Nightbreed (1990)
Nightbreed (1990)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: February 16th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Clive Barker Actors: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charles Haid, Hugh Quarshie, Hugh Ross, Doug Bradley, Catherine Chevalier, Debora Weston, Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Christine McCorkindale




aron Boone (Craig Sheffer) has been plagued by bad dreams, involving circus-like freaks chasing him through a foggy marsh to a graveyard in the secret town of Midian – where the monsters go. His girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) wants to get out of town with him, away from Calgary – but that isn’t likely to solve his problem. Boone’s psychiatrist, Dr. Philip Decker (David Cronenberg), gives him lithium and tells him to turn himself in to the authorities within 24 hours, as he believes his patient is responsible for the murder of six families – killed in the last ten months, as his nightmares reveal specific details relating to the crime scenes. That night, Aaron winds up in the emergency room due to a hallucinogenic trip, caused by Decker’s questionable prescription, which motivated him to wander into traffic.

At the hospital, Boone meets a man begging to be taken to Midian. After he points him in the direction of the mysterious world, on the outskirts of Shere Neck, the insanely jabbering patient carves his own face off with small blades, wishing to reveal the monster underneath. Aaron flees in horror, locates the cemetery, and confronts two mutants, one of which bites him. Minutes later, Inspector Joyce (Hugh Quarshie), accompanied by Decker, arrive to arrest Boone, accusing him of being the mass murderer. Decker deviously shouts that Boone has a gun, inciting several officers to riddle the target with bullets. At the morgue, shortly after the autopsy begins, Aaron’s body awakens, rejuvenated by occult forces infecting the bite wound. He journeys back to Midian, where he’s welcomed by fellow monsters (of the tribes of the moon) as a new member of the undead, underground, shape-shifting “Nightbreed” community.

“This is too weird!” exclaims Lori. Lots of unexplained things occur, from Boone’s transformation to the Midians’ powers to the fact that characters don’t seem particularly phased by the bizarre appearances of hideously disfigured demons. But the special makeup and visual effects by Image Animation provide the majority of the entertainment, revealing dozens of amusingly grotesque critters and ghouls. Doug Bradley, who previously played Pinhead in Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser,” returns here as the leader of the creatures, Dirk Lylesberg, sporting six additional eyes lined up along his cheeks. He’s joined by several other distinctive monstrosities, portrayed by actors in impressive amounts of makeup. Christine McCorkindale is Shuna Sassi, adorned with hundreds of porcupine spikes; Oliver Parker is Peloquin, with a head of fleshly dreadlocks; and Hugh Ross is Narcisse, the patient who cut away some of the skin on his face. The animatronic Babette, a writhing, rodent-like thing, is also a notable curio, while Bradley’s fellow “Hellraiser” cenobite villains Nicholas Vince (Chatterer) and Simon Bamford (Butterball) also have minor roles.

As for actors not augmented by prosthetics, “Nightbreed” boasts one of the most perfect casting choices in film: Cronenberg as a homicidal maniac – in a Clive Barker script (based on Barker’s own novella “Cabal”). The role isn’t fleshed out to the degree it should be, but the notion of the monsters being the heroes and a mere human becoming the most heinous villain is a grandly cinematic one. Cronenberg’s wispy voice and unintimidating suit and glasses smartly contrast his bloodthirsty viciousness.

Unfortunately, the story moves a bit too fast to take in the mythos, underdeveloped religious aspects, impressive subterraneous sets, and slimy behemoth details. Even Danny Elfman’s enthusiastic score can’t seem to pinpoint a specific theme. But Barker manages to incorporate his signature horror elements, such as mutilated flesh (the body horror here is decidedly Cronenberg-esque), an autopsy scene, torture, dismemberment, exploding bodies, a touch of nudity, and all sorts of excessive graphic violence. While the film mixes together fantasy, drama, romance, action, and thrills, it fails to focus on any one aspect enough to do it justice, resulting in a disorganized product that is most memorable for its shortcomings. This may have something to do with its original two-and-a-half-hour running time getting edited down to approximately 100 minutes.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10