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Nightbreed (1990): Just Beneath the Surface

Nightbreed (Clive Barker, 1990)

[originally posted 14Jan2002]

Craig Sheffer is surrounded by a number of inhabitants of Midian on the movie poster.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.
photo credit: Wikipedia

Of the three adaptations of his own work Clive Barker directed, Nightbreed is the redheaded stepchild. It doesn’t have the visionary brilliance of Hellraiser nor the gruesome spectacle of Lord of Illusions, and as a consequence it faded rather quickly into obscurity upon its release. Which is unfortunate because, while Nightbreed isn’t the same work of genius Barker’s other two adaptations are, it stands above all (with the sole exception of Bernard Rose’s original Candyman) non-Barker adaptations of his work.

The movie's masked serial killer is posed to strike in a still.

The worst monsters are all too human.
photo credit:

The opening of Nightbreed should be familiar to Barker fans; a normal, everyday chap, in this case named Boone (veteran character actor Craig Sheffer [Merlin: The Return, Deep Core]) gradually becomes aware that the normal everyday world has parallels to something that is very much not our world. Through a combination of his own inquisitiveness and his association with certain characters who don’t seem unsavory but in actuality are, in this case his psychiatrist Decker (David Cronenberg), our hero finds himself embroiled in complications involving this world and the parallel he’s discovered. Pretty standard stuff, Barkerwise.

Craig Sheffer's character approaches the rite of initiation in a still from the film.

Gabba gabba, we accept you.
photo credit:

Where the film becomes above average is both in Barker’s direction (pretty good for someone who, while filming Hellraiser, said in an interview he didn’t know a camera lens from a plate of spaghetti) and the characters therein. Cronenberg very rarely steps in front of the screen, and when he does it’s usually in very small roles. Pity. Decker is the consummate bad guy: softspoken, cultured, the kind of guy you’d take home to mom not realizing that he’ll rip her still-beating heart from her chest and use it for a midnight snack. Sheffer and his girlfriend, played by Anne Bobby [What the Deaf Man Heard, Born on the Fourth of July, et al.], are perfectly aware that they’re not supposed to take this seriously, and inject just enough melodrama to let the audience in on the joke.

An overlooked gem from the Barker stable. Worth going out of your way to find on TV late at night. ***



About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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