would finance his next screen sensation. the visionary epic Nightbreed.
Described by effects maestro Bob Keen as ‘the biggest monster movie ever made‘. Nightbreed features a huge and varied cast ofimpressive creatures. part of an ancient and varied race of mythological beings who‘ve remained hidden for centuries from the threat ofdestruction at the hands of uncomprehending man. Their place of refuge is the mysterious city of Midian. tucked away under a delapidated graveyard in the wild wastes of Alberta (!'.’). but the latest arrival seeking solace in this bosom of forgiveness is to plunge the Nightbreed and their home into jeopardy.
He is Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer). a young man with a history of mental problems who‘s
wanted by the authorities for a series of horrifying
murders. Having discovered the whereabouts of Midian. his unhinged pysche leads him to join the Breed. but there are others on his trail. Understanding girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) still has hopes of saving him. but the interest of his psychiatrist Dr Decker (director David Cronenberg in his first disturbing lead) is altogether more sinister. for it‘s the good doctor himselfwho might just be connected with the inhuman slayings of which Boone has been accused. As the parties. aided by the firepower of fanatical local sheriff Eigermann (Charles Haid) converge on Midian the scene is set for an apocalyptic conﬂict.
‘The whole point of the movie.‘ Barker informs us with another thoughtful puff. ‘was to collide
two very different traditions. On one hand there‘s
the mute masked killer like Jason Voorhees from the Friday The l3rh saga. while the other strand. which I find much more interesting. is the fantastical shape-changing. almost fairy tale strain in the horror genre. I wanted to bring them together in the same picture. but have my allegiances very firmly on the side ofthe Nightbreed.‘
So have audiences been rooting for the whole collective of misshapen life-forms?
‘Yes. I think so. actually. Our relentless test screenings in the Sates told us that the punters were on the side ofthe monsters. But when you
think about that it‘s not a particularly fresh vision.
We‘re cheering for King Kong after all. We‘re behind Quasimodo all the way. There‘s even an argument that says we‘re on the side of Dracula. I
mean. I personally wouldn‘t cross the street to see
Van Helsing: The Movie. Your attention‘s on the Count because there‘s a guy who can turn into a bat. who lives forever. and transfixes virgins from the other side ofthe room. . .‘
Qualities I‘m sure we all envy. no?
‘In this movie. Rachel — she‘s the sort ofgypsv type who transforms herself into a pall ofsmoke now and again — has some very important lines. ‘You call us monsters.‘ she says. ‘but when you dream you dream of flying and changing and living forever. You envy us and what you envy you destroy‘. Now I myselfbelieve that. I think our view of monsters is completely shot through with paradoxes. We go to movies to see the horrible creature. not the priest with the crucifix. Yet because our Judaic-Christian structuring requires the destruction of this unholy thing. the narrative is shaped so that we get to see the monster do all its neat stuff before. blam. out it goes?
Barker‘s an arresting and intelligent talker. and although his tendency to appear perhaps too enamoured with his own opinions has lead to him being called ‘bumptious‘ on occasions. there are
more ideas ﬂoating around in Nighthreed than in a good deal of the juvenile mayhem that passes for horror cinema these days. Genre self-reflection aside. the film is imbued with an air of religious significance. one sequence depicting the Nightbreed (‘a lost tribe.‘ says Clive) as the victims of violent Inquisitorial repression. Calling the Sheriff Eigermann. in turn adds a veneer of twentieth century political relevance to the film‘s theme ofpersecuting the ()ther. Cronenberg‘s medic. Haid‘s cop. and a drunken priest (Malcolm Smith). together carry the weight of our rationalist Christian response towards the dark (but not necessarily hostile) unknown that rests outside its philosphic parameters.
However. while it‘s difficult to knock Nightbreed for the scope of its ambitions. in terms ofdramaturgy it all comes a bit of a cropper. The narrative shifts from A to B to C may have worked in Barker‘s source novel Cabal but here they come across as sloppy and contrived. and it‘s hard to believe that even the Canadians couldn‘t manage to stumble across Midian‘s spooky HQ. The casting of David Cronenberg (disturbing though his performance undoubtedly is) also makes a mockery of Barker‘s theories on the Jason-styled ‘mute masked killer‘ aspect of things. for the bespectacled auteur‘s cerebral aloofness as the crazed Dr Decker makes him a very different prospect from the silent slayer in the hockey mask. In short. with his inexperience at staging large-scale action scenes badly shown up by the pitifully dull climactic carnage. Barker has gone for the big one and tripped over himself.
One senses that it has been a gruelling experience for the Englishman. A two-picture deal with Universal (first his version of The Mummy. then a sci-fi movie) indicates that his future lies in Hollywood. but the path to Niglzlbreed‘s long-delayed release has been a catalogue of friction with his American producers. misguided advertising campaigns (‘Fox tried to sell it as a stalk‘n‘slash flick‘). and an agonising battle with the censors at the Motion Picture Association of America to aviod the dreaded X-rating.
In a year when the distributors of Tie Me Up.’ Tie Me Down! have taken their struggle against the X (usually reserved for hardcore porn) to their lawyers‘ offices because it restricts their movie from most cinemas and their ads from most newspapers. Barker too throws his hands up in dismay at his tussle to cut .N'iglitbreed down to the more acceptable mainstream R certificate. ‘There were seventeen separate scenes they wanted softening.‘ he sighs. 'We had to go back four times before we got our R. Some of the stuff they wanted changed was just completely irrational. It‘s ok for [)1'ellurr12 to kill three hundred people in a jumbo jet at one fell swoop. but they wouldn‘t allow me to show the snakes emerging from the stomach ofone of the Breed. That was monstrous. apparently.‘
‘You‘re just not dealing with any kind ofsane exchange here.‘ he hisses. getting ever more irascible. ‘Do you know that when they saw the sex scene in the first Hellraiser the MPAA told me that I was permitted two consecutive buttock thrusts but not a third. A third. they said. would just be obscene. I mean. what is going on here‘.’ There are guys out there counting buttock thrusts
Nig/ztbreed (15) goes (m wide release through the ()deon and U ( .'I ehainsacross eenrra/ Seal/mid from F ri 28 Sept. See film listingsforfirrrher details.
The List 28 September— ll ()ctober 19905