(Clive Barker, US, 1992)
Witches, vampires, demons, spirits and monsters - outcasts for centuries join together in a subterranean world, away from life above ground, away from their persecutors, in a place called Midian. A doctor convinces a young male patient that he is responsible for a number of serial killings. Once incarcerated, the young man hears of Midian from a fellow inmate, who describes it as a sanctuary for the insane outcasts of society. The two escape from prison and set out to find the world that will accept them for what they are. The doctor secretly follows them to Midian as a more apocalyptic agenda emerges.
Based upon his own novel 'Cabal', Clive Barker's Nightbreed is an unconventional and unusual mix of ideas, themes and images. When it failed to ignite the box office, Barker's much-quoted defence of the film - that it contains too many original ideas for the average punter to take in - is possibly justifiable but probably just an excuse. It is however true to say that much of the time Nightbreed resembles your average Hong Kong ghost story more than it does any kind of Hollywood product. The emphasis on the monsters and their plight means that Barker's imagination can run riot, and that is the reason the film ultimately fails. It does have many original features but it also relies upon the tried (should that be 'tired'?) and tested Hollywood conventions to motivate the plot and characters.
Again, like much Hong Kong genre fare, the film jumps abruptly from one mood to another. Powerful images are undercut by daft humour, and the pivotal idea behind the lead character's story is lost amid Indiana Jones-style antics underground and moronic, gung-ho, gun-blazing lynch mobs. Having said all that, in a sense the film's failings are also its saving graces. Because it fails to flesh out the intriguing intellectual themes that are present, Nightbreed falls flat on that score, but because it does have these wonderful (if restricted) ideas which inject new life into the run-of-the-mill monster movie, it is too unconventional to work on a more simplistic level. So what we are left with is an unpredictable but messy patchwork. Yet it is this unpredictability that makes watching Nightbreed fun. By the last few reels, I was howling with laughter at the crazy combination of images assaulting me and for this reason it gets a thumbs up simply because it is so entertaining. It is just a shame that it didn't wind up being a more intellectual follow up to Barker's superior, and yet in many ways similar, Hellraiser.