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Film Review: Nightbreed (1990)

It has been 17 years since Clive Barker’s sophomoric film Nightbreed graced movie theatres. I remember it as if it was yesterday. It had been three years since his directorial feature length film Hellraiser had terrorized audiences to a new type of horror film and Nightbreed (which is based upon Barker’s own novel Cabal) was a lovesong to monster films and every manner of creature that goes bump in the night whether friend or foe. The only problem is that the studios decided to market the film as a serial killer film nixing most references to the monsters in which it was trying to celebrate.

Having read the original novel it was based on prior to viewing the film, I knew Barker would bring a new dimension to his own material like he had done with Hellraiser (which is based upon his novel The Hellbound Heart). He brought a vision that was so original that the studio heads didn’t know how to respond. Never had there been a horror film in which the monsters and creatures of the night been the heroes and the humans been the true monsters.

The film follows Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) who is troubled by nightmares about strange creatures from a place called Midian. When he tells his therapist Dr. Philip Decker (David Cronenberg) Boone’s world is turned upside down as Decker reveals to him that he may be the man responsible for a slew of recent deaths in the community. Finding no solace with his girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby), Boone ventures off to find Midian but discovers that the place is actually a cemetery where the Nightbreed live hidden away from the above world.

Boone then discovers the truth that he is not responsible for the deaths of innocent people but that his doctor Decker is but he is unable to tell anyone as he is gunned down as if he was the killer. Decker, believing that he has closed the book on Boone, soon discovers that Boone never really died but has become one of the Nightbreed himself. In revealing the nature of the Nightbreed to the psychopathic Decker, Boone has also put the breed in great danger as Decker now makes it his mission to destroy all the breed no matter where they try to hide. Outcast from the breed himself, Boone must find his place in the world before Decker manages to destroy everything he believes in.

Nightbreed was an exception film in 1990 and it still remains so to this day as the creature and make up effects are some of the best ever crafted for a monster film and no other filmmaker has dared to venture into the world of benevolent monsters in the scope and range that writer/director Barker did with this film. It’s a shame that the film has all but been forgotten except by diehard Barker fans and genre enthusiast.

Barker created an original film that had never so successfully mixed so many elements of fantasy in a horror film. It would be another five years until Barker took up the director’s reigns again for Lord of Illusion, another tale that mixes fantasy and the world of magic with that of horror, which also dabbles in areas of storytelling never before attempted and even rarer succeeded in. Barker is indeed a unique storyteller in which his films should never to forgotten but resurrected from the dead (like Boone in Nightbreed and Nix and Philip Swann in Lord of Illusion) and enjoyed with each new generation.

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