Nightbreed (1989), or A Lost Treasure

11 07 2009

Have you seen Clive Barker’s Nightbreed before? You’re one of the few. I can’t believe a movie like this slips through the cracks, but I had not only never HEARD about this film before, but nobody around me had ever heard about it before either. With the exception of the lovely Bren, I have seen neither hide nor hair of this film at all in any aspect of its existence. It’s become something of a lost movie; something that should have been great and bombastic, shriveled in the light of budget setbacks, studio pressure, and drastic cuts to the film itself (the original film is a little over 2 hours, while the commercially available version is a piddly 102 minutes). Looking at the skeleton that’s left of Nightbreed, one can see that this could have been a HUGE franchise, a perennial series that would be looked upon as fondly as Beetlejuice, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and even Barker’s own Hellraiser.

It’s kind of sketchy, seeing how there’s 45 minuted missing, but from what I can tell, it’s about a guy named Boone. He’s different somehow, and he knows it. He has to go to therapy sessions all the time because of the strange dreams he has. He dreams of a place called Midian, a place where he can live forever with unique people like him. Even he thinks it’s crazy, so to confirm his notions, he tries to seek out Midian once and for all. What he finds when he gets there, though, is that his psychiatrist, a freak named Decker, has been setting him up to be the fall guy for the twisted murders that he himself commits. The police take Boone down at the gates of Midian; they pump him full of lead and call that the end of it. What they don’t know is that Boone is one of the Nightbreed, an immortal race that has been hunted to near extinction by man. Their last refuge is Midian, and that was why the dreams called him there. So after he is shot, he wakes up in the morgue to find himself the walking dead, alive but not alive. Free now to find the people of the tribes of the moon (i.e. Nightbreed), he runs from the morgue and straight to Midian, a world unlike any he has ever seen before. Can Boone find the strength to stop Decker from killing again? Can he stop the evil of man from tainting Midian as the police track him back down to the refuge? Will Boone’s plucky girlfriend be able to find him and help him before it’s too late?

Sounds pretty epic, huh? Well, parts of it are. Parts of it are downright fantastic! When it can afford to, Nightbreed can dazzle me in ways that few other fantasy-horror films can. It’s imaginative, it’s well written, and it has an eccentricity from director Clive Barker that almost makes it too good to resist. The make-up and special effects are the centerpiece. Going to Midian for the first time is like seeing the Cantina scene from Episode IV! It’s a cavalcade of amazing technical achievements, and the best part is that no two characters look alike. It’s brimming with the kind of imagination that more horror films desperately need nowadays.

But other than that, the movie is INCREDIBLY emaciated. Everything is cut down and shrink to the lowest common denominator. Worse than that even, there are glaring plot holes, logic issues, and almost no character development to speak of. The studios really fucked this one up. I would normally blame Barker for this, as it’s his job as helmsman to take the full brunt of my wrath, but it doesn’t seem fair. It seems like a lot of work has been put forth by everyone involved to make a cohesive storyline, or at least something that makes sense, but the editing seems weird and jarring, making it look more like a hatchet job than an artistic decision. Plus, the legendary amounts of back-and-forth between Barker and the studio heads point toward an enmity that doesn’t seem plausibly contained within the gentlemanly atmosphere of words alone. I am comfortable in asserting that perhaps with a little bit more money and a lot less studio interference, this might be a completely different movie.

In a rather strange turn of events, the only big name that showed up for the cast was a director! David Cronenberg plays the conniving psychiatrist Decker! You heard me right! I don’t exactly understand his motivations or his underlying motives (thanks, studio heads), but he is one freaky dude who should NOT be trifled with! Cronenberg embodies that strangeness that is in the essence of all his own films. He’s odd for just no reason, and he’s menacing like a motherfucker! If Cronenberg wasn’t already a very successful director, I’d say that he has a bright future in Hollywood as an actor!

So see Nightbreed. Marvel at what is there. Lament what might have been. Either way, there’s a lot to take in on this dark odyssey into the netherworld. You might find a new interest in the macabre and the murk, or you might just find that you think David Cronenberg cuts a nice figure in a suit. Whatever the case may be, check out this would-be classic. If interest grows enough, maybe we can get the extra 45 minutes tacked back into this film. Until then, I give Nightbreed (as it is) 7 people of the tribes of the moon out of 10.

See you tomorrow, where I’ll indulge myself with another surprise movie! You’ll never guess what I got up my sleeve!

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