Horror review: Nightbreed

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MARCH 2, 1990

By Steve Newton

Clive Barker told a fib. When the British writer/director came to town on a promotional visit recently, he promised that his new film, Nightbreed, would be a lot “jumpier” than his filmmaking debut, Hellraiser.

Well, I dunno. It sure didn’t make me jump. And I didn’t see anybody else bouncing up and down either.

Based on Barker’s bestselling novel, Cabal, Nightbreed is the story of a group of old-world monsters that, persecuted through the ages, have found refuge in a place called Midian, underneath a cemetery in northern Alberta. Into their peaceful existence lumbers the cliched young tough in leather jacket, Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), who wants to be among the monsters because he thinks he’s one as well–his psychiatrist Dr. Decker (David Cronenberg) convinces him that he’s murdered 10 families.

When Boone gets a wicked bite on the shoulder from one of Midian’s nastier creatures, he does become one of the ‘breed, enjoying life after death but staying out of the sun, which makes monsters disintegrate.

Boone’s lovestruck, goody-two-shoes girlfriend (sound familiar?) follows him to Midian, desperate to win him back, but she’s followed shortly by the film’s real bad guys. Dr. Decker and macho, hard-line Sheriff Elgerman (played by Charles Haid of Hill Street Blues). They want to blow Boone and any other “freaks” they come across to smithereens.

The resulting battle between the bigoted bad guys and the put-upon monsters is a special-effects bonanza, and it’s lots of fun rooting for the creatures (and human heroes), but the film’s weak characterization and limp dialogue don’t let you care much who wins. Cronenberg’s debut starring role is a wooden performance, and Barker’s effort to give everything a grandiose aura results in a sweeping score that really grates.

When all is said and done, the only really strong aspect of Nightbreed is the ‘breed itself–there are some truly bizarre and imaginative monstrosities on display. But the film’s general overkill throws in so many of these creatures so quickly that the impact is diminished.

Cameo death scenes by John Agar and splatter-punk novelists John Skipp and Craig Spector may appeal to aficionados of the horror genre, but for the most part Nightbreed is a disappointment.

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