(1990) dir. Clive Barker
There was a day that writer Clive Barker was considered to be the “next big thing” in horror writing. At least, such is my memory of such a thing. I recall people reading all his books and his movies were anticipated. Frankly, I think that this was primarily in response to Hellraiser (1987) and its subsequent sequels. I kind of recall Nightbreed being quite silly in many ways, though he continued to attract attention with Candyman (1992) and then sort of disappeared from my knowledge after Lord of Illusions (1995).
I think that I’d forgotten that he’d not only written Hellraiser and Nightbreed, but had directed them as well. And while I’d had some sort of less than positive memories of Nightbreed, something made it come up and creep to the top of my rental queue. For the life of me, I can’t recall why.
The most interesting thing is that Barker has director David Cronenberg in to play the evil psychiatrist. The second most interesting thing is the setting of the film, in and outside of Calgary, a Calgary that was still very 80’s. He populates the world with lots of odd characters, homey touches, oddballs and country thinking. And the cast, while very low-budget, are largely pretty decent.
The story, essentially, is about a group of monsters (the Nightbreed themselves) who live in an underground world beneath a isolated cemetary. They are kind of dead/undead, and they are all different and their various weirdnesses, ranging from a quilled porcupine lady to blobby guys with their heads in their stomachs to devils and “berserkers”, it’s all a lot of pre-digital FX, which has a charm to it, even in its super-goofiness. And the main character, who sports a sort of stylish mullet, is drawn to this place and his psychiatrist, Cronenberg, wants to draw him there, too. But that turns out to be because Cronenberg is a psychopathic murderer of all Nightbreed.
The bottom line is that the monsters are the good guys. The cops and psychiatrist psychopath and the drunked priest are all bad guys. Freak flags need to fly. We are all good, not so explicitly BDSM as Hellraiser, but outsiders, fringe people, and freaks.
It’s hardly a “good” movie, but I don’t think I can help myself from liking it a bit. Barker isn’t a master director nor screenwriter, but he’s able to get enough fun stuff in there to make it kind of enjoyable. It’s not “scary” per se, though Cronenberg does offer a particularly slimy villain, creepy in his suaveness. Who would have thought that it had some redeemable qualities.