Review: Nightbreed (1990)

Today I hit a bit of a wall, as I felt unsure of what to cover for this new article. It's not like i have a shortage of films to talk about or things to rant over, but I still felt a bit muddled. I'm going to blame it on the fact that I spent so much time yesterday writing about a porn film. It could be worse though, as I could've been talking about something truly the Halloween remakes (which I will cover at some point, I'm sure). Luckily, my good friend Felix suggested I do something nostalgic, as he pointed out I don't cover nearly enough of my favourite films from my childhood. I must confess, I do that a bit by design, as I am sure it can't be that exciting to read me gushing about movies that I adore from developing years, so I tend to cover things fairly new to me most of the time, with a few exceptions. But what better time to talk about childhood favourites than October?

My love of October is fairly legendary and only results in mild cannibalism.
Growing up in my household, I had a steady stream of movies coming in, because we couldn't afford cable (and because it wasn't available where we lived). My mom made the best of it though, often recording things for us to watch. We had countless recorded VHS tapes around my house as a kid containing many old films and cartoons, but above all else we had a ton of horror movies. My mother fed my ravenous hunger for horror back then and often joined me, despite how squeamish she has become since then. Bearing this in mind, it shouldn't surprise any of you to learn a lot of my favourite films from back then were classified under the horror genre. Evil Dead 2, The Fog, A Nightmare on Elm Street (all of them), the list goes on and on. But, there was a very particular film that always stuck with me as a kid. That movie was Clive Barker's Nightbreed.

First person to complain that it wasn't appropriate for me to watch as a kid gets thrown to Peloquin.

To explain why I loved this movie may take a while, so I'll save it for the closing paragraph. The important part for now is that it was the movie I watched the most, even more than Evil Dead 2. Because it's such an important film to me, and because I recently received the limited edition Director's Cut package of it from Scream Factory, I figured it's the perfect bit of nostalgia to delve into. So, sit back, relax, and let me take you on a trip to where the monsters are. The story focuses on a troubled young man named Aaron Boone, who often has troubled dreams involving monsters who live in a place called Midian. His psychiatrist, Dr. Decker, expresses concerns regarding these dreams and how he has described actual murder scenes in vivid detail in his sessions, leading Boone to believe himself a killer. Of course, the truth is the good doctor is the actual killer, as he is a serial killer who takes great pride in wiping out "breeders".

Always trust your doctor, kids. Even if he happens to own a large collection of cutlery.
Decker gives Boone some drugs and advises him to turn himself in, and our young hero wanders into traffic while under the influence of these drugs only to wake up in the hospital where he learns he was dosed by his doctor. There he meets my personal favourite character, Narcisse. He's a seemingly eccentric actor who Boone finds talking to himself by the window about Midian. They both talk about Midian and Boone convinces Narcisse that they should go there together, as his new actor friend believes he was sent there to collect him, but first Narcisse insists on showing him his true face and begins cutting/ripping his scalp off.

Me, I think it's just him reacting to the hospital food in a very understandable manner.
Hospital staff rush in, Boone rushes out as he sees the cops and Decker approaching, and the good doctor tortures poor Narcisse in private to find out where our hero ran off to. Boone makes it to Midian, discovering it's a large graveyard, deciding to take a nap...because why not? I know graveyards make me sleepy. He awakens to find some not so friendly locals named Peloquin and Kinski who tell him that he was lied to because he clearly smells innocent and hasn't killed anyone. Peloquin, on the other hand, is all for killing and takes a bite out of Boone, resulting in him punching Peloquin after bucking off Kinski and running like hell. Kinski, not looking to break their laws, helps him escape from his meat-loving buddy. This doesn't help Boone too much though as the cops and Decker are outside the gates and the doctor convinces the trigger-happy officers that his former patient has a gun, which means that he needs about 30 or so odd shots plugged directly into him. Yikes.

Did I mention this takes place in Canada? Such a friendly place.
Lori, Boone's girlfriend, is brought in to identify his body and be questioned by Detective Joyce, a man who has been trying to stop the serial killer. Lori gets a bit emotional, but not to worry, sweetie! Because Boone's all rested up now, so he gets up off the slab and returns to Midian where he undergoes a ceremony to become one of them officially. While there he is reunited with his new buddy, Narcisse, who explains the ropes to him and partakes in one of the funniest bits in the movie where he lights a match during the ceremony and over-exaggeratedly mouths an apology. Did I mention I love Narcisse? I mean, he's just so much fun to look at and hear talk. He's a smart-ass guy with thumb-blades who delights in his new life and you just can't help but smile when he's on screen. A big part of that is Hugh Ross' portrayal, which is stellar. I could honestly just sit here and gush over him for several paragraphs.

He made me want to own a straw hat as a child based on this scene alone.
Boone gets welcomed into the club, meets his new bunkmates, and everything seems groovy. But hey, didn't he have a girlfriend? Well, it turns out that ol' Lori wants to know what happened to her beau's missing body and thinks answers might be in Midian, since he died there. She meets a friend along the way who agrees to join her as she investigates the cemetery, but her friend gives her some space while she heads inside. In Midian, she finds a young girl named Babette who is reacting rather badly to sunlight and turning into a very sad looking (but cute) creature as she shakes on the ground pitifully. Her mother, Rachel, begs Lori to bring her inside, which she does, and Lori learns that there are people living under the cemetery and pleads for them to tell her about Boone. After getting shut down, she goes back to find her friend dead and hanging from a tree while the hanger of her friend, Dr. Decker, shows her his true face as he attempts to murder her. Boone, understandably, goes against the law and saves Lori from Decker while Narcisse asks him if he can have the doctors eyes (and balls). Decker doesn't seem happy about learning Boone is nigh-immortal and runs away.

