I've already professed my love for Clive Barker in my previous review for his masterpiece "Hellraiser", so I'd be repeating myself to do the same here. There's an entire interesting story to be told about "Nightbreed", the kind of story that people write books about. Barker set out to make an epic monster movie, and not a monster movie about just a group of monsters killing people, but a movie where the monsters are the central characters, and they're characters that we like, love, sympathise with. After things like constant studio interference, budget issues and the like, Clive always said that what we ended up seeing was not ultimately what his vision was. Luckily for us, we still got a pretty brilliant piece of fantastique, an epic morality tale that was perhaps a victim to it's own scope and ambition, which isn't necessarily a bad thing to fall victim to.
Now, part of the interesting stuff that followed this movie was that Barker often talked about the myriad of things that he filmed, entire plot points and storylines and scenes and characters that never even made it to the final film. Just within the last few years, some dedicated fans actually set out and *found* most of that lost footage, which everyone thought was just lost to time. These people, collaborating with Barker, went back and added the lost footage back into the movie, re-edited it, cleaned stuff up, re recorded some dialogue, and toured around the country with this new and improved version, called "The Cabal Cut". Ultimately, Clive Barker re-edited this and created his director's cut, the film that he felt was truer to his vision. While there are some pretty vast differences, I still prefer the original, and maybe it's because that's the one I grew up on. I remember being a small child, probably 4 or 5 at the time, and just being enamored and somewhat horrified at the monsters in this movie, which in hindsight is kind of weird, because they're ultimately the good guys.
Craig Sheffer plays Boone, a guy who is suffering from these horrible nightmares, he dreams of a place called Midian, a place inhabited by real, true monsters, but a place where these monsters are forgiven and free to live their life. He begins to see a therapist as a way to deal with these dreams, Dr. Decker, played brilliantly by directed David Cronenberg. Decker actually has ulterior motives, as he is a serial killer, but preys on the vulnerable Boone, and convinces Boone that he's actually the one committing these murders. During a drug induced haze, Boone is hit by a vehicle and taken to the ER, where he meets a guy in the hospital who is ranting and raving. This man, called Narcisse, is hollering about Midian and monsters, he believes Boone is sent to be a test for him so he can enter Midian himself. So he explains to Boone what and where Midian is. Boone travels there to Midian, which is essentially a city underground where all the monsters live.
Believing he is this heinous murderer, he pleads with the monsters to take him in and let him live there, but they can sense and "smell" that he is pure, he's not actually a killer. This is where we really begin to see some of the utmost creative monsters ever put to film. We have characters like Kinski, who is a guy with a weird crescent-moon shaped face. Peloquin, who is a cross between Predator and Satan. Shuna Sassi, the sultry acrobatic, animalistic lady covered in quills, who has been apparently sharing dreams with Boone. These creatures are all visually striking, and we quickly gain a sympathy for them. Yes, they have a monstrous appearance, but does that alone make them monsters? By the end of this film, the biggest motif is that the people are the real monsters, not the creatures inhabiting Midian. Boone is tricked by Dekker and pegged for the murders and shot and killed, but thanks to a bite from Peloquin, he comes back to life. Having now made it back from death, he is welcomed into Midian with open arms, and is truly accepted by the bunch. Once we actually get down into Midian, it's a wonder to see. I always looked at it is this gigantic, twisted and disturbing version of the Star Wars cantina. So many different background characters, so much stuff going on in every frame, all just made with such utter creativity and imagination.
A lot of the story from here on out focuses a bit more on the love story between Boone and his girlfriend, Lori. After discovering Midian for herself, she wants to be there with Boone but isn't welcomed. Decker tries to kill Boone, but you can't kill what's already dead. Boone rescues Lori and takes her to Midian, which is a major no no, and they are both banished. Boone then stumbles upon one of Decker's victims, and the lust for blood takes him over. After being found by the cops, they obviously think he's guilty of the murder, so they throw him in jail. This kind of begins our 3rd act, where Boone is broken out of jail, and the local yokel police force and hillbillies decide to wage their war on Midian. A big, epic battle goes down, and we learn from Baphomet, who is kind of the "lord" of the monsters, that this was actually a prophecy, the destruction of Midian, but that Boone must now find a new home for the monsters. Like I said, it becomes crystal clear through the storytelling that the people are the real monsters.
Now, I mentioned how I think, in some ways, this movie fell victim to only it's ambition. It's a big, epic movie, and according to Barker, it was supposed to be even bigger. I think he one time described it as it was supposed to be "Star Wars with monsters". Some of what he wanted to portray, mostly the epic scale of the creatures and the city of Midian, just simply wasn't there. It's a shame, because what IS there is just so visually rich. Think of it as you go to a mall on shopping spree, but you only get to actually go into 2 or 3 stores. I think the vision of what he wanted at the time was near to impossible, be it from budgetary constraints, special effects limitations, I'm not exactly sure what all. It's a unique spin to see things from these grotesque monster's eyes, as we sympathise with them and actually grow to really like them as characters. If you've never seen this, I recommend the original over the director's cut. To me, it's ultimately a bit more cohesive, and honestly just a better movie. But maybe it's just because it's the one I grew up with. Sound familiar? Had Barker been given ultimate creative control, and probably a slightly larger budget, I have no doubt that we would have gotten an epic horror fantasy that would've undoubtedly been a classic masterwork.
"Nightbreed" gets 8 Tribes of the Moon out of 10!