Review: Nightbreed

Posted by Peter Hall - February 6th 2006 @ 1:52 am

Directed by Clive Barker, 1990

The ’80s/early ’90s were easily the glory days of horror. It was a time when true imagination was on the screen. Material actual felt original back then. It didn’t feel processed. It didn’t feel engineered. It felt right.

Even the sequels felt original. I’ll take a Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors over 98% of the crap that comes out these days. You can watch these movies 20 years later and its still blatantly obvious that the people behind these pictures really loved what they were doing. This was when horror was fun.

And Nightbreed is fun as hell.

Clive Barker has an amazing nack for blending fantasy with horror. I’m not a diehard fan of Hellraiser, but I love everything he did in that movie with the Cenobites and their mythology. He showed a real talent for creating very solid, full boned creature characters. But the Cenobites have got nothing on the ensemble mutant cast of Nightbreed. The nightbreed themselves are the mutated outcasts of society who have been shunned and murdered throughout all of history. The remaining freaks have formed an underground societ, located under a cemetery called Midian in the mountains.

Boone, who bears a weird resemblance to David Boreanaz, is seeing a psychologist, Decker, for his hauntingly realistic and repetitive dreams of Midian. Turns out the doctor, who is actually played by David Cronenberg of all people, is a closet serial killer who frames Boone for his spree of murders. Boone encounters another man in the hospital who also dreams of Midian and who knows how to find it. Before ripping chunks of his own face off, the man tells Boone how to find it. He flees the city, with Decker and police in tow and leads them all to Midian. Before the police arive and gun him down, one of the freaks bites Boone, transforming him into one of the nightbreed. He raises from the dead and escapes back to Midian where all chaos ensues as Decker leads the local police force/redenecks in a raid to kill all the freaks.

What makes the movie kick ass isn’t the outlandish (though respectably Lovecraftian) plot, but the impressive production design throughout the movie. The makeup effects and creature design are a pure riot. The set design of Midian’s underground is perfectly reminescent of the wonders of the Ewok village in Return of the Jedi. There is a very solid scene in which Lori, Boone’s girlfriend, arrives at Midian in search of her recently undead love and begins an Alice in Wonderland journey through the bowels of the city, bumping into all kinds of amazing mutants left and right. This movie is worth checking out simply for all the love that went into designing everything in the movie. I’m sure the budget wasn’t huge, but they clearly knew what they were doing and bled every penny dry and really got their dollar’s worth throughout the production.


Everybody looks awesome in the movie. Everything and everybody feels unique and true to the movie. Plus, Decker’s serial killer mask looks remarkably like that of the Scarecrow’s in Batman Begins:

The movie isn’t without its flaws. The motivation for Decker being so obsessed with killing the freaks is never really explained. Why Boone began having dreams of the horrors in Midian is never even touched upon, but then again this is the most Lovecraftian device in the plot and ole’ H.P. never gave explainations as to why his characters had glimpses of the beyond. All minor details that you really don’t care about when it comes to something so out there and fantastical as Nightbreed is.

This is the kind of movie I wish I had seen as a kid. I’d of fallen in love with it. But alas, I didn’t and I’ll have to settle with watching it as a 20 year old and being reminded of the imagination I had when I was 8. Though, this is still a Clive Barker movie, so I doubt I’d of ever imagined a man carving off his face as a kid.

comments are closed
  1. Jason
    March 14th, 2006 | 1:50 pm | #1

    I recently discovered this when I purchased it on DVD. It’s really an amazing motion picture, but the sad thing is we didn’t see all that Clive Barker had to offer. I’ve read in interviews of him where he mentions that the studio made him change things and cut a lot of the movie out. The studio wanted another “Hellraiser” – the Midians, or whatever they’re called, are not supposed to be as wicked and diabolical as the cenobites, but the studio wanted this, so a lot of stuff about the Midians was cut. Clive wants to go into the studio vault to search for the deleted scenes for a special edition DVD.

  2. March 14th, 2006 | 2:30 pm | #2

    Man, I had no idea about its production woes. Now that you mention it, I can see where the movie was drawn astray, but it still kicks a lot of fun ass.

    I’ll have to keep my eye out for some DVD news if Clive can actually pull that together. That’d be awesome. :)

  3. Fred
    September 20th, 2006 | 11:38 am | #3

    Come on how could u forget Arachniphobia!! None the less Clive Barker Rules!!!

  4. emily
    July 15th, 2009 | 10:24 am | #4

    I’ve read the original story and I enjoyed it, I’ll have to see how the movie compares. Thanks for the review! :)

  5. adam charles
    July 15th, 2009 | 11:15 am | #5

    You may want to wait, Emily, a bit of time because the chances of Barker’s intended Director’s Cut coming to fruition are looking pretty good. The footage was found, a few have seen it, and word is that it could enhance the flow of the film a significant degree.

    That being said, the creature make-up in this film is still one of my all-time favorites. It wasn’t until HELLBOY II last year that i felt something was genuinely comparable in terms of quality and quantity.

  6. emily
    July 15th, 2009 | 11:26 am | #6

    Thank you for telling me that, I believe I will wait for the director’s cut.

  7. Keelee von Cupcake
    January 13th, 2011 | 5:47 pm | #7

    Oh man, I’m happy that you and other people enjoyed it – I adore this film. But it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. It was like watching a bunch of rednecks murder all the innocent inhabitants of David Bowie’s Labyrinth. Only (with the exception of the Goblin King himself of course) I feel MUCH more strongly connected to these unusual people. So applying the phrase “it was fun as hell!” to something so relentlessly heart-breaking for me is a bit…disconcerting, haha. Lovely review though. Such a Lovecraftian/Barker dream.

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