Poor Clive Barker. He suffers from what I call, "Early-Stephen-King-Movie-Syndrome." Barker is widely and justifiably praised for his mystical and captivating books. His imagination is limitless and the quality of his works does indeed rival that of Stephen King, occasionally surpassing it. Still, his movies just don't quite live up to the quality of the work. Much like those early films made out of Stephen King novels (CHRISTINE, FIRESTARTER, CUJO, etc.), something is missing in the translation to screen. I think the problem can be traced to two difficulties: the lack of time to develop characters and the desire to show too much. NIGHTBREED, directed by Barker and adopted from his novel, "Cabal," suffers from both, but is still an intriguing film.
The plot centers around a young man named Boone played by Craig Sheffer (of A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT). Boone is having terrible nightmares about an otherworldy (or should I say, underworldly) place and of being chased by strange creatures. He brings his problems to his psychiatrist, Decker, played by the creepy film director, David Cronenberg (well-cast). Before long, Boone finds himself in an accident and dies...or does he? He makes his way to the same setting as was in his dreams where he stumbles across many of the same creatures he saw in sleep.
These creatures, the nightbreed, have formed their own underground community of mutants, outcasts, and undead. Governed by laws and an aged ruler, these unwanted do their best to avoid any interaction with the real world. Barker clearly illustrates that these seemingly frightening outcasts are truly peace-loving and benign, and the nightbreed have found a home among the alienated. Of course, there has to be a bad guy, and it comes as no surprise that it is the seemingly normal humans which are the intolerant and violent.
Particularly evil is Decker (Cronenberg), who aims to destroy the nightbreed, and enjoys killing other humans as well by donning a serial-killer mask. He leads the police and a group of vigilantes to the home of the nightbreed to engage in a final, violent, showdown with the outcast community. In the final fifteen minutes of the film, Barker really lets loose with explosions, gun-play, and action as this climactic scene unfolds.
There is a lot to enjoy in NIGHTBREED. The special effects are indeed quite good. Cronenberg cuts a scary swath through the countryside on his way to the nightbreed. There is a remarkable sequence in which Boone's girlfriend from the living world traces him to his new home and before she can find him, we are led on an enlightening and creepy tour through the underworld. I also enjoyed the very last scene of the film.
However, ultimately NIGHTBREED is a failure. This brings us back to our two main reasons why. For one, not nearly enough time is spent developing the characters. More time spent with Boone and his girlfriend before his accident, more time with Decker to understand his evil motivations, more time with certain of the mutant nightbreed would have made all the action and special effects that much more interesting. Instead, the climactic battle feels like the Ewoks battling the Empire on Endor. Also, Barker should resist from the desire to show so many of his special effects on the screen. Implying the frightening is infinitely scarier than showing it.
I realize that last line goes against a lot of what B-movies stand for. But Clive Barker is different; he can do better than most. His movies can be genuinely scary, as the first HELLRAISER was. This movie is ultimately disappointing because it descends into an action flick and forgets its horror roots. There are some good effects and creepy moments, but to see what a good Barker outing is, stick with HELLRAISER.
Rating: ** stars (out of a possible 4)