Nightbreed was Barker’s second film as a writer and director. His first was Hellraiser (1987). Based on Barker’s novella, Cabal, Nightbreed tells the story of Boone, a young man who dreams of a hellish underworld and finds himself the prime suspect in a string of serial murders.
After his psychiatrist (played with icy calculation by filmmaker David Cronenberg) gives him an hallucinogen, Boone finds himself in a drug-addled haze. He’s hit by a truck and while in the hospital encounters a man who believes Boone is a messenger from ‘Midian’ sent to test him.
Boone learns from the man that Midian is a “city” located beneath a cemetery. Realizing this is the strange netherworld that haunts his dreams, Boone seeks it out. Once he finds it, Boone learns Midian is home to the Nightbreed, a nightmarish clan of monsters that populate the hellscape.
As human-led forces bear down on Midian, Boone must join forces with the Nightbreed. Together, they must decide whether to stand and fight… or risk extinction.
By all reasonable standards, Nightbreed was a critical and commercial failure.
Made for a reasonable $11 million (reasonable for a horror movie made in the late 80s), Nightbreed didn’t even earn back its budget, grossing a meager $8.8 million at the domestic box office. Dismissed by critics and ignored by audiences, Nightbreed made its way quickly to video store shelves.
It’s not surprising to learn that much of Nightbreed’s failure stems from the way it was marketed and edited by its distributor, 20th Century Fox. Barker’s original vision was a two-and-a-half hour long epic, but the studio wanted an hour removed from the final cut. This unreasonable request resulted in the film’s editor, Richard Marden, quitting in protest. And due in no small part to the studio’s interference, Nightbreed suffers from confusing character motivations and, at times, an incoherent plot.
Despite the film’s obvious flaws, monster movie fans have to appreciate the grotesque beauty and wonder of Barker’s perverse vision. He’s a storyteller who works in the Lovecraftian tradition of balancing genuine horror with a sense of awe. This sensibility is lost on many modern filmmakers, who too often fail to capture the majesty of the macabre as well as its more bloody elements.
Of course, what makes Nightbreed a must see for fans of special effects are the monsters. These beasts live and breathe. The makeup work is stunning and helps prove why the practical aesthetic, when done well, will always be more effective than the too clean, plastic, artificiality of computer-generated creature effects.
It won’t be easy, but if you can find a copy, watch this forgotten creature feature and share your thoughts in the comments.
Release Date: February 16, 1990
Director: Clive Barker
Screenplay: Clive Barker (based on his novella Cabal)
Makeup/ Special FX:
(Here’s the entire department as listed in IMDB. Everyone one of these folks contributed to what I believe is Nightbreed’s greatest strength: the creature and makeup FX.)
- Mark Coulier… special makeup effects artist
- Robbie Drake… creature technician
- Chris Fitzgerald… creature effects artist
- Tony Gardner… special makeup effects artist
- Neill Gorton… special makeup effects
- Shaune Harrison… special makeup effects artist
- Heather Jones… key hair stylist
- Mark Jones… special makeup effects artist
- Paul Jones… special makeup effects designer
- Grant Mason… special makeup effects
- Martin L. Mercer… creature effects artist
- Steve Painter… special makeup effects
- Mark William Robinson… makeup production assistant
- Terence ‘Doc’ Popolo Rubbio… special makeup effects artist
- Aileen Seaton… key makeup artist
- Craig Sheffer… Aaron Boone/Cabal
- Anne Bobby… Lori Winston
- David Cronenberg… Dr. Philip K. Decker
- Charles Haid… Police Captain Eigerman
- Also features Doug Bradley (Hellraiser) and cameos with John Agar (Tarantula) and horror authors John Skipp and Craig Spector
Cinematographer: Robin Vidgeon
Musical Score: Danny Elfman
Editor: Mark Goldblatt, Richard Marden
Running Time: 102 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Where you can find it: Currently available on YouTube!