Synopsis of Nightbreed (1990) via IMDb:
A troubled young man is drawn to a mythical place called Midian where a variety of monsters are hiding from humanity.
As both a horror fan and avid reader, it shames me to admit that I haven’t read many Clive Barker novels. I devoured Stephen King from a young age (‘Cujo’ was my very first!), enjoyed Richard Laymon’s use (read: overuse) of the word “rump” and of course read Thomas Harris (I love you ‘The Silence of the Lambs’). Alas, Barker never quite made it into my hands, though he was always on my radar.
Having said that, I recently read “Cabal” the novella that “Nightbreed” (directed by Clive Barker) was based on. Some brief thoughts on “Cabal”, as they do pertain to my review of “Nightbreed”: I liked the characters. I liked the setting. I liked the monsters. I thought it was a bit rushed, especially the last third of the book, and it didn’t seem like it was completely clear or cohesive. These same observations also carried into my viewing of “Nightbreed”.
The movie stars Craig Sheffer as Aaron Boone, a ‘troubled young man’. He is plagued by dreams of monsters and a city called “Midian”. Boone is seeing psychotherapist Dr. Philip K. Decker (David Cronenberg, yes the awesome director) at the request of his girlfriend Lori Winston (Anne Bobby) for his troubles. Decker convinces Boone that he is the culprit investigators are searching for in relation to a slew of recent grisly murders.
After a failed suicide attempt, Boone finds himself in the hospital where he meets fellow patient Narcisse (Hugh Ross) mumbling something about “Midian”. Boone recognizes the name and pesters Narcisse into divulging whatever information he may have about the city from his dreams. Narcisse is at first apprehensive as he deems Boone unworthy of such information. Eventually Boone learns enough to make his way to this both mystical and horrific place.
I don’t want to give away much more of the plot because I think this movie works best on a visual level. The set design is fabulous. Midian is a glorious underworld chock full of hideously gorgeous monsters. They are ghastly and sensual – two adjectives I feel wonderfully describe Barker’s aesthetic. Midian was realized without the tools of computer-generated imagery. It was built as a giant set at Pinewood Studios which gave it a tangible quality that can’t be matched by today’s green screen environments.
I viewed the Director’s Cut which is Barker’s restored vision, pieced together from footage found in the studio’s vaults after over two decades. At the time of release, the studio decided to rework the film into something that was never Barker’s intention. I have not seen the theatrical cut, so the director’s cut is my only contact with the film. This version remained more faithful to the source material, from what I can gather.
Unfortunately many of the characters were underdeveloped. I also found it to be rushed especially toward the end – a fault in both the novel and the film. Supposedly Barker had intended “Cabal” to be the first in a trilogy which may be the reason. I think that “Nightbreed” was the compromised vision of a story that would have been best told over a series of films and novels, as originally intended. In conclusion, “Nightbreed” is definitely a trip worth taking, albeit one that may cause confusion and possible delirium.