Thursday, September 17, 2015

Nightbreed (1990)

As a fan of Hellraiser, and of Clive Barker as a horror author, I decided to give Nightbreed a watch. Based on his story Cabal, and both written and directed by Clive Barker, Nightbreed is the tale of an initiate into a dark underworld of mutants and shapeshifting freaks, living beneath a graveyard, who may or may not be immortal and/or undead. Craig Sheffer (a David Boreanaz lookalike) stars as a man suffering from elaborate nightmares, who is fingered by his therapist (David Cronenberg himself, in a role that embodies the principle of "it takes one to know one") as the prime suspect in a series of brutal murders he doesn't remember committing. But rather than an adventure in a nightmare world of pure fantasy horror, this movie is more about the explosive confrontation between the world of the "naturals" and the world of the Nightbreed (a more naturalistic and less BDSM-oriented variation of the Cenobytes, whose leader is nonetheless played by Doug Bradley - in a less flashy role than Hellraiser's Pinhead), with a clear sympathetic bias towards the Nightbreed.

It's far from a flawless movie, but the sheer imagination on display is a sight to behold. The special effects are pushed to their limits (some would undoubtedly say beyond their limits), and you're left wishing you could learn more about the countless genetic oddities on display, especially during a scene in which the main character's girlfriend descends through the nightmare world of Midian - what to the uninitiated could very well appear to be Hell on Earth. I particularly liked the monstrous design of the Berserkers. That having been said, despite some fans' criticism of shifting focus away from the Nightbreed, I also really liked the masked killer, and felt that he could have carried a whole movie (not necessarily this one) of his own. Ultimately, Nightbreed collapses under the ambition of its too-little-developed mythology (perhaps the original story treats it better?), and fails to reach the level of a great film. I'm not sure it's strong enough to support the trilogy that it was originally envisioned to start off. But as a grand spectacle of imagination and special effects, it definitely carves itself a reputation.

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