‘I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker’. Not a bad strap-line for your novel, especially if you can attribute the quote to the high master of the macabre, Mr Stephen King. With this blessing, Clive Barker created a series of nightmare worlds in the 1980s through novels, plays and screenplays, before moving into film directing in 1987. Frustrated with the way previous film adaptations of his work had been handled, the aspiring visionary seized the reins to direct Hellraiser – an excessive and gruesome debut unlike anything else. Here was a new malevolent messiah of horror, drawing from a deep infernal well of boundless imagination.
The second feature dredged up by Barker’s dark psyche was Nightbreed, based on his own novel Cabal. Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is prone to terrible nightmares about Midian, a world filled with monsters that beckon Boone to join their graveyard danse macabre (two parts scary to one part sexy). Boone’s concerned girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) encourages him to see psychotherapist Dr Decker (a creepy, detached David Cronenberg). Decker has his own terrible agenda, leading Boone and Lori down a dark path to the underworld. Peloquin (Oliver Parker), an overcooked man-sized prawn with flesh dreadlocks, greets Boone at the threshold of this new world. He growls, ‘Oz is over the rainbow and Midian is where the monsters live’.
We may be far from Oz, but Midian is no less enchanting, as are the deeply strange ‘Nightbreed’ that live there. More straightforwardly scary is the masked figure with button eyes and a zip mouth, stabbing his way towards the cemetery gates from the other side. Danny Elfman, between work on Batman and Edward Scissorhands, brings magic to the score. David Cronenberg’s presence lends high-minded horror nobility to a movie unlike anything he would ever make. There are scares, but they seem incidental to the world-building of a subterranean society governed by strict laws and a code of conduct that frequently involves gyrating aerobic freakouts.
The film unexpectedly accelerates towards action-movie delirium, thanks in no small part to editor Mark Goldblatt. Having found his kinetic mojo on The Terminator and Commando, Goldblatt makes the most of a retina-scorching final showdown, where the old humans-are-the-real-monsters trope is made abundantly clear. If you ever felt like Labyrinth needed more gore and a climax involving multiple flame-throwers, this may be your ticket to movie heaven.
You can understand why the studio didn’t really know how to square the horror and fantasy elements. Nightbreed turned out to be the film that put the brakes on Clive Barker’s brief ascent as a maverick force in cinematic horror. Studio interference, a misleading marketing campaign and a failure to impress the critics contributed to box office failure. Barker went on to direct only one more feature (Lord of Illusion).
This new Arrow Video release challenges the frequently cited notion that this is an honourable failure by presenting the double dark fantasy of both the theatrical cut and the reconstructed director’s cut. The latter is the more cohesive of the two, broadening the mythology of Midian’s tribes and enhancing several key character arcs. Both versions offer otherworldly experiences nonetheless and Nightbreed is essential viewing for anyone who would be willing to visit a graveyard at night and stand up for the monsters.
Out on Blu-Ray 28 Oct 2019