Movie Review – Nightbreed

Nightbreed (1990)
Written & Directed by Clive Barker

Nightbreed has so many great elements and ideas but ultimately fails at everything it is trying to do because it overflows with stuff. That stuff is characters, mythology, plot, pretty much everything. Horror legend Clive Barker wrote and directed this adaptation of his own novella, which I think might be at the core of the problems. He wants to have everything in this movie, but that means so much gets abbreviated but still presented, which leaves the audience confused about who certain people are or what some of this mythology being spoken about is.

I watched what is considered the Cabal Cut, which was what was available to me on Amazon, though I remember seeing the version with the theatrical ending, which we will talk about later. Nightbreed is the story of Aaron Boone, a troubled man who is seeing a psychotherapist, Dr. Decker, to deal with his troubling dreams of monsters and a place called Midian. Decker convinces Boone he is responsible for the serial killing of several families in the city and doses him with LSD disguised as lithium. The authorities pick Boone up, and while in the hospital, he meets another person who has heard of Midian and explains how to get there.

Boone discovers the place is a cemetery in the middle of nowhere that is populated with the monsters from his dreams. It also becomes clear that Boone is one of them, they call themselves Nightbreed. Boone’s girlfriend, Lori, begins following his trail and ends up discovering that her lover has become something different. Dr. Decker is also in pursuit and reveals he has more insidious motives behind driving Boone into this position. All of these elements culminate in a grotesque battle of man against monsters.

The concept of the Nightbreed, a collective of creatures and beings that lived on the fringes of society and were hunted down in the Dark Ages, is an intriguing one. These are the monsters that things like vampires and werewolves were based on but not quite how humans imagine them. For the most part, these are beasts without formal species, which allows a lot of freedom in what Barker gets to portray. He definitely goes quite wild with the depictions giving us all sorts of bizarre mutations and demonic beings. If you are a fan of practical make-up effects, Barker has given you a feast for the eyes.

All of this production design is undercut by an overflowing script that tries to include every character Barker sees as necessary, even letting the filmmaking emphasize side characters as important but never having the substantive development for the audience to understand why. One of the most egregious examples of this is Ashberry, a priest not introduced until the last 45 minutes of the movie. He’s being held in a cell at the jail in the nearby town and brought by the local sheriff when the attack on Midian occurs. The rationale is that Ashberry’s skills as a holy man will protect the police.

Once Ashberry arrives at Midian, the camera will cut to him, emphasizing that he is crucial. Eventually, he finds his way into the central core of the monsters’ civilization and has a life-changing experience that sets him up as a potential antagonist for a sequel (none ever happened). The way Ashberry is framed by the camera tells us that we really need to pay attention to this guy, he’s essential. And that never comes to fruition. This is why Nightbreed would work far better as a television series, given space to flesh out things that are mentioned and forgotten. I’m on board for a tv series that gives me a spotlight episode on Decker and Ashberry and the backstory of the Nightbreed.

Clive Barker delivers a fast-paced movie with beautiful, practical effects that remind us of the craftsmanship of an older time. However, Nightbreed is not a cohesive story, but a collection of moments that hint at an epic and fascinating narrative. Maybe, if the property can be developed into a television series one day we can learn how all of this ties together and the full story of what Barker intended to do here.

One thought on “Movie Review – Nightbreed”

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