The 1990 film Nightbreed is one that originally didn’t hold my interest when it came out on VHS. Released right after a great decade of horror films, it was one of many 90s movies that attempted to be anything but a slasher—trying to be smarter, more sophisticated, more complex, more substantial, and less shallow. Not remembering why I couldn’t remember much of anything about it, I just watched it again this weekend…and don’t suggest you ask me what I remember about it a week from now…
Being a Clive Barker creation, Nightbreed has got lots of otherworldly creatures and some sort of deeper meaning that I’ve just never had the patience for when watching a horror movie. It apparently draws from the Biblical story of Moses, but not the part that Charlton Heston taught me about. What the frick? I don’t want to have to take a theology course just to watch a horror movie! If it doesn’t have to do with a virgin swaddling her baby in a Santa suit, a vegetarian and his chocolate bunny friends carrying a cross up a hill on a Friday, a guy opening the first floating zoo, or all the world’s sufferings being the fault of some chick who talks to snakes and eats apples, then it’s too deep for me.
Basically, if you don’t know much about complex religious issues, you could mistake Nightbreed for an episode of Angel, complete with demon-types in those cool high-end, gruesome yet colorful monster masks you see in the Halloween shops in October. It also helps that lead actor Craig Sheffer looks like he could be the older brother of David Boreanaz. But if you grew up in the 80s, you most probably know Craig as that prick from Some Kind of Wonderful.
Despite being a Barker otherworldly monster story, the grisly Hellraiser this isn’t. The early part of the film is promising, with a creepy dude who looks like The Collector committing a brutal slaying—pretty much the best part of the film and most definitely the most suspenseful. Unfortunately, poor Craig, who has been having bad dreams, is believed to be the killer, so his doctor, played by none other than David Cronenberg, gives him some meds to take care of the problem.
So begins Craig’s journey into Where the Wild Things Are. He enters a world of freaky monsters and becomes one of them! Luckily, his girlfriend, who has totally busted late 80s hair, goes after him (she’ll fit right at home in the freak zone with that craptastic bush on her head). This is when the film turns into one long amusement park haunted attraction, with more smoke, fog, bars, and chains than at the Black Party. Hellish monsters wait around the corner…and the next corner…and the one after that…and there’s another one—nothing is scary when everything is scary! This place just doesn’t deliver the chills of, say, Silent Hill’s otherworld. And is it really necessary to deliver freak boobs? Really? Is female nudity THAT crucial to gaining a horror film an extra star?
To add to the confusion, this film even has some random “funny” moments that seem quite out of place in this deep and complex film about an underground world and all its hellish inhabitants. The SyFy Original cheese grating feel comes to a head when a hick cavalry arrives to save the day by infiltrating the otherworld with guns blazing. There’s war, there’s strife, there’s fire and bloodshed and death, there’s a lot of explosions, and there’s promise of a sequel. There’s the fact that no sequel was ever made. That’s gotta count for something.
Only one thing could have elevated this film to the level of masterpiece for me. Apparently Suzi Quatro (better known as Pinky’s younger sister Leather Tuscadaro on Happy Days) had a role in this film that was completely left on the cutting room floor. Was she singing in her role, maybe her big 1979 hit “Stumblin’ In”? I wish I knew…