It may also because of the comment about balls.
He tortures an old man nearby while questioning him about whether the "breed" can be killed, discovering that they can die in many different ways. He then sets out to murder all of the people at Lori's hotel before she can return to it. Meanwhile, Boone is cast out for saving Lori and they return to her hotel to find lots of blood and dead bodies, which sets Boone off into a literal blood-lust. Cue the cops showing up and him being arrested, because this looks bad, what with him licking some of the blood. The captain is told by the good doctor that there is some sort of cult up there and he sends some men up there with Joyce, which ends up in one of the more innocent members of the Nightbreed dying horribly. At the station the cops soon learn Boone has no pulse and Captain Eigerman listens to Decker regarding the people in the cemetery. This results in Eigerman rounding up a lot of rednecks (because Canada has those too) and taking them and the drunk priest up there to go kill a bunch of people who are different, because fuck that noise. Narcisse, Lori, and Rachel all go bust Boone out and go to save their friends and rally them to fight back rather than cower in their hole.

Fighting does sound a lot better than dying horribly. Also, we're kind of a gaggle of bad-asses.
Decker kills the detective a bit awkwardly, which I still didn't think looked like he actually killed him, and joins the fray so he can finally kill Boone. The priest, Ashbury, turns on the captain because they're killing children and finds his way downstairs into the room where the breed keep their god, Baphomet, and gets horribly disfigured. Our hero convinces Lylesberg, the defacto leader of the breed, to free their more scary brethren, the Berserker, but he gets shot by a redneck while attempting this. Boone finishes the job, letting them loose to tear the rednecks apart, then he takes Decker on as the whole place prepares to go up like a volcano full of dead people. After dispatching of Decker, he meets with Baphomet who tells him his has brought ruin to their home, but that it was inevitable, and now he must be their savior and find their new home. He is dubbed Cabal and they escape to a barn, where our story reaches a close for them. But, back at the leftover bits of Midian, Ashbury revives Decker's dead body in what the film company clearly meant to be a lead-in for a sequel that never happened.

Because ending on a hopeful note would somehow undermine what they think this movie really is.
That was Nightbreed, a film helped define me as a person at a very young age. Why did have such an impact on me? Well, because it's about people who are different and spend their lives being persecuted because they look a certain way that others aren't. I grew up in a place where the colour of my skin made me a minority and was reminded quite often of that fact. This resulted in me learning to survive in a hostile environment and deal with adversity, much like the characters in this movie. I felt like them, being treated badly because I stood out. Either because of the colour of my skin or because I wasn't like the other people there with my same complexion, it was a rough time that this movie helped with immensely. Narcisse himself influenced my sense of humour, which I feel should be apparent to most people even now if they really looked at me.

You don't wanna know what Peloquin influenced.
As a film, I feel the original still stands up as a well-done story of persecution and the tragic consequences that come with judging people at face value. Decker was trusted implicitly throughout the film as he killed whole families, leading Boone to believe he was the villain, and even leading Joyce to believe the same. That right there? That's truly scary, because it shows how easy it is to manipulate people to think someone is one thing when they're something entirely different. Everyone wears masks to cope, but here we have a perfect example of someone who wears one to hide what he truly is from the world as he manipulates people into trusting him.

Something tells me they'd trust him a lot less if he showed up looking like this.
The entire cast is great, providing us with so many memorable performances that it's hard to give them all the attention they really deserve. The main actors who dominate the film though are Craig Sheffer (Boone), David Cronenberg (Decker), Oliver Parker (Peloquin), Anne Bobby (Lori), and Hugh Ross (Narcisse). They are very much the central players, getting the central story bits and playing the most important roles. Cronenberg delivers an intense portrayal as the demented serial killer who delights in cutting down entire families, making his performance here about as memorable as his own films (which feel like a genre unto themselves). Sheffer makes us feel a lot of sympathy in his portrayal of Boone, clearly highlighting how it feels to be a man constantly manipulated by others, while Bobby plays off of him perfectly as Lori, who desperately wants nothing more than to save her beau from the world around them. Oliver Parker as Peloquin is rarely talked about, but he is quite entrancing in the role seeming to exude an otherworldly sexual allure about him in a way that only one other character does (the sadly underutilized Shuna Sassi), to the point where he's difficult to look away from.

Not that she's easy to look away from though.
As for Hugh Ross' Narcisse, well, I already went over my love for him. The Director's Cut of the film adds many scenes that were more prevalent in the book, which I read a long time after seeing the film, and definitely feels more like what Barker clearly wanted the film to be. My only gripes with it is merely based on my love of a particular character who meets a sad end in it and the revelation that Joyce was at one point more important but that those scenes were relegated to the 'deleted scenes'. And Scream Factory loaded the Blu-Ray set with so many special features that it feels like we're getting all these treats with very little in the way of tricks. Overall, the movie still holds up today as a great story and the new cut of it is just as enjoyable, adding new layers to an already classic film. Personally, it was worth every single penny I payed to get it and it definitely brings me back to a time where I was a young boy who empathized deeply with some misunderstood monsters. So, until the Tribes of the Moon welcome me into their fold, I'll be here being thankful that Clive Barker gave us a film that means a lot to so many fans. Later days, bleeders.

Now, if only someone would collect the old Nightbreed comics into trades.