Clive Barker’s Nightbreed

Nightbreed (Director’s Cut)

1990.  Directed by Clive Barker.

Clive Barker’s most ambitious film, Nightbreed was hacked to pieces by studio execs prior to release and then by critics after its lackluster debut.  Horrendously marketed as a slasher film, Barker’s misunderstood opus has thankfully gained a cult following over the years, and a recent Director’s Cut release by Scream Factory, allowing Barker’s incoherent monster-centric fable to be viewed in its intended form.

Boone is a drifter who thinks he may be killing people.  His dreams are filled with visions of a city called Midian, a place where monsters dwell.  He sets out in search of the city with his paramour, Lori.  Pursued by the authorities and his murderous therapist, Decker, Boone discovers that Midian is not only real, but that his coming has been foretold by dead gods, prophesying a war between the inhospitable forces of humanity and the savagely noble legions of outcast creatures known as the Nightbreed.

The biggest problem with this film is also its strongest attribute.  Barker throws so many balls into the air that it’s a foregone conclusion that not everything will hit the mark, and yet, Nightbreed comes off as wonderful combination of serial killer fodder, a Gothic fairy tale, and a hauntingly rich form of original mythology.  There are dozens of characters that inhabit Barker’s epic with the monsters eclipsing their human foils, save for David Cronenberg’s sadistic Decker, who is one of the more vital roles in the bloated ensemble.  Oliver Parker as Peloquin is the monstrous standout, with his flesh dreaded faux Rastafarian killer barking the film’s best lines.


Mark Coulier’s freakish makeup designs are both elegant and obtuse, as some creatures appear as tangible nightmares and others come across half rendered, in part due to Robin Vidgeon’s stormy cinematography that bounces through lonely cemeteries and ancient catacombs without stopping to catch a breath.  The shame is that many of the creature designs are revealed as horrific intricacies,  whenever the viewer is allowed to glimpse their unspeakable splendor.  Danny Elfman’s amazing score enhances the mythic quality of the story, but it’s offset by the cardboard villainy of the humans and the wholesale familial slaughter that looms in the background throughout the narrative.

A feeling of too little, too fast is the mantra of Nightbreed.  What begins as a menacing serial killer story mutates into a quest for Midian, with Boone’s Christ-like ascension saturating the central act.  There’s also the race war between the monsters and humans and the various social dynamics of the underworld that come into play, but in regrettable portions.  The confusion is when all of these elements collide in an uneven stream of sexually charged violence during the final confrontation.  Despite the inconsistencies, the final battle is an amazing blend of CGI, practical effects, and gritty stunt choreography that is easily Nightbreed’s strongest aspect.


Available now on Netflix, or on an excellent blu ray transfer by Scream Factory,  Nightbreed is a unique horror saga that succeeds as much as it fails.  The director’s cut fills in many gaps, but also leaves the viewer wanting more, which while eternally frustrating, is also a testament to Barker’s meticulous world building.  This is a film that drives the viewer down a pot hole ridden dirt road into another world filled with esoteric mysteries and dark wonders, delivering an excellent horror fantasy unlike anything ever attempted in the genre.

Highly Recommend.


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