Putting the “bat” in “bat shit insane”: A Critical review of “Metamorphosis” (2007)

I imagine we’ve all done this. We see a DVD, and who happens to be the on the cover but Christopher Lambert, star of such classics as “Highlander,” “Mortal Kombat” and that one Tarzan movie that was actually kind of like the books? Obviously Lambert, sporting a wide eyed and wide mouthed vampire scowl, is more than enough reason to watch a movie called “Metamorphosis.” We sense no danger here.

Before you ask, Franz Kafka did not contribute to the screenplay, but I’m sure that even the Prussian master of existentialist horror could not have saved this one from the bargain bin. Basically, “Metamorphosis” can’t decide if it wants to be the next Tony Scott’s “The Hunger” or start a new Underworld-esque franchise. The result is that the film, although not without its charms, is a hodgepodge of “what the hell?”

Why is it that movies that begin with a block of text feel the need to have a narrator as well? It boggles the mind. Look, either tell us or spell it out for us, but not both. Or, better yet, let the movie do the explaining itself. Either way, we are twice informed that back in 17th century Hungary, the Countess Bathory was flaying girls alive, drinking their blood and being an altogether bother to the local peasantry. So said peasants sneak in some mercenaries and slaughter her family. Seems fair.

Meanwhile, in the present, three Americans, a goofy one, a ditsy one and a sensitive one–three guesses as to who survives, and the first two don’t count–are vacationing in Hungary, looking for the old Castle Bathory. They get lost taking a “shortcut” through a graveyard–in which Lambert just dug up the corpse of his brother–and there they encounter Elizabeth (Irena Violette), an ethereal beauty in a corset who can guide them to their destination. Ain’t that convenient? There’s some other stuff–we get a pretty contrived theology lesson about purgatory, the sensitive tourist starts up a romance with Elizabeth, she later shows off her supernatural fighting abilities in a poorly choreographed pub brawl–but the fun doesn’t really start until the second act, when we wind up at Castle Bathory. Why? Because that’s where the whole reason I picked up the DVD reappears, only this time, he’s a vampire.

When it comes to “Metamorphosis,” the one thing that everyone agrees on is that Lambert is the film’s saving grace. He has the closest thing to gravitas out of anyone in the cast, and, whether he’s delivering lines of morbid humor or goofball weirdness, he’s giving it his gravel-voiced all. He delivers his lines of existentialist dialogue like they has something approaching meaning, and while I don’t quite buy it, I do enjoy it.

Which is great, because there’s not a lot else to stick around for. The script is bad on multiple levels. Everyone’s dialogue is awful. If you need a direct example, when one of the tourists encounters Elizabeth for the first time, he calls her “toots.” Because it’s still 1923, presumably. Oddly enough, although the film is Hungarian, it does not appear to be dubbed, so they can’t use that as an excuse.

The film at least looks OK. The photography is clean, and even pretty at certain points, although I still don’t understand the vogue for forgoing tripods. Are they really that expensive? Regardless, the cinematography, costumes and sets are good enough that this could pass for an acceptable TV movie. That script though…

The movie gets a little lazy at certain points. Whenever it needs a handy solution for why something works the way it works, the answer always appears to be “because vampires.” At the same time, the mythology is rather selective. Vampires still don’t appear in mirrors, but they’re unaffected sunlight. Occasionally, the film forgets its own mythology: Initially crosses shudder in the presence of vampires, like supernatural Geiger counters; later, vampires can laugh at them and set them on fire. Also, it is eventually revealed that vampires can time travel. No, I am not making this up. Writer-director Jeno Hodi did, along with screenwriters Tibor Fonyodi and Allan Katz.

