If Stephen King is to be trusted on the subject of literary horror, then Clive Barker is a force to be reckoned with. The British author has already been dubbed nothing less than the genre's future by its best-known brand name in the States. But film is a different ball game, as the
thoroughly unwatchable, King-written and-directed MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE can readily attest. On the evidence of Barker's own second film as a writer-director, NIGHTBREED (his first, HELLRAISER, stretched the makings of a decent "Tales from the Darkside" episode to a distended feature length), the
Future of Horror adds his own new ingredient to the genre: incoherent, slack-jawed boredom.
Craig Sheffer plays Boone, a young man in Calgary, Canada, who dreams about monsters chasing him through a field near an imaginary place called Midian. That's a step up, since he had been dreaming about mass murders that had a nasty habit of also occurring in real life. But we're hardly reassured
about Boone's prognosis when we find out that his psychiatrist is none other than David Cronenberg, the real-life director of THE FLY and DEAD RINGERS (who, let's say it now, could make a better film than NIGHTBREED before breakfast). Playing the devious Dr. Decker, Cronenberg gives Boone some
little pills that will "calm him down." Instead, Boone is found wandering in traffic and babbling incoherently. At the hospital, a doctor casually informs him that Decker's medicine is actually a strong hallucinogenic. Meanwhile, yet another mass murder Boone described to Decker has occurred, and
Decker is busying himself with violating patient-doctor confidence by prodding the police into arresting Boone. If, by this point, you've grasped the obvious and figured out who is actually committing the murders, then feel free to stop reading and rest assured: you're already too smart for this
movie. Besides, NIGHTBREED goes steadily downhill from there anyway. It turns out that Midian actually exists, and prior to ripping off his face on-camera, a fellow patient conveniently reveals to Boone its location, just a short scenic drive from Calgary. Escaping from the hospital, Boone heads
there. The police follow him, kill him, and bring his body back. But--for no discernible reason except that this is a horror film--Boone rises from the dead and hightails it back to Midian, where he is welcomed by the title's beasts, who are actually shape-shifters, as one of them solemnly
explains. Back in Calgary, Lori (Anne Bobby), Boone's girl friend, becomes obsessed with seeing the place where her honey bit the bullets. So she sets out for Midian--followed, again, by Decker, who is himself obsessed with destroying the night breeders. To aid him in his crusade, Decker enlists a
geeky redneck sheriff (Charles Haid), helping to turn NIGHTBREED into a touching allegory about intolerance along the way. Eventually, Boone gets to have his big confrontation with Decker before chucking him off a cliff. But--to the surprise of absolutely no one--Barker thoughtfully takes the time
to lay the groundwork for the theoretical NIGHTBREED 2.
In portraying his monsters, Barker himself has a hard time keeping straight what they can and cannot do. The shape-shifters rarely shift shapes, but we keep wishing they would. Their repulsive appearance is matched only by their need to natter on endlessly about their deep significance to the
film's largely nonexistent plot. It is also solemnly intoned that it takes all kinds of methods to kill a shape-shifting night breeder (and, while we're on the subject, we never see them breeding at night; in fact, we never see them breeding at all, which, considering their appearance, is probably
a good thing). It is even specifically stated that bullets won't necessarily work against them. Yet, in the film's big, noisy climax, Haid and his blood-crazed cops demonstrate that bullets, and lots of them, in fact work very well.
As it runs considerably longer, the actual movie is even harder to get through than its synopsis. But the synopsis serves as a critique of the movie. To put it less politely, is the Future of Horror really someone badly in need of a beginner's course in story construction? Besides a lot of scenic
driving in and around Calgary, NIGHTBREED does have its fair share of sound and fury, not to mention blood and entrails. But it plays as if Barker were making it up as he went along, despite the film's having been based on his own novel Cabal.
The acting is mostly routine. Haid, once again, is stuck with a character he doesn't deserve. Sheffer is OK, nothing more. Bobby lends loads of appealing spunk and charm to her character, which, as written, needs all the help she can get. The only real surprise is "Dr." Cronenberg, who actually
turns out to be a pretty good actor, coming on here a little like a malignant Raymond Massey--although, probably at Barker's bidding, he swallows most of his lines.
In fact, we are reluctant to praise Cronenberg's performance too highly, lest he reconsider his career as Cronenberg the director. Despite a multitude of missteps, Barker's approach to horror does have an unmistakable stamp of originality. But until he acquires considerably more skill behind the
camera, the future of horror, in films at least, is best left in the hands of the "Doctor." (Graphic violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: If Stephen King is to be trusted on the subject of literary horror, then Clive Barker is a force to be reckoned with. The British author has already been dubbed nothing less than the genre's future by its best-known brand name in the States. But film is a… (more)