Review Date: August 27, 2001
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 8/21/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Take a popular author turned director, a popular director turned actor, and more monsters than you can shake a stick at, and what do you have? 1990's Nightbreed, directed by renowned horror author Clive Barker. Nightbreed was Barker's second major film, coming three years after he adapted his own work into Hellraiser, beginning that popular horror franchise. Nightbreed continues Barker's themes of monsters and strange worlds with an amazing visual sense, but at the expense of any rational story or plot.
Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is troubled by recurring dreams about monsters and a place called "Midian." His girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) suggests a return to his psychiatrist, Dr. Decker (famed Canadian director David Cronenberg). Meanwhile, a maniac wearing a mask (with beady eyes and a flapping mouth that looks like it was the influence for South Park's Terrance and Phillip characters) is slaughtering entire families.
Decker manages to convince Boone that he is responsible for the killings. After meeting a mental patient that also talks about Midian, Boone seeks out the mysterious city. He finds a cemetery (and a couple of monstrous demons), but the police, led by Decker, shoot and kill Boone.
Boone doesn't let something silly like death stop him, and ends up back at the cemetery, but now he's underneath the graveyard in a cavernous city. Lori, bringing new meaning to the term "true love" willfully leaps into an open crypt to rescue her wandering dead boyfriend from the resident monsters. She finds that Boone belongs to an ancient race of shapeshifters called the Nightbreed. They've been forced to take refuge in Midian after being chased out of all their previous towns by evil non-understanding humans.
Lori temporarily rescues Boone from Midian, but he quickly ends up in the custody of Captain Eigerman (Charles Haid, last seen as Officer Renko in Hill Street Blues). Boone goes back to Midian, as the shapeshifters face an onslaught from Captain Eigerman, tons of other cops, a priest, and Dr. Decker, who has an agenda with the Nightbreed. Get ready for a winner-take-all battle between humans and monsters, and the monsters are the good guys this time.
Clive Barker's filmed three of his novels, achieving his greatest success with Hellraiser in 1987. Nightbreed, as well as 1995's "horror-noir" Lord of Illusions never got the same recognition. Barker's skill as a director has always been somewhat questionable, but I'd say Nightbreed is his best film as a director. He shows a great visual sense, something that is often missing when writers attempt to direct films. Writers are skilled with words, not pictures, otherwise they'd probably be painters or sculptors.
Surprisingly though, it's the writing that falls more than a bit flat in Nightbreed. (To be fair, I've never read Cabal, the book upon which Nightbreed was based.) Barker has always had an "apocalyptic" theme in his books, and the ending sequence of Nightbreed sure is apocalyptic. But it's the monster characters themselves that lack definition. Midway through the film, we get an exceptionally brief history of the Nightbreed. I get the feeling that in Barker's mind, there's an entire saga of the shapeshifters. Perhaps this was in the original novel, or Barker had an entire series of films planned. Either way, the Nightbreed are introduced to us as frightening demons, yet by the end we're supposed to view them as sympathetic and unjustly persecuted. The fact that Lori so willingly accepts her dead boyfriend re-animated and living in a huge underground lair with monsters is just a little hard to swallow. Barker may have tried to avoid unnecessary exposition, but I was definitely lost with several characters' motivations.
Also worth mentioning (or maybe not) is David Cronenberg as an actor. Cronenberg gives new meaning to "dry performance", and it's not surprising we've seen him in very few films. Barker may have desired a bland feel for Dr. Decker, but this is something else. Cronenberg's real talents lie behind the camera.
Despite the story gaps, Nightbreed is a great looking film. The demon make-up is top-notch. It's almost too much, as by the end of the film, we've seen so many realistic creatures, that any more of them seems rather uninteresting. But if you're an admirer of non-CGI prosthetic effects, you won't get a much better film than Nightbreed. Unfortunately, viewers who appreciate a concise well-told story may find Nightbreed more than a bit lacking.
Nightbreed is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer is a bit soft and grainy, but this seems due to the film elements themselves and not because of a poor film-to-video transfer. I actually like transfers a little soft, as it presents a more "film-like" appearance. Down-conversion artifacts are at a bare minimum. You won't be stunned by the video presentation, but it's still a nice looking DVD.
Warner Brothers went back and did a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix of Nightbreed. Since it was most likely NOT presented that way originally, they kept gimmicky surround sound effects that never existed to a bare minimum. I might have liked a little more emphasis on Danny Elfman's score and maybe give it a little more presence, but that probably would have made it sound like a Tim Burton film. Still, the sound is well done, especially the apocalyptic battle that closes the film.
OK, this is where the hardcore Clive Barker fans will really be upset. Warner Brothers limited the extras to a theatrical trailer and cast & crew biography. Hardly a "special edition", but at least WB had the courtesy not to refer to it as such. Still, I'd like some kind of background on Nightbreed, whether it's an audio commentary or even a short documentary. Just something to find out whether the end product was what Barker had in mind when he began this adaptation.
As a narrative horror film, Nightbreed isn't much of a success. However, as a visual treat with great sets and make-up, it's outstanding. I'd like the story to have come together a little better, but that likely won't happen unless someday I read the novel Cabal. Barker fans will no doubt want to slip this in between Hellraiser and Lord of Illusions, but will likely be dismayed with the stripped down edition Warner Brothers provided. David Cronenberg fans may want to give Nightbreed a look as well. Overall a well-made film, but definitely lacking in a few departments.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B-
Supplements - N/A
- Running Time - 1 hour 41 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital 5.1
- Dolby Stereo Surround
- English/French/Spanish subtitles
- Theatrical Trailer
- Cast/Crew Highlights