Inside the Underground World of Nightbreed 25 Years Later

The fantastical world of Midian was brought to the big screen back on February 16, 1990 with Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. From Barker’s novella Cabal, directed by Barker (Hellraiser 1987, Lord of Illusions 1995), produced by Gabriella Martinelli (Naked Lunch 1991, Romeo + Juliet 1996), Jon Turtle (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors 1987, Wild at Heart 1990), and Joe Roth (Tunnel Vision 1976, Our Winning Season 1978), this often forgotten by the mainstream gem now celebrated its 25th anniversary with much mounted fanfare over time.

Still from Nightbreed

In life, Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer: Voyage of the Rock Aliens 1984, Bad Ass 2012) has a life with girlfriend, Lori Winston (Anne Bobby: Born on the Fourth of July 1989, The Hanover House 2013).  In death, he is a member of the Nightbreed and has a vendetta against his framer and killer. He returns to Lori, who in turn, is on a mission to find him.  Will Aaron get his revenge?  What does the Nightbreed want with Aaron?   Will Aaron and Lori find each other? David Cronenberg (Videodrome 1983, Jason X 2002) and Doug Bradley (The Hellraiser franchise 1987-2005) co-star as Dr. Philip K. Decker and Dirk Lylesberg.

From conception, Clive Barker envisioned a livable world that would lend itself to sequels, specifically a trilogy; however, since the film would be translated from his novella Cabal, visualizing the story’s creatures was daunting.  Furthermore, Barker was going to be using state of the art effects along with hiring Star Wars’ concept artist Ralph McQuarrie for matte paintings for the Necropolis sequences as well as backdrops for the opening credits, which pushed the 1989 release to 1990.

Although the creatures done by Chris Fitzgerald (The Flintstones 1994, Clash of the Titans 2010) and crew are interesting, today’s viewer might see them as B-movie level with creatures like a human female porcupine.  Even then, the kills are inventive to coincide with their personalities.  The other characters; although seemingly well-meaning, might come off more tongue-in-cheek to today’s viewer.  Also, Barker used three soundstages of the Pinewood Studios for a majority of the shoot with a few shots filmed at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, Berkshire UK.  Unfortunately, most of the set pieces look like dressed soundstages without much depth as evidenced by Aaron’s and Lori’s apartment to Midian.  There are a few mid-range shots of car exteriors as they are driving outside, but those are far and few.  Given the characterization and set pieces, the film; although, billed as a Slasher/Fantasy, which Barker has claimed was due to marketing not understanding the product, ultimately hurt the film since it was supposed to be billed as Horror/Fantasy.  Yes, the film  has visual horror and is based in a fantasy world, but it is no slasher. Danny Elman’s (Batman 1989, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 2005) score is identifiable and fun.  When it was all said and done, critics were not nice to Nightbreed, which was subsequently a loss at the box office, earning $8.9 mil on an $11 mil budget.

Still from Nightbreed
Still from Nightbreed

With that said, Nightbreed garnered a few awards in film festivals like the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival and the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival as well as nominations for Saturn Awards and Fantasporto.  Upon Nightbreed’s release, there were several marketing tie-ins such as a four-issue comic that eventually got expanded to twenty-five, which had differences from the released film.  There was even a two part Hellraiser/Nightbreed mash-up comic.  The Nightbreed had a resurgence in 1992 with a four-issue standalone comic to further the mythology.  Then, BOOM! Studios ran a twelve-issue series for the 2014-2015 season to coincide with the Director’s Cut storyline.  Nightbreed: The Action Game and Nightbreed: The Interactive Movie video games were released for the consoles of the day, but a proposed third was scrapped after poor sales.

For years, there had been rumors of a Director’s Cut of sorts, and in 2009, Barker confirmed there was a version called The Cabal Cut, which restored what was left on the editing floor, adding another hour to the film.  In the fall of 2014, Shout! Factory released The Director’s Cut instead of the anticipated Cabal Cut.  This cut only adds twenty minutes to the theatrical cut; however, Shout! did Nightbreed with much fanfare, giving it a Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack 3-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray, containing a booklet and the theatrical cut, which almost sold out of its initial 5,000 units when pre-orders began rolling in for it. Shout! ordered another 5,000 units to satisfy popular demand.  UK Symphonic Black Metal leaders Cradle of Filth were even inspired by Nightbreed for their 2000 album Midian. Also in 2014, Morgan Creek was throwing ideas around for a Nightbreed series, but it has not come to pass.  However, Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut is currently on Netflix Streaming.

Still from Nightbreed
Still from Nightbreed

Despite less than stellar box office returns and thrashing from critics, Nightbreed has attained a cult following to hang out with in the twenty-five years since its release joining such esteemed underrated classics as Vertigo (1958) and Day of the Dead (1985), ensuring that the city of Midian and its creatures will not soon be forgotten.

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

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1 Comment

  • “For years, there had been rumors of a Director’s Cut of sorts, and in 2009, Barker confirmed there was a version called The Cabal Cut”

    In 2009 Mark Miler found the PAL VHS workprint footage at Seraphim Studio and sent it to England to get it transferred to DVD. Then he screened the DVD at Horror Hound convention in Indiana that same year.

    The Cabal Cut was put together by Russell Cherrington and Jimmie Johnson years later, just before its first screening at Mad Monster Party in Charlotte, NC March 2012.

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