Film: Nightbreed (1990) Rated: R Written and Directed by: Clive Barker Starring: Craig Sheffer as Boone/Cabal Anne Bobby as Lori David Cronenberg as Dr. Decker Charles Haid as Cpt. Eigerman Hugh Ross as Narcisse Doug Bradley as Dirk Simon Bamford as Ohnaka Kim Robertson as Babette
Pre-screening memories: Like many teens, I went through a ‘horror’ phase at around age 13 (that it hasn’t ended yet isn’t the point). It was a common enough occurrence, the kind of thing where you start looking for things to define your rapidly-approaching adulthoood, and set yourself apart from the childish things you imagine you no longer have a use for.
Horror movies are an incredibly socially acceptible way of going about this. Choosing to be scared is something that seems a lot more dangerous than it actually is to a young teen, but has the benefit of being somehting that a child would never do.
I worked my way quickly through the standards of the genre, your Halloweens, Fridays, and Nightmares while remaining largely unimpressed. These are the things that caused me to cover my eyes when the trailers came on in movie theatres? It seemed so ridiculous – they weren’t all that bad. Once the first tier was done with my friends and I started getting a little more random with our choices, which is how I ended up seeing Nightbreed. And wow, was I not prepared for Nightbreed.
The ads has made it seem like just another monster movie, but it certainly wasn’t that – from the early scene of David Cronenberg’s Leather Scarecrow slaughtering a family (including a child!) to a man tearing most of the flesh off of his head with his finger knives, to a trip to a haunted graveyard full of monstrosities that ends abruptly with the main character’s death at around the 20-mintue mark, there wasn’t a moment in the first act of this movie that didn’t have me fascinated and terrified and on the edge of my seat. I’d discovered that horror really could freak you out, and I wanted more of it. This is the movie that led me to find out more about Clive Barker, and see Hellraiser in a local repetory theatres… but that’s a story for another time.
Most recent screening: You may have noticed that in the above recollections of my first viewing I didn’t mention anything after the first twenty minutes of the movie. In point of fact, I didn’t have any memories of the rest of the film, save for a slaughter in a hotel and Cronenberg getting crucified at the end. There’s a reason for that.
Nightbreed is an ungodly mess for most the running time. After the masterfully-paced opening the film bogs down with many, many scenes of lengthy exposition and random nonsense about the monster world and their Jesus-style fated savior. Cronenberg’s always a pleasure to watch, but when he hooks up with a bigoted survivalist sheriff and a group of like-minded rednecks the film goes from being a relatively effective horror film to a supremely muddled holocaust allegory that leads to an overextended war scene that teaches us a valuable lesson – that the Jews would have had a better time of it had there been a few unstoppable armoured killing machines on their side. Of course, that’s true of anything, really.
That’s not to say that the movie is a complete disaster – there’s a really interesting theme in the film about finding your true face – one character has to pull of his skin to discover what he really looks like, and Cronenberg has to put on a mask to reveal himself. And there’s so much random craziness that it’s hard not to recommend a viewing of the film – the parade of monsters that appear in Midian are impressive, featuring more unique creatures than anything this side of Labryinth. Also on the down side, though, is the film’s score, which is wildly inappropriate for the content of the movie, and borrows far too heavily from Danny Elfman’s other major film of that year, Batman.
If nothing else, seeing this film again succeeded in putting me in touch with the younger, more naïve version of myself that was actually capable of getting scared by movies. It’s also reminded me that I really should start reading Clive Barker’s books, since he seems to have quite an imagination on him, that one.
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Our featured guest: Simon Bamford
Actor/writer/director Simon Bamford is quite the study in contrast. On-screen, he’s collaborated with pal Clive Barker on four occasions — the first two Hellraiser films, Nightbreed and, most recently Books of Blood.
You would hardly recognize Simon as the rather rotund Cenobite Butterball in Hellraiser, a role that he would reprise in the film’s sequel, Hellbound. And even though he would portray another otherworldly creature in Nightbreed, he did not have to endure as many hours in the makeup chair.
Most recently, Bamford was in Barker’s Books of Blood, a piece of fiction that is very personal to him, as he reveals on the podcast. He is currently working on the Nazi zombie film, The 4th Reich with makeup legend Tom Savini.
On stage, Bamford has portrayed everyone from lead Seymour Krelborn in the first UK tour of Little Shop of Horrors to Pip in the Stockholm production of Great Expectations (a role which one him an Actor of the Year award.
Simon also travels the horror festival circuit with his Cenobite buds, including Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley. We are grateful that Simon joined us from acrosss the pond to recollect his time spent on the set of Nightbreed.
For more on Simon, check out his site, SimonBamford.com.