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Do You Remember… Nightbreed (1990)

Nightbreed-Theatrical-Posterby Joel G. Robertson

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.

Film Stats:

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

Cast:

  • 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

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 102 minutes  

MPAA Rating: R 

Where you can find it: Currently available on YouTube!

Nightbreed Trailer

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7 comments for “Do You Remember… Nightbreed (1990)

  1. Jules
    March 15, 2013 at 4:08 am

    In essence, Nightbreed was a work of genius, just buried under a confusing piece of editing that never quite achieved what it was intended to do. For me, I could see something under the surface, below all of the mistakes might have been the greatest fantasy/horror film ever made. But, we’ll never know for sure. Will we?

    • March 17, 2013 at 9:35 am

      I love the way you put that Jules! I’m a fan of many flawed masterpieces. And while I think Nightbreed is far from a masterpiece, it has redeeming factors. I also agree we’ll never know what might have been. Although, if Barker’s “Cabal” cut is ever released, perhaps we’ll get a bit closer to his fully realized vision.

  2. Peter Nielsen
    March 15, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I’m a HUGE Clive Barker fan and loved “Cabal”, the book the movie’s based upon. I also loved the movie itself, but felt that something was missing. And then came news that the lost footage had been found and now they are trying to get an official release on DVD and Blu-Ray of “Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut”, but I don’t have any news on how it’s going so far. Keeping fingers crossed that it will be soon… 🙂

    • March 17, 2013 at 9:42 am

      Peter, It would be interesting to see the Cabal cut wouldn’t it? I’m not sure if we’ll ever get a legit version though. Too often the rights to a property are tangled up and it prevents the release. If the “lost” footage is available, I imagine a fan has put together a version already. Of course, it would be better to get to see a full cut that came with Barker’s blessing. If you find out anything, please post it here. Thanks!

      • Peter Nielsen
        March 18, 2013 at 4:08 am

        “The Cabal Cut” indeed HAS Mr. Barker’s blessing and it is being screened around the world. But when and if it’ll get a proper release… well, only time will tell.

  3. Peter Nielsen
    August 20, 2013 at 9:20 am
    • August 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm

      That’s fantastic news Peter! Thanks for the heads up!

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