Nightbreed (1990) Review

For years Nightbreed has haunted me. Like the main character Aaron Boone I have dreamt of the monsters of Midian and this amazing adaptation of Clive Barker’s novella Cabal written and directed by the author himself, which I saw at a hugely influential age and always ranked among my favourite horror films.

Boone played by Craig Sheffer is a troubled individual receiving therapy for his disturbing and vivid dreams of a multitude of magnificent and malevolent creatures that dwell in a place called Midian where the remain safe and secure. Unbeknownst to Boone the true monster is his psychotherapist Dr. Phillip Decker (director David Cronenberg) who is a deranged serial killer and frames his patient using the details of Boone’s dreams to convince the police a series of slayings were his doing.

On the run and off his head after he is drugged by Dr Decker he ends up in hospital where he overhears a fellow patient Narcisse (Hugh Ross) mention the mystical home of monsters. Discovering directions before the unfortunate inmate slices his own face off Boone flees to Midian with the police and Decker hot on his heels but what he finds changes his life and the lives of those dwelling there forever more.

As much as I loved Nightbreed something always troubled me and in my memories of the movie it felt unfinished which it turns out after further research was true. Although Barker had tons of control when it came to making the movie the studio stepped in several times interfering with his vision and ultimately forcing him to cut over an hour of footage, redo the ending and increase the gore and violence all at the cost of his initial ideas.

When it came to the release even more damage was done with the film being completely miss marketed with posters that misinterpreted the content and trailers that confused the audience resulting in the film being received badly by critics and audiences alike.

However the essence of Barker’s message and its true meaning lived on even in this version of Nightbreed setting fires in the minds of people like me who saw in their homes and more importantly in Mark Miller the co-head of Barker’s production company, Seraphim Films.

Although the studios stood against a director’s cut thinking there was not a large enough audience for it in 2009 Miller helped track down all the missing footage from the film which he found on old tapes ultimately creating the Cabal Cut which although lacking in visual quality, due to the age and format of the footage, excelled in imagination and artistry.

And that leads us to this awesome Arrow release of the Blu-ray of Nightbreed not only containing the original but also a restored and remastered Directors Cut recreating the movie in Barker’s original image reedited and including 45 minutes unseen in the original.

Weaving fairy tales and fables with the religious and the real it is an epic story full of sensibility and emotion. Barker’s brilliant film is about monsters in many forms from the kind and gentle beings hiding in Midian who are viewed as freaks by society to the respected and revered Dr Decker who hides his psychotic blood lust behind a mask of normality and a nice suit. The film deals with prejudice, genocide and humanities darkest urges to destroy anything they don’t understand.

As Dr Decker Cronenberg is understated and outstanding bringing to life one of the most underappreciated and terrifying horror villains ever seen on screen. His soft voice is supremely sinister and the switch from mundane to murderous is chilling helped along by the iconic button mask and vicious variety of blades he uses to butcher his many victims throughout the film.

Central to the story and most spectacular are the Nightbreed themselves formed from all different tribes of the moon. Some are shape shifters, some can withstand any injury and all are unique leading to some amazing design, make up and special effects which we get more of in the director’s cut than ever before. This menagerie of the strange and the surreal is one of the most outstanding elements of the movie and what makes it so memorable with the inventive design and most of the effects especially the practical ones still standing up today.

Already an evocative and effecting horror film with this directors cut Nightbreed, like its main character, has finally transformed into its true form as a fantastic nightmarish motion picture as emotionally moving as it is visually spectacular.

Movie Rating: ★★★★½ 

Original Trailer:

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