Movie Review : Nightbreed (1990)
Clive Barker is mostly known for creating the Hellraiser saga, which traumatized an entire generation of kids (self included). He's had quite a run of success writing killer horror novels, turning them into screenplays and directing the movie adaptations himself in the eighties and nineties. His second attempt at franchising was Nightbreed, an adaptation from his 1988 novella Cabal. The same Cabal I reviewed earlier this week. And it is... ugh, quite something. It aged wonderfully well, although I'm not sure it was originally good? Does it make sense?
If you're not already familiar with it, Nightbreed is the story of Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), a young man suffering from occasional psychotic breakdowns. He also has occasional visions of a city called Midian, populated by monsters. When his psychiatrist Decker (David freakin' Cronenberg) confronts him to photos of murders that match visions he had, Boone has another psychotic episode and get his by a car. While Decker and the police are cracking down on him, Boone sees no other option than to Midian, which is conveniently just a couple miles north of his hometown.
The biggest difference between Nightbreed and Cabal is thematic. The symbolic dualities that made the book so interesting are a lot simpler in the movie adaptation. I mean, it's a movie where humans and monsters are at war, period. And Boone, who feels like a monster inside because of his psychological condition, travels to Midian where people are circus freak-like monsters. There's a guy with a forehead like a cone, a porcupine lady, a man with gills on his cheek, it's not exactly subtle. Clive Barker was going for the mainstream with this movie adaptation. The central conflict of Nightbreed is not that different from... let's say Goth kids vs clean-cut adults.
In hindsight, Nightbreed had such wild ambitions, it comes off as a little silly. For example, Boone is set up as this James Dean figure with the leather jacket and white t-shirt that remains white for the duration of the movie, except for the strategically placed blood stains. He's got that iconic look which he never deviates from. It's silly and adorable now, but details like this show there were ambitions that went beyond just telling a good story there. It was meant to become a brand. Clive Barker released all sorts of byproducts to go along with it, like freakin' trading cards. It failed not because it wasn't trying enough, but because it was trying too hard.
Nightbreed is slightly less interesting than Cabal, because it doesn't have the time to be nuanced and it quite frankly can't be bothered with it. But it gets the story right, almost beat for beat, so if you can't be bothered with reading, it gets the job done in a blue collar kind of way. It's... decent, is what I'm trying to say. It was probably a trailer fire when it came out, but the rubber monsters, the swirls of blood and the adorable morals turned it into a strange historical oddity. Not Clive Barker's finest moment, but not quite embarrassing either. Watch it if you want to skip the book or are looking for a goofy movie to watch.