I saw Nightbreed during its original theatrical release, and in the twenty-two-year interval between then and now, I forgot most of the particulars of the film. I remembered that there were monsters in it, of course. And I remembered that (oddly enough) David Cronenberg starred in it as a masked serial killer. And I remembered that I liked it. But that's really all I had to go on when I decided to pop this one in the DVD player last night. It's at those moments—when we revisit positive experiences from our past—that we end up in a sometimes contentious confrontation with our former selves. Eighteen-year-old David is a stranger to me now. I can't begin to imagine what kinds of things preoccupied him—or what he was looking for in a movie. That David was relatively mentally healthy. (I know! Was I ever that young?) He hadn't had his first panic attack yet; he hadn't taken his first antidepressant; he hadn't yet been disabused of his naive faith in his own abilities and potential. Therefore, I'm gonna speculate that eighteen-year-old David was considerably easier to entertain. Didn't he sit through the 1991 Sylvester Stallone farce Oscar without becoming angry or violent? Wasn't Diff'rent Strokes one of his favorite TV shows—even after they added Dixie Carter and Danny Cooksey? Didn't he almost wear out his compact disc of Enigma's MCMXC a.D. from too many enraptured listenings? (Yes, yes, and resoundingly yes.)
So as I met up with the younger me over a viewing of Nightbreed, I was a little apprehensive. We are told all of our lives that change and growth are good things—and in a purely rationalistic appraisal, they certainly are—but if I watch Nightbreed now and think it's one of the worst, most stupid movies of all time, it's not only a disparagement of my past self; it's a warning to my current self: Any particular opinion or belief that I hold dear today may be vehemently repudiated by some inconstant future version of myself. Of course, we always sense the truth of this—but when it's spelled out this way, it makes life feel so... provisional. Is this only the dry-run for the David of ten years from now? I want to lock in my opinions and attitudes somehow so that jerk can't change them.
As you might have guessed, these preliminary comments are informed by the knowledge that Nightbreed didn't quite hold up for me over the years. Clive Barker is a great idea man, but he is not a great film director. He takes the interesting premise he introduces in the first half of the movie and flushes it down the shitter in the second. Craig Sheffer (remember him?) plays Boone, a dude who looks like he's been raiding Jason Priestley's 90210 wardrobe. Boone has bad dreams about this place called Midian, an isolated underground city populated by monsters and located—where else?—somewhere in rural Canada. He talks to his creepy shrink (who moonlights as a serial killer) about his dreams, and the shrink uses these sessions to frame Boone for his murders. Then Boone 'accidentally' walks in front of a truck when he's tripping from the LSD his crazy shrink gave him, and he's hospitalized with—wouldn't you fucking know it?—another guy who dreams of Midian, but this guy, who later cuts off his face (don't ask), actually knows where Midian is. Of course, Boone flees the hospital and hightails it to Midian where he meets this kind of scary, bad-ass monster Peloquin, who might be a distant cousin of Darth Maul.
Not much of this makes sense, but I won't quibble. Making sense is for losers. My real problem is that the movie becomes so fucking bland in the second half—and ends up with this long monotonous 'war' between the Midians and the humans that wouldn't be out of place in a Michael Bay film. (Of course, Michael Bay would have had better special effects. Nightbreed doesn't even have that going for it.) While the movie remains mysterious, it's creepy and effective—but Barker gives up all of his secrets way too soon. By the midpoint, the monsters and the serial killer are old hat, and we are a little too comfortable with them all. And Craig Sheffer, the protagonist of this convoluted film, doesn't exactly have charisma to burn. Even after Boone becomes a monster himself, he just looks the same as he did but with, like, tattoos or etchings on his face. He still has that ridiculous late-'80s haircut and those belted jeans. Even monsterfied, he wouldn't look out of place at the Peach Pit After Dark.
The net effect of this viewing is that I now have even more evidence that young David was something of an idiot. This doesn't imply that the current David has necessarily surpassed his idiocy, but only that he may have graduated to a new, more evolved level of idiocy. I suppose that counts as progress, right?