his eyes torn off
1 male slaughtered offcamera
1 male nightbreed shot on the head
1 male had his face slashed by creature's maw
1 male had his groin clawed off
1 male devoured by monster
1 male thrown, killed offscreen
1 male crushed to death
1 male had his head clawed off
1 male accidentally walks through fire, decimated by his own flamethrower
1 male accidentally immolated by rocket launcher
(a number of nightbreeds were slaughtered off camera during massacre, in addition, a number of individuals were presumably killed in self-defense by the Nightbreeds and the Berserkers.)
total: 41+


  1. I skipped this in the theater, though I love Hellraiser. I finally saw it on VHS, and I found it pretty "meh." I can only take "bendy reality" in small doses and in the right mood, and I don't like "monsters" where it looks like they took a five year old kid's sketch pad and started molding the latex - look - that guy has a BIG EYE! And that monster has two noses! And that monster looks like a guy whose face has been stretched out all weird! And I prefer my Cronenberg villainy in Jason X! Nonetheless, cheers, Mr. K!

  2. aww, s'okay mate. I kinda grew up with monsters thanks to childhood flicks like The Relic, Ghoulies II and countless Toho Godzilla films, so i guess Nightbreed came off as a Godsend for me and my childhood.

  3. I saw this in the theater and was sort of blown away by it even though studio tampering left it making little sense. The sheer level of monsters was a huge attraction to me, too. Another fine analysis, Kaijinu.

    1. I know, makes me feel right at home!