Bleeding Lotus’ Appraisal of Nightbreed

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Genre: Supernatural Horror / Monster
Directed by Clive Barker
Written by Clive Barker
Based on Cabal by Clive Barker
Music by Danny Elfman
Editing by Mark Goldblatt
Release date: February 16 1990
Running time 102 minutes
Country United States
Budget US$11 million
Box office US $8.9 million
Starring:
Craig Sheffer
Anne Bobby
David Cronenberg

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As anyone who has read a Clive Barker book can attest, once you’ve read one of the Liverpudlian powerhouses stories, you’ll never dream in the same way again. “Books of blood” was my introduction to the world of Clive Barker. Cabal (Nightbreed’s source material) was the first book that didn’t just change my dreams, but changed my outlook on life.

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A talent beyond compare, with praise from his peers, idols and critics alike, it was only a matter of time before the movie industry came knocking. A dedicated playwright from a young age, Barker quickly adjoined with the purportedly right people, which resulted in two movies produced before the ink on “Books of blood” had dried ( the scandalously bad “Transmutations” and the so, so, so bad its genius “Rawhead Rex”),resulting in an inauspicious start to Clive Barker’s movie career. Fortunately, you cant keep a good ( or maybe that should be bad?) man down and Barker had some level of success with his adaption of his novella “Hellbound heart”. “Hellraiser”, a slick, tautly made terror feature which created an icon of the perverse and demented in Pinhead ( lead cenobite) had become the talk of the town.

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Directed and written by Barker, it was such a self-assured debut that predictions of what was to come from the writer were borderline hyperbolic. It was with Nightbreed, which started out as something of a labour of love for the director / writer, that Barker’s creative juices were fully ignited. Barker wanted to make the Star Wars of horror films, definitive and loaded with odd and beguiling creatures and, having developed his chops, started working on what became one of the most interesting, inspiring, unforgettable and flawed movies of the last 30 years.

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Working off the premise that the unknown is just peachy and allowing a small amount of doubt about what the hell is going on from the offset, the real purpose of this story is to introduce the menagerie of flawed antiheroes that ask us not to judge them because they are different. The Nightbreed are all but demi-Gods, equally loved and loathed; they have power that the humans can only imagine, but have a look that would have Freddy Kruger on his heels if he happened upon the same poor saps subconscious as one of the Nightbreed.

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Even on screen, the inhabitants of Midian have their devotees, cursed humans, much like transgender individuals, doomed to live their lives in a humanly body that doesn’t fit. Aaron Boon, our hero of sorts, is a misguided puppet (quite literally when it comes to his relationship with his shrink) who has dreamed of Midian for far too long; a place of monsters he knows exists but cannot locate. We follow Aaron on his path to enlightenment through murders, his encounters with a homicidal maniac with a Phd and an uprising that plays out like a young Peter Jackson directing his version of the battle for Endor.

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Yet with any great allegory, it’s what it represents that’s crucial. With its references to creed, ethnicity, body dysmorphia ( genuinely) and xenophobia, Nightbreed is as relevant today as it was 23 years ago. Who we are and how we fight for our right for survival and our individuality are represented with such beautiful simplicity, you can eat up from the plate you’ve just been handed.

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Nightbreed is flawed, and how! Barker knows this more than anyone and every viewer that has ever seen it will make comment about (and to an extent, especially for the aficionados, lament) the sketchy editing, uneven tone and seemingly truncated final third ( studio interference had done all it could to, pardon my potty mouth, fuck it up). Some of its dialogue is hackneyed beyond comprehension (odd for such a talented writer, but unfortunately indicative of Barkers output as a screenwriter) with lines such as “fuck the law! I want meat!” delivered during one of the films best scenes, but seemingly more at home in hardcore cannibal porn. However, this has little bearing on the overall enjoyment of the movie. Every detail is picture perfect and every Nightbreed is rendered with such demonic delight that Midian really does feel like a living, breathing society.

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Yes, we don’t get enough of the daily routine( sometimes the monsters seem to hang on corners aimlessly like past their prime prostitutes hoping for a pity pay day, but considering the dull whimper that was the troll market in Hellboy II, perhaps that isn’t a bad thing) and once Midian has been visited, it feels hard to go back into the real world at the points we do so in the movie Yet there is much to love and iconic scenes, such as the aforementioned scene when Nightbreed Peloquin and Kinski first meet Boon and gently explain what Peloquin’s designs on Boon are (feeling like gang-bangers in a post apocalyptic Peckham) stay fresh in the mind forever. Also, the dread of the real villain of the piece, the seemingly omnipotent Dr Dekker ( a named homage, horror geeks, you don’t need me to tell you to who) still continues to encourage the locking of every back door in the houses I frequent.

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Nightbreed is an important film; it’s a film that defined what could be possible within a monster movie (without ever fully realising its own goals). It drew a demonically chilling performance from David Cronenberg and it created such a devoted fan base that, nearly a quarter of a century later, the promise of the full, Clive Barker intended cut, with footage literally pulled from the ashes, has wanna be Midianites around the globe salivating, with baited breath, for the definitive version of the horror “A New hope”. If only he would make his “Empire Strikes Back”, then things could get really interesting.

Bleeding Lotus Rating 7/10

Grue Rating 4/5

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Gallery of Terror

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