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Nightbreed (1990)


Director: Clive Barker

Starring: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg

“Miss Winston, everybody has a secret face.” (Decker, Nightbreed)

Despite being one of the UK’s finest horror minds (having written the likes of Hellraiser and Candyman), Clive Barker’s Nightbreed doesn’t really get much love in the UK.  Maybe it’s because it’s not really as scary as the stories he’s better known for, or maybe it’s because it’s the horror movie equivalent of Fraggle Rock, I suppose we’ll never know.

The story’s your typical “boy meets girl, boy has been having weird dreams while his shrink tells him he’s a serial killer when he isn’t really, boy goes to a cemetery and is killed but then becomes part of a weird underground-dwelling group of undead monsters” plot you’ve seen a million times before. It emerges early on in the film that Boone, the lead character, isn’t actually killing the families he’s been led to believe he has and that instead his psychiatrist (played with just the right amount of cheese by genius director David Cronenberg) has been doing the killings while hypnotising Boone into believing it was him instead.

Due to his dodgy dreams, Boone finds himself drawn to a spooky graveyard where he is shot dead by police, but not before encountering a group of undead chaps and ladies who live under the ground and are generally keeping themselves to themselves. Boone’s quack discovers this and decides to tell the police, leading to an almighty clusterfuck later on where loads of cops fight hundreds of monsters in their underground lair.

For the most part Nightbreed’s acting does the trick but I was a bit unconvinced by Craig Sheffer in the lead role of Boone. Watching him change from a human to monster (as he does numerous times in the film) just isn’t believable because he doesn’t seem bothered by it, and though it isn’t his fault I was also distracted by the fact that every time he turns into his monster form he reminds me of a bad Kurt Russell lookalike:

To be fair, he’s not the only one to evoke such a reaction. When Not-Kurt-Russell eventually finds himself in the monsters’ underground lair, the film more or less turns into a game of Oh Look, It’s A Celebrity Lookalike. “Oh look! It’s metal icon Rob Zombie!”

“Oh look! It’s Vanessa Feltz! (though she’s in everything these days so it’s no surprise to see her making yet another appearance)

“And oh look! It’s Sportacus from children’s televsion keep-fit shitefest Lazytown! Well, a bit.”

Once you get past that, Nightbreed is actually cheesy fun. David Cronenberg is clearly the star of the show as Decker, the mental serial-killing psychiatrist, and his mask is fairly creepy too:

Meanwhile, as you’d expect from Clive Barker, there’s also plenty of gore and nudity to be had (even though the former is about as realistic as Aberdeen’s chance of winning the Scottish Premier League and the latter is courtesy of some terrifying monster women) and Danny Elfman’s music helps give a Burtonesque feeling to certain scenes.

The best bit though is probably the scene where female lead Anne Bobby (who coincidentally shares her names with both my aunt and uncle) first enters the underground tomb, since this is the first opportunity viewers get to see most of the film’s countless weird and wonderful monsters. This was also the scene that gave me Fraggle Rock vibes (as explained at the start of this review), because it basically shows a bunch of muppets living under the ground.

There are times when the plot gets a bit mindless, and while the film clearly wants the audience to be on the side of the monsters it can be tricky when some of them are pricks (such as the pervy one whose face is falling off or the one who looks a bit like Knuckles from the Sonic games and is generally a wanker to Not-Kurt-Russell). This may be partly due to the fact that the film was savagely cut and edited by the studio shortly before its release, something that irked Clive Barker according to later interviews because he didn’t get to tell the story the way he wanted to. Despite all this however, it’s still a good laugh to watch if a little disjointed.

Unfortunately Nightbreed is only available in Region 1 DVD in America and can’t be bought on DVD in the good old U of K, but if you can find it somehow (nudge wink elbow guffaw) then it’s well worth a watch for the cheese factor and the monster designs. Three out of five skulls, I reckon.

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