That time travel thing plays out in the film’s final, most infuriating act. Once its had its Carpathian Mountain setup and its slasher-esque chase around Bathory Castle in the middle, the movies enters into the metaphysical by way of the bizarre, and it’s really bad at it (although it does finally explain why “Metamorphosis” has such a pretentious title; most vampiric imports are called things like “Blood Lovers II: Extra Blood, Hold the Lovers”). The film suddenly starts toying with lofty concepts like love, destiny and our place in the cosmos in the most confusing way possible…and then, it flashes back to humor with its stinger. Unless it was trying to set up a sequel. Who can say? In the end, you can’t blame “Metamorphosis” for not trying, but you can blame it for not making any sense whatsoever.

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Thanks for the zomb-eries: A critical review “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” (2016)

Horror fans like to mutate the genre into all kinds of subgenres, and I don’t just mean things like “survival horror” or “haunted house movies” or “horror involving people in rabbit suits.” I also mean the quirky hybrid genres, my favorite being “sci fi horror” or “cosmic horror,” as it is occasionally called by those of us who have old books we don’t read on our bookshelves. One hybrid genre that ruled the budgetary roost during the last decade or so has been the action horror film, fearlessly led by two franchises: the Underworld films and the Resident Evil films. Yes, they really have been around that long; “Resident Evil” came out in 2002 and “Underworld” followed the next year. Both franchises released films in 2016, but only one had the decency to make it the last movie…for the moment.

Our old friend Alice (Mila Jovovich, as always) has a knack for surrounding herself with the right kind of people. Biking out of the bombed out remains of Washington D. C., she finds herself in the presence of the Umbrella Corporation AI the Red Queen (Ever Anderson, Jovovich’s daughter) who suggests she sneak into Umbrella HQ under the ruins of Raccoon City, locate an anti-virus that will wipe out all the infected–including Alice herself–and release it, thereby saving the final few thousand uninfected humans left on earth. And she’s gotta do it in 48 hours for…some reason. To heighten suspense, I suppose.

Unfortunately for Alice, she’s also sandwiched between a rock and a hard place, in this case the hard place is our other old friend Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts, also returning), who is sitting in the Hive and sorting paper clips, and our other other old friend Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen, also also returning), who is pursuing Alice in a so-cool-it-must-be-a-toy battle tank, which is itself being pursued by a sea of extra sprinting after the machine while wearing corpse makeup. You can kind of imagine what happens next.

Look, there’s not a lot of point in discussing the plot of a Resident Evil film. I actually have a soft spot for the series because it’s so gleefully about sticking Jovovich in tight outfits and watching her shoot increasingly oversized guns and beat the snot out of mutated Rottweilers. Usually people show up, kick things in slow motion, then scream and bleed and explode for 98 minutes. It’s fun. This film tries to tie everything convoluted that the series has been for the last 15–sorry Alice, not 10–years, and it tries to do it in a clever way. It works, in a practical sense, but it also gives the movie a heaviness that threatens to drags the actors down. The two exceptions are Jovovich, who always looks like she’s having a blast, and Glen, whose Dr. Isaacs probably has the most depth of all the characters, and he manages to jump from stoic to zealot to epicurean with ease. He also pronounces it “ruh-COON city,” so that’s nice.

As far as the feel goes, the film probably has the most distinct look of any of the Resident Evil movies, thanks in part to its lower budget. I have to say this for franchise writer-director-producer Paul W. S. Anderson: no matter how many movies he makes or how big a budget he gets, he never quite loses his guerrilla style (he photographed the majority of this film himself with handheld cameras). If anything, he has become more aggressively stylish with age. When he’s gritty, he’s film school gritty; when he’s slick, he’s splashy slick. The result is that Anderson comes across as a low rent version of George Miller. In fact, the entire first third of the film trims the budget by appearing as a Mad Max style road adventure, and it actually works.

