I first became aware of the film when reading Fangoria and Gorezone (the US horror mag, not the UK soft porn mag pretending to be about films). There was a feature on the various makeups being utilized in Nightbreed, and the creativity and breadth of dark wonder in those images had me hooked. I had to see this thing.
Craig Scheffer plays the lead character of Boone, who will become the Cabal character upon joining the Nightbreed. He's serviceable in the part, but it's Cronenberg who steals the show as the villain of the piece. In fact, the whole cast are solid, which helps bring the unnerving atmosphere of the story to powerful life. The film has its detractors due to some of the less successful special effects (such as the Berserkers), but it is still an effective and compelling horror film with a deeply bizarre supernatural feel to it. You get a sense that things are going to be nuts early on in the film, when hospital patient Narcisse rips off his own scalp onscreen in order to reveal his 'True Face'.
The plot is archetypal Barker, which is always a wonderful thing to behold. Boone is convinced he's going crazy, and is persuaded by his doctor (Cronenberg) that he is responsible for a string of Murders. Via subliminal suggestion he brings the mythical town of Midian, a hidden colony of supernatural monsters, into Boone's consciousness, so that he himself may gain entry to it and gain the dark powers of the creatures that lay hidden there. Boone does indeed gain entry to Midian, and discovers his true self- Cabal.
The Cabal makeup is awesome and unsettling, although the transformations are rather dated now. The creatures that populate Midian were stunning to me when I first saw the film, and they still hold a great deal of power now. This is down to both the ingenuity of the makeup and the performances of the cast, who really got caught up in the characters for the film and thus are much more convincing.
As the film progresses and we get to see hicks being butchered, the war between Decker and Boone/Cabal and get towards the chaotic climax, the film takes on a surreal atmosphere that sticks with the viewer. It's not the perfect adaptation of the novel that it could have been, but Nightbreed still succeeds as a fine film, despite the limited budget and the stretched effects. Without today's digital effects slapped all over it, Nightbreed looks a great deal more convincing as it is, rather than the over-polished flick it would be nowadays.
Barker's direction is of a high standard, but there are few scenes that personally I've never been a fan of. However, the film remains a special gem to me as a fan of fantastical cinema, and indeed of Barker's work. Would I like to see it remade? No. It wouldn't be as chaotic or beautifully weird.
Nightbreed may not be the perfect version of the Cabal story, but it is the perfect Nightbreed. Does that make sense? I hope so. The final moments feel truly apocalyptic, leaving you trapped in a nightmare, in the best possible way.
Nightbreed may well have been a failure cash-wise upon its release, but it has a legion of fans the world over who hold it in high regard. Maybe we can see something in Midian that we crave ourselves. That sense of belonging, despite the quirks and oddities that make us who we are. Maybe we all just want to feel like we belong. Nightbreed will always have a place in my collection, and Midian will always been lurking in the list of places I wish I could visit. Mr.
Barker, I thank you.