The Deepest Cuts is a weekly invitation into some of the sleaziest, goriest, most under-explored corners of horror and cult film online. Every title will be streamable and totally NSFW. Whether it’s a 1960s grindhouse masterpiece, something schlocky from the 90s, or hardcore horror from around the world, these films are guaranteed to shock, disturb, tickle, or generally blow your mind.
Though vampire and zombie movies have seen a major revival in popularity in recent years, “monster movies” of the sort exemplified in early genre titles like The Blob or The Creature of the Black Lagoon are a much rarer find. Nightbreed, writer/director Clive Barker’s second feature film, is like a monster movie on steroids. And where recent films like Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods treat horror-movie monsters with humor and irony, the creatures of Nightbreed are not fucking around. This combination of unrestrained imagination and genuine horror make Nightbreed a completely unique and compulsively watchable film.
Nightbreed opens in the midst of a nightmare: Aaron Boone dreams he is following a group of demonic-looking humanoids into a place he calls “Midian,” an overgrown cemetery these creatures call home. When he awakens, his girlfriend Lori encourages him to meet with his shrink, Dr. Decker, played by none other than David Cronenberg himself, serving some Vincent Price-realness (along with hallucinogens and photographs of gruesome murder scenes).
Convinced that he is the killer, Boone runs away to find Midian and take his place among the guilty; after being bitten by one of the demons from his dreams, Boone becomes a shapeshifter or “Nightbreed.” Dr. Decker leads the police to Boone, who is shot, seemingly to death – only to escape from the morgue and return to Midian. Pursued separately by Decker and Lori, Boone seeks understanding of and acceptance by the misshapen and violent worshippers of Baphomet; his presence eventually draws an angry mob, led the by the local Sheriff, who wages a violent and explosion-filled war against Midian.
Is it a parable about the struggles of fringe communities to accept outsiders and gain mainstream acceptance of their own, or our secret desire to experience the powers and freedoms of monsters? Barker’s directorial debut, Hellraiser, suggests that the latter interpretation might be more accurate to his intent. The author/visual artist/filmmaker’s interest in “abnormal desires” and the extremes of human or human-like behavior are apparent, and for Nightbreed, the payoff is in the detail, variety, and sheer righteousness of the monsters themselves.
With extremely little reliance on computer graphics, the film features a woman who throws poisoned porcupine quills from the back of her head; a man who has removed the majority of the skin covering his skull with his bare hands and just walks around with exposed muscle and tissue surrounding his face; a globulous, headless body whose grinning visage stares out from the center of its bulging gut; and more – according to the effects team, the film features 300 unique such creatures. In an era of increasingly CGI-ed-to-hell blockbusters, the love and creativity on display are like a refreshing dip in a dead-cold blood bath.
The battle between the citizens of Midian and the sheriff’s white-bread cronies contains enough explosions to tickle the Michael Bay fan’s fancy – though the low-fi attitude of the film lends such scenes a sense of location and reality often missing from contemporary action films. Onscreen violence as one evil attacks another is shocking and unflinchingly detailed; it seems that Barker was able to avoid the MPAA’s X rating (as visited upon the original cuts of Hellraiser) by avoiding explicit sex scenes.
The gruesomeness reaches one peak early on, as a masked, machete-wielding murderer takes out a Canadian family in their suburban home; the killer’s appearance is strikingly similar to that of “Smiley Face” and other recent masked villains, an instance of nightmare-prescience that could only come from Barker. And the film begs to be seen in line with Barker’s vision – the director’s cut includes 20 minutes of footage excised from the theatrical release, which was a box office flop. Barker blames this on the mis-marketing of the film as a traditional slasher and the studio’s inability to understand what Nightbreed was truly about: revelling in a phantasmagoria of demonic forces, limitless practical effects, and violence without redemption.
You can find Nightbreed streaming free on Netflix.
For more insight into the best (and worst) of cult horror classics, check past editions of The Deepest Cuts here.