‘Nightbreed’ Review: Everything’s True

Posted in The Screening Room by - August 08, 2015

Last week I wrote about Naked Lunch, a filmed directed by David Cronenberg that was too intellectually whackadoo for me to suggest people watch it. This week I was assigned the film Nightbreed, which manages to be a middle ground between basic Hollywood story telling and the insanity that was Naked Lunch. Interestingly, Cronenberg is connected to Nightbreed not as a director, but as an actor.

Released in 1990 and directed by Clive Barker, the man that wrote the book, Nightbreed is based off of a novella titled Cabal. Unfortunatley, the production company behind the film not only wished to tone down the violence of the movie after it was completed, dooming it to the editing floor for extensive cuts, but Clive Barker stated that they had no idea of the original story. This lack of understanding combined with their ultimate producer powers, causing the film to be billed in advertising as a typical slasher instead of the oddly cerebral horror movie that it actual is. It flopped upon release, but has since developed a cult following of intensely passionate fans. These fans finally managed to get the producers to go back and re-edit the piece to be closer to what Barker intended. They released the new version as the director’s cut 14 years after its initial run.

Nightbreed stars Craig Sheffer as Aaron Boone, a delusional, troubled man, who goes to a cemetery in the hopes of being “forgiven” for some unconfirmed sins by a community of monsters. The movie also has David Cronenberg in it as the real murderer, and by far the most compelling performance of the movie. His creepy killer wearing a gimp mask with buttons for eyes is simple while maintaining a visual intimidation few cinema killers can claim. Nightbreed is a movie about an odd main character being thrust into a world of complex and compelling visual effects as he uncovers some sort of conspiracy.

The film quickly ramps up the action and the absurdity from a group of monsters hiding underground to an all out war. The local police department decides to hire out some random hunters as their army, and they kit them out with assault rifles, shotguns, and garrotes. They wire the cemetery with mines, claymores, and barrels full of kerosene. All the while Cronenberg is off doing weird, barely explained but entirely interesting serial killer things. The final climax is an insane montage of various monsters and humans doing various terrible things to each other. One cop uses a flamethrower to roast some monsters. One female monster gets naked and shoots porcupine spikes out of her back to poison the men she lures around the corner. At one point a man has a rocket launcher. It’s crazy, and it lasts for a large chunk of the film.

All thing’s considered, it’s another visually entertaining film with a story that makes little sense. While the overall plot of Nightbreed is relatively simple, a society of monsters seeks to remain hidden from the hateful humans above, the editing and staggering amount of individual and visually original effects and monster styles make it difficult to follow. Much of the movie seems to be more of a series of montages designed to showcase the intricate visuals, painstaking makeup, and strikingly vivid methods of killing other people, and most of the performances other than Cronenberg’s seem a bit forced. The worst part about the film is how little development there is of these stunning creatures. Many of them are shown for one or two shots and then forgotten as the film professes. Some clearly have relationships and motivations for their actions that fail to get fleshed out in the movie. Even the society of the monsters in the cemetery of Midian obviously has a well thought out and intricate structure, but all the film uses is a constant and unexplained reference to “the laws of Midian”.

It’s unfortunate that I have to suggest you give it a skip. It’s special effects are more than impressive, and the climax has many interesting shots in it, but for the average movie goer, someone who prefers practical story telling and character development, Nightbreed won’t satisfy your needs. However, if you’re a makeup designer, or you’re interested in special effects, by all means study it’s frames and learn what it takes to make compelling practical effects on a budget of 11 million bucks.

Final Say: Skip It

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Born in Arizona, he currently resides in Denton, Texas. When he isn't watching movies he's playing board games and drinking whatever he can get his hands on. John watches Djimon Honsou movies because he likes Spawn, which had Michael Jai White.
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