I talked a little bit about Clive Barker last year when I watched Candyman, and I've been thinking I need to give him another chance. Sometime in the coming months, I think I'll explore the eleven-chapter Hellraiser series, which has some good entries before it devolves inevitably into mush. None of this is what we're talking about tonight, however. Tonight I watched Nightbreed, and I'm pretty sure I liked it. The problem, as I said, is that it's clearly the prologue to something bigger which never materialized. It has a rabid cult following, and there are periodic rumblings of reviving it as a TV series or a comic book, but I'm not sure it works as a stand-alone entity.
Aaron Boone is troubled by dreams of a place called Midian, which is filled with monsters. Some of the dreams are scary or erotic, but they're not nightmares. At the urging of his girlfriend Lori, Aaron begins seeing a psychologist named Decker, who secretly believes in Midian, though he tells Boone otherwise. Decker is, in fact, a serial killer, and sees a scapegoat in Boone. He prescribes lithium, but actually gives Boone a hallucinogen, and convinces him that he is responsible for the murders. On his way to turn himself in to the police, Boone is struck by a truck, and winds up in a hospital where another patient is ranting about Midian. Boone finds his way to Midian, is rejected by its inhabitants, gets gunned down by police, and comes back to life. This makes sense in the movie, but I'm not in the mood to give you the play-by-play. Point is, he finds his way back to Midian where he is inducted into the ranks of the Nightbreed.
Who are the Nightbreed? Glad you asked. Lylesberg, the leader of the Nightbreed describes them as a tribe of monsters driven underground in time immemorial; the human race got the surface of the planet, and the Nightbreed live below with their deity, Baphomet. It's not too bad, for the most part, but some of the Nightbreed are jealous of us surface-dwellers, which doesn't make much sense because many of them burst into flames in the sunlight. Presumably the wi-fi down there is lousy.
Boone eventually reconnects with Lori who is bewildered by The Whole Thing in General, and his sudden disinterest in her in particular. It's not that he's disinterested, it's that he does not believe that their relationship will work out, mostly because he's, y'know, formerly dead. Dr. Decker also becomes more involved; he's been searching for Midian, and he wants to destroy it. I'm not entirely sure of his motives in the context of the movie, but the fact that the Nightbreed are a metaphor for the gay community might explain some things. Anyway, eventually the human law enforcement declares war on the Midianites and the Boone has to decide where his loyalties lie.
As I typed out the last couple of paragraphs, my opinion of Nightbreed has sunk a bit. I can see what it's aiming at, but it's far too ambitious. The story is too busy with its own minutiae to sustain its two-hour runtime. When I talk about minutiae, I mean little and repeated events that don't need to be on film. It also doesn't spend long enough developing its mythology. There's the seed of an engaging and ongoing saga here, but the series never made it out of the gate because audiences weren't demanding more of it. Part of that is the fault of flawed execution, but I think mostly we have to blame the Hollywood machine that couldn't figure out how to market Nightbreed. It was advertised as a slasher film, and its fantasy elements were downplayed; people bought tickets expecting a different movie. It had been described to me as "Labyrinth for adults", and that's not a bad comparison.
Netflix has the director's cut, which differs heavily from the theatrical version (or so they tell me). I'll avoid spoilers, but I will say that different characters survive each version of the movie, and any sequel would have depended very heavily on who's still alive. I think Clive Barker probably had a clear idea of where he wanted the story to go, but I don't think the studio was very concerned about that, and that's a shame. With the right nurturing, this might have been a great film and the beginning of something big. As-is, it's a cult classic that requires a bit too much imagination from its audience to work. I'd watch a Nightbreed TV series, though.
Craig Sheffer plays Boone, and I thought he carried the movie well. David Cronenberg (of all people) plays Decker, but I'm not a fan of the cool, detached type of insanity he brings to the roll. Doug Bradley plays Lylesberg, but he doesn't get much to do. Danny Elfman's score is a Danny Elfman score, if you like that sort of thing (I do), and involves all sorts of tribal percussion and children's choirs. Clive Barker's direction is usually serviceable, but he's not good with action, and the finale of Nightbreed is all action.
Here's the trailer: