Wednesday, October 7, 2009

October Horror Fest #7: NIGHTBREED

Clive Barker is an icon in the horror community. Stephen King famously referred to Barker as "the future of horror" and, millions of copies sold later, that prediction more or less came true. But like many other horror authors (including King himself) the transition from page to screen has been spotty, at best.

Nightbreed, based on Barker's novella Cabal, was plagued with production woes and negative studio intervention. Coming off the success of Hellraiser, Barker was obligated to deliver an R-rated film that was less gory, a ridiculous task to say the least. Combined with the studio forcing Barker to cut almost an hour from the final cut, the end result looks and feels like an incomplete movie. If this film were a book, it would only be a few chapters.

There are highlights, however. Danny Elfman's original score is fantastic. It sets the mood for each scene and sounds exactly like the soundtrack to a classic monster movie should. The makeup effects for the Nightbreed creatures are easily the best part of the film, followed closely by the set design. Each monster has a unique appearance and personality; they're not just otherworldly beasts, they're characters that you can invest in. Over the course of the film, the monsters of the Underworld go from being scary things in the dark to sympathetic, almost human, beings. They're the good guys this time.

The human characters' motivations are the biggest question marks in the film: why does Boone dream of Midian, the old cemetery home of the Nightbreed? Why does Dr. Decker (David Cronenberg), Boone's psychiatrist, want to destroy it? Why is the town sheriff such a prick? Perhaps these are all explained in Nightbreed's cut footage, which as of today is still sitting in a studio vault somewhere collecting dust. Recent petitions from horror fans have led to the release of other lost classics (Phantasm II being a recent example). Maybe the time has come to give Mr. Barker his due and get a director's cut of this film into the light of day.

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