Nightbreed (Clive Barker, 1990)
[originally posted 14Jan2002]
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 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.
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. ***