October 18, 2011

A Look Back at "Nightbreed": a guest post by The Man Eating Bookworm

I can't recall when exactly I found Peter Leonard's blog, The Man Eating Bookworm, but as soon as I did I knew I found a great resource for reviews and interviews in horror and thrillers. I've found more than one great read thanks to his blog, and I'm happy to say he's found a couple thanks to mine.

Today, Peter offers up a retrospective on a horror movie that is near and dear to my heart for a few reasons. Rather than list them though, I'll let Pete take the reigns.

by Peter Leonard

I would have to say Nightbreed was the movie I most anticipated in the days of my youth. Leading up to it’s spring 1990 release, Nightbreed’s production was covered in such magazines as Fear, Horrorfan, Slaughter House, Fantasy Zone, Toxic Horror, Gorezone and several issues of Fangoria. Barker himself said it was going to be the Star Wars of monster movies. How could I, and every other self-respecting monster lover, not get excited?

I was a huge Clive Barker fan back then (and still am to this day), having read nearly everything he had published, including The Damnation Game, The Books of Blood, Weaveworld, Cabal, and The Great and Secret Show. I had seen and enjoyed the films based on his work including Transmutations and Rawhead Rex (you want to see a scary monster, check out Rawhead Rex).

Barker pushed the limits of the horror genre. It could be argued he was the figurehead of the “Splatterpunk” movement, which exemplified no-holds-barred horror fiction during the late 1980’s and early 90’s, which included such authors as David J. Schow, John Skipp and Craig Spector, Joe R. Lansdale, Edward Lee and Richard Laymon, to name a few.

When Barker turned his hand to directing major motion pictures it was with the moderately successful Hellraiser (based on his Hellbound Heart novella), a scary as shit movie, itself about pushing boundaries, with hellish results.

There’s not much scarier than a pissed off Cenobite.

It was from there that Barker turned to making Nightbreed, another movie that pushed boundaries. Here was a movie that portrayed monsters, not as evil beasties but as the heroes of the film.

Certainly there is evil in Nightbreed, but it’s ultimately of the human variety. Dr. Decker, wonderfully portrayed by David Cronenberg, is a serial killer that convinces the hero of the film, Boone, that he is responsible for the massacring of six families over a ten-month span (which Decker actually committed himself). At the same time, Boone has been having dreams about a place where the monsters go, a place where he can seek refuge from the long arm of the law.

A place called Midian.

Midian turns out to be a real place, a vast necropolis, and home to every type of nightmare creature imaginable. There they live in relative obscurity, away from the prejudice and hate of mankind, under the watchful eye of their leader Lylesburg, and their god, Baphomet.

That is, until Boone arrives with Decker hot on his trail.

Eventually all hell breaks loose, as Decker becomes obsessed with killing the ‘Breed and destroying Midian. He convinces the local Sheriff and his vigilante band of rednecks of the same. It all culminates in a fiery conflagration of epic proportions as ‘Breed and man face off in a battle to the death.

For some reason Nightbreed met with shitty reviews upon its release and did poorly at the box office. Barker blamed the studio for not “getting it”. What is ultimately a monster movie was pitched to the public as a slasher film, with no references to the monsters in either the poster (supposedly a reworking of the Bad Dreams poster) or the T.V. spots.

However, since that time, Nightbreed has become something of a cult classic, and with good reason. It’s a damn fun movie to watch, and it’s got a ton of great monsters. In it you’ll find such mutants and ghoulies as Peloquin, Kinski, Otis and Clay, Babette, Lude, the Beserkers, Narcisse, Lylesburg, Leroy Gomm and Shuna Sassi, all lovingly brought to life by Bob Keen’s Image Animation. If that wasn’t enough, Danny Elfman provides a tremendous musical score.

It’s also got a fantastic cast, including David Cronenberg (director of The Fly, Dead Ringers etc.), Craig Sheffer (Some Kind of Wonderful), Ann Bobby, Charles Haid (of Hill Street Blues fame), and Doug Bradley (Pinhead from Hellraiser). Sharp-eyed horror enthusiasts will also spot splatter punk authors John Skipp and Craig Spector, along with Peter Atkins in one brief scene.

I re-watched Nightbreed prior to writing this little piece and have to say, it holds up pretty well after more than twenty years. The monster FX’s are still stunning, much the same way movies like Carpenter’s The Thing and Scott’s Alien still hold their own next to more recent CGI heavy films.

If you’re looking for something monstery to watch this Halloween season, Nightbreed would make a great choice.


  1. I too was one of those folks for whom NIGHTBREED could not come out soon enough! Altho' disappointed some when I saw it on opening night, it *did* become a VHS rental staple for parties and get-togethers in my circle for some time. Even more than seeing the film again I'd like to reread "Cabal," which I only read once, back in, oh, 1988!

  2. I've still got my ratty ol' paperback sitting on my shelf. Good stuff. My VHS copy of the movie is long gone though, as is the VCR.

  3. I've never seen this. I'm putting it on my Netflix list.

  4. I have this on DVD and watch it all the time. Love it!

  5. Nice! I was just going over what films other people had posted about with the 'roundup' post that just went up, and I'm sorry I missed this one--Barker is my idol, but I've never had the chance to watch Nightbreed or to get a hold of the book--I always look for it in bookshops but they never seem to carry it. Anyway, must find it one of these days :-)