All of the recent rape accusations against Bill Cosby have been reminding me of a maxim: “you shouldn’t write a man’s obituary till he’s dead.” Cosby’s legacy seemed all but secure: he had managed to be respected, popular and successful for longer than just about anyone in show business. But regardless of whether or not these accusations end up being proven in court they have permanently changed how we see him. They attack the cornerstone of his image in a very powerful way, and now that we’ve heard them we can’t un-hear them. This scandal may not appear in the first paragraph of his obituary, but it will definitely be in the second.
If even Bill Cosby is vulnerable to that maxim, then Boone, the hero of Night Breed, is definitely vulnerable to it, too. You see, Boone is a normal guy who was suffering from nightmares so he goes to a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, his psychiatrist is an evil mass murderer who frames Boone for some grisly homicides. (I guess he should have spent an extra thirty seconds thumbing through the yellow pages before he set up his appointment.) Eventually, Boone is shot by the police near a graveyard, which would seems like it would be a total bummer for him. Fortunately, he’s brought back to life by the monsters that live under the graveyard. (It's surprising how often these movies turn into a 2 hour long version of the improv game fortunately / unfortunately.)
Now, before Boone died he had a girlfriend named Lori. When Lori hears that her boyfriend murdered an entire family in their own home she’s shocked. She tells the police that she knew Boone very well, and he wasn't capable of such violent crimes. After she hears that Boone has died she decides to make a pilgrimage to where he was killed to see if that will give her any closure on the whole topsy turvy affair. While she’s wandering around the graveyard she hears some squealing, and she discovers a baby monster who has gotten trapped in the daylight. At first she's repulsed, but she takes pity on the beast and she helps it back into the comfort of darkness. There she meets the baby's mother, who explains that Boone is now a part of an undead Baphomet cult that lives underground.
The rest of the movie’s plot is driven by her ongoing love for Boone, the guy who seemed fine until a few days ago, when he turned into a mass murderer who lives with actual monsters under an abandoned graveyard. Which means that the rest of the movie is completely absurd; she would logically have to accept that he is no longer the man she thought he was once he tells her that he is now physically incapable of living in the light above ground. (Unless she always thought he was a smoke belching murder-monster and she was just lying to the police.) Girl, once a guy has actually died it’s safe to write his obituary, and the top sentence of Boone’s obituary should read “Well, thank God this guy kicked the bucket. Maybe he should do that again, for reals this time.”
(By the way newspapers – if you need some help in your obituary department I’m available. Just sayin’.)
It’s a shame that the Lori character is written so poorly, and with such bland goals. She has the most generic motivations – I must be with the male I love at all costs, regardless of how shitty he is! – and when she becomes a major character she throws the entire movie off. I could have gone either way on Midian, the idea of an underground city of monsters, because it has potential but it isn’t as badass as writer / director Clive Barker seems to think it is. (Basically, all he’s done is to take Where The Wild Things Are and add some S&M touches.) What redeemed Midian, however, was that it was full of so many little imaginative touches; there were so many cool little creatures hiding in all the crevices, and they all seemed to have personality. But when your movie is being driven in large part by character as bland as Lori I can’t really give you that much credit for having a great imagination. Her motivation never makes sense, and the film's dunderheaded attempts at romance between her and Boone were annoying enough that they tipped the scales against the movie as a whole.
If I written my review of Nightbreed after only watching the opening credits – which are basically a music video where we get tantalizing glimpses of cool looking monsters – I would have written a glowing review; that part was cool. At the film’s halfway point I thought the film was going to be about Boone’s exploration of Midian, and I was cautiously optimistic. A movie where Boone was just a bland vessel who was providing us a path into this potentially cool society would have worked. But no; the movie doubled down on Boone, and he never got less boring.
Unfortunately, I'm actually writing my review after having seen the whole thing. The film's climax is a half hour long fight scene between the Midian monsters and some redneck cops, including three straight minutes of explosions, and by the time all the repetitive fighting was over I was done with the movie in general and explosions in particular. So, say goodnight, Nightbreed. You started out with potential, but unfortunately you didn't do much with it, and that's the part that's going to define your obituary.