Both Resident Evil and Underworld, as franchises, have long been a bit of a tickler for the sticklier of horror fans: Are these things genuinely horror, or are they merely Ritalin deprived action flicks with bad lighting and Halloween costumes? In a way, “The Final Chapter” tries to tilt things more in the horror direction, which is fine atmospherically, but leaves us a little in the lurch action-wise. There are quite a few jump scares, maybe more than in the average Resident Evil entry, and the film is very dark, but that’s not a plus. I mean it literally; the film is poorly lit, something which gives it atmosphere in the earlier, daytime scenes, but leaves the audience a kind of blind in the later, nighttime scenes. Occasionally it works in the film’s favor–a later scene is punctuated by splintered spikes of light from flashlights that fail to illuminate an overlong corridor in the Hive–but for the most part, it’s just confusing. Which does matter in a Resident Evil film, since they’re all about the fighting. Luckily, a fun scene with Alice defending herself while tied up and upside down happens during the day; later sequences are harder to see, and the choreography is accordingly lazy.

Of course, the film is also dark, and this time I mean metaphorically. We are dealing with extinction in pretty broad strokes, for one thing. None of this “we can rebuild society” crap. Nope. The only reason we’re trying to stop Umbrella is for revenge. Also, the slight chance of rebuilding society. But mostly revenge.

There’s also a traitor in the ranks of Alice’s allies, which could give the proceedings a nihilistic tone, if anyone on screen bothered to stop and think about it; regardless, none of them are safe from the various traps of the Umbrella Corporation or its zombie hordes–survivors are dropped down dark holes, chopped up by propellers and unceremoniously eaten. Not that that matters too much either. The other characters largely serve as meat shields to get Alice to her goal. In fact, if there was any chance for depth in the series, it would be if Alice paused and pondered about survivor’s guilt. But, nope. She’s just as stiff upper lipped as ever.

“Sometimes I feel like this has been my whole life,” Alice says at one point. “Running. Killing.” Well, yes. Technically, it has.

October 2017: An apology

I don’t know if anyone out there in bloggo land ever watched “The Fairly Odd Parents,” a children’s cartoon on Nickelodeon that sat somewhere on the spectrum between “Ren and Stimpy” and…I don’t know, something a lot more wholesome than “Ren and Stimpy.” Well, regardless, there was an episode of “Odd Parents” in which the titular parents–the fairy godmother and father of a boy named Timmy–inform their child charge that evil anti-fairies are loose in the world on Oct. 31, and that “Halloween is their Christmas.”

We here at Idols and Realities feel the same way. Halloween is our Christmas, and we’re red in the face for not posting a post on the first of October, as it was on a weekend, when we traditionally (are supposed) to post. We gotta do something real special for the holiday to make it up, but what should it be? Perhaps spend the month exclusively on a classic studio–Universal, Hammer or RKO–or some horror-twinged auteur–Hitchcock, Lynch or Polanski? Or maybe something more literary, like dissecting the work of a favorite author–a Lovecraft, King or Poe–or a theme–the haunted houses of Jackson, Matheson and James?

Well, um, OK. But how about this: At my local branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, the librarians have set up a table with all kinds of horror movies. Some of them are really crappy. What if every week I reviewed a different really crappy horror movie? I think that’d be a lot better, don’t you? Well, it actually doesn’t matter what you think, cos it’s my blog. Watch this space.

Think of the children!: A critical review of “Sinister” (2012)

Are people going to remember cinematic horror in the early 21st century as the era of black-and-white faced ghouls? The Babadook, the Jigsaw puppet thing, that Darth Maul guy from “Insidious”…well, I guess he was black-and-red, but you get my point. Anyway, “Sinister” is no different. In fact, the rumor is that writer-director Scott Derrickson wanted the creature behind this feature to look like Johnny Depp in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” He changed his mind, of course, and went with the black-and-white option. Was it the right choice? I don’t know. As it stands, Mr. Boogie–as he is called–is rather a timid affair, which is unfortunate because there’s a solid psychological horror film underneath this jump scare nonsense.

For those not yet in the know, “Sinister” is the story of Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime writer who has decided to move his entire family into the house where another entire family was brutally murdered some years ago, presumably because he’s never heard of the Amityville Horror. He intends to research the murder and write a new bestseller about it cos that’s his thing. His first piece of research falls unexpectedly into his lap, or rather, into his new attic; it’s a film projector and a box of super 8 films that appear to depict not only the previous murder in the house, but other murders stretching back about 50 years.

