THE UNSEEN HORROR returns from across the pond. Last week, we studied the horror and films of H.P. Lovecraft. Of course, there are many horror authors with film adaptations of their work. One of those famous writers is England’s Clive Barker. Barker is a writer of horror/fantasy, even quoted by Stephen King as ‘the future of horror.’  Barker is best known to horror fans as the creator and directors of HELLRAISER, and it’s signature villain Pinhead. However, he has created other horror films based off of his work. We’ll look at one such film today, which Barker directed and based off his novella CABAL. Get ready to dive into the catacombs of NIGHTBREED.

The Plot

Aaron Boone is a mentally troubled man. He dreams of a city of monsters called Midian. His therapist. who is a serial murderer, attempts to convince Boone that he has been killing. Boone attempts to turn himself in, but runs into another man who says he knows the way to Midian. Boone follows the man’s directions and finds the city, an underground realm beneath a graveyard. There, he finds creatures that have inspired the monsters of folklore. One of them bites Boone and he begins to change. The monsters then welcome him into the city. However, his therapist is helping police to find and destroy Midian, as the Nightbreed speak of a prophesy that Boone will lead them to a new home.

NIGHTBREED’s Troubled Production

NIGHTBREED is a film with a pretty unique premise, but endured a difficult route to the silver screen. Barker made many changes to please the studio (20th Century Fox), including changing the title from CABAL, since the studio felt the original title had no meaning. However, this was the least of the challenges ahead. Barker had very impressionistic monsters in the original story, which meant he had to be find very creative ways to bring his creatures to the screen. Thankfully, he did succeed, as NIGHTBREED’s unique creatures are one of it’s strengths.

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However, the early trailers gave people little chance to see the creature work. The studio had little faith in the film’s star power; the biggest names involved were actor/director David Cronenberg and HELLRAISER’s Doug Bradley. They also did not understand the themes of the film and marketed it as a slasher movie. Viewers got a false understanding of the movie. This only got worse when Fox did not allow critics to preview the film, believing horror fans did not care about reviews. Worst of all, Barker had to change the film’s original ending. The movie lost nearly forty minutes of film because of test audiences and studio cuts. As a result, NIGHTBREED was a critical and commercial failure at the time of it’s release.

Midian Rises

Over time, NIGHTBREED did gain status as a cult film among horror fans. In this way, it echoes FREAKS, another sympathetic movie about ‘monsters’ vs. humans that gained more praise over time. Recently, Barker released his ‘director’s cut’ of the film through Shout Factory. However, it’s not hard to understand why so many care for this film.

NIGHTBREED shows stunning visuals, with dark caverns and imaginative monsters. The film also carries a relatable story with strong performances. Craig Sheffer does an admirable job moving Boone through a complex role. He begins as a troubled man looking for peace and tormented by a supposed friend. As the film goes on, he transitions from a man in pain to a more confident leader to the people of Midian. This element gives the story a trans-formative element. Boone’s transformation inspires the monsters to fight for their lives. It grabs audience sympathy for the unloved ‘freaks’, especially as they fight back.

A Human Story

That fight functions as another key to the story. It presents humans as far more destructive then the monsters. NIGHTBREED does present some sympathetic human figures (Boone’s girlfriend Lori and the priest Asheberry), most are extremely quick to destroy the monsters, despite there being no actual reason to do so. In fact the most chilling figure is not any of the ‘monsters’ but Dr. Decker, Boone’s deranged therapist. Decker frames Boone for his own killings. He helps lead the fight against Midian in order to keep his own secret. The film has plenty of disturbing visuals but Decker is the most frightening. His actions are horrifying, but he chooses to look like a mosnter when he does them, something the monsters have no choice about.


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Venture to Midian with NIGHTBREED

NIGHTBREED appeals to anyone looking for memorable frights. It’s full of imagination, unforgettable visuals, and a story of the persecuted rising up. Indeed, it might be even more relevant in modern times, with so many people feeling left out or persecueted. At the same time, this is still a movie that is designed to scare you, and it does that well. So take a trip with the NIGHTBREED this Halloween. And come back next time, as we look at a Barker film with even more horror and social commentary…

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