Friday, October 31, 2014

Nightbreed: The Director's Cut (1990)

It's officially Halloween and I have stuff to do tomorrow, so consider this your wrapping-up post for the October smorgasbord of dreads.  You can read all about the producer-meddling tragedy and restored-footage triumph of Nightbreed right here.  This Director's Cut adds roughly forty minutes of new stuff to the chopped-up theatrical version.  I saw that version of Nightbreed when I was in high school, but can barely remember anything about it.  Fans have raved about the corrected "Cabal Cut", so let's just see if this film has been elevated to epic status.


Boone has problems.  He's plagued with dreams about a place called Midian, a nocturnal deathscape full of monsters.  Seeking help, he sees a psychiatrist named Decker (David Cronenberg!) who, get ready to be shocked, gives him medication.  Decker also informs Boone that the police are looking for him, in connection with a series of brutal slayings.  Boone has a lover named Lori.  


Fascinating, but what about the monsters?  After a very Broadway-style dream prologue, they arrive in brutal fashion, torn between attempting to eat Boone and attempting to free him.  The monsters, if you will, are the Nightbreed, the last remnants of supernatural races hunted almost to extinction by man.  Most of them look better than the one below, so don't panic.


Director/writer Clive Barker deliberately directs the audience's sympathy to the Nightbreed.  It's obvious that a lot of care has been taken in rendering them and their underground world, too.  For a film made in 1990 on a relatively tight budget, the creature effects here are just superb.  But the monsters also get to act and we frequently zoom in on emotional faces, almost like some bizarre version of Cats.


I thought some of the non-monsters also gave good performances.  This is Deborah Weston as Sheryl Ann and she doesn't get a whole lot of film time.  But her performance and Barker's decisions in one scene are just golden.  We slowly pan around an emoting Sheryl Ann as plangent country music blares from a car.  The look in her eyes tells us she just wants to be loved.


You know who else is a good actor?  David Cronenberg!  I don't know if he could handle a wide range of Gary Oldman-style roles, but this part—a cold, clinical psychologist—was pretty much made for him.  


One of the cool things about Nightbreed is that there are multiple tiers of good guys and bad guys with some folks occupying the grey-shaded midway.  It's a really strong character movie, despite its giant corps of monsters.  This compensates for a few of the flaws that do exist.  Sometimes the budgetary restrictions are easy to read and scenes that should convey an epic feel look like they were shot too tightly.  And sometimes the monster FX do fail to live up to their usual excellent standard.  Don't hate me, but one sometimes wishes for a little CGI concealment in those moments.  


Overall, I liked this.  I still don't think Nightbreed is a classic horror film and I think it says something that it hasn't engendered the kind of cult that even Hellraiser (with its many very witless sequels) has.  But, make no mistake, it's a very fun film and pretty much a must-see for anyone who loves monsters in their natural habitats.  Enjoy Satan's birthday today, I love you guys and gals!


***1/2

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