Of course, a box of film mysteriously appearing isn’t the only weird thing happening in the house. Oswalt’s daughter is drawing creepy people on the walls, his sleepwalking son keeps waking up screaming in increasingly inconvenient areas, and snakes and scorpions are dripping from the walls. Oswalt starts watching the snuff films and hitting the booze looking for clues, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife (Juliet Rylance). Oswalt links the murders together and begins to suspect a single serial killer is responsible. A local occult professor (an uncredited, but fun to watch, Vincent D’Onofrio) suggests it’s something a bit older.

Surprisingly, there’s a lot to like about “Sinister,” enough that you can recommend it to your friends. The cast is good, Hawke in particular. I love Hawke because, whether your movie is artsy, weird or kinda crappy, he’ll act in it and he’ll do a bang up job. As a fraying-at-the-edges writer, his only weakness is a script that occasionally leans toward silly clichés.

Also, the film is curiously Lovecraftian, not just because the possible identity of the malevolent entity is an ancient deity, but also because Oswalt is an academic hero. Stitched inside his over-sized sweater and possessing all the physical prowess of a soggy tissue, he both lives in his head and is in over it. I like seeing a sloppy and intellectual hero rather than the smug youths or initially skeptical law enforcement agents who often populate these films. Unless I just like seeing a hero who understands my deepest fear: having to give up a professional writing to teach an English class.

The movie sounds eerie and looks good–at least, it looks like a good horror movie. The lighting is scarce and moody, and it’s usually coming from an outside source, whether it’s the blinding glare coming from an open window or the cool glow of lamplight just off screen, suggesting that there is nothing bright or beautiful inside the house or inside the frame.

But what spoils it for me is the children. As soon as we see the ghosts of the children, also creepily photographed and done up in murder makeup, prancing about onscreen, it kind of kills it for me. For one thing, part of the initial strength of “Sinister” is that it feels like a true story. It’s all about truth: a true crime writer being told not to disturb the pleasant cover up of a small town. And as long as the possibility remains that Oswalt is just a boozed up and stressed out writer over-enthusiastically pursuing a story, the movie is psychological horror. Its shocks are suggestive, uncanny and unexplainable. When the kids show up, it’s a rather familiar ghost story. A well shot ghost story, with good actors, but one that increasingly relies on jump scares over atmosphere.

For another thing, there is something almost goofy about watching Oswalt stalk around his house at night, brandishing a baseball bat and completely failing to see pale children with burn scars, knife wounds and Kubrick stares just kind of hanging out in his living room. If only we could join him.

Too much to see: A critical review of “Witness” (1985)

It’s all about driving those numbers toward the blog, right? And you utilize SEOs and buzzwords and hot and topical topics. So I thought, why not write something about an eclipse? It seems like there have to have been a few eclipses in the history of fiction. Well, it turns out there’s an entire page on Wikipedia devoted to just that topic  (of course). So I ordered a few movies from the library and figured I’d review whatever came first. What came first was “Witness,” Peter Weir’s Amish country flavored thriller. Unless it’s a drama. Unless it’s a…well, we’ll get to that.

Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) has just become an Amish widow. On a trip to Philadelphia, her son, Samuel (Lukas Haas) sees a man being murdered in a train station bathroom. Samuel, the only witness of the crime, is interviewed by John Book (Harrison Ford), the police officer assigned to the case. Based on Samuel’s testimony, Book realizes that the murder was conducted by corrupt cops, and that he becomes their next target. Under attack, Book escorts the Lapps back to their Amish village before collapsing from a bullet wound.

The Lapps offer to house Book, disguised as a member of their community, while he figures out how to deal with the situation. Book, now in Amish garb, must learn to adjust as an outsider. He participates in a barn raising, grows closer emotionally to Rachel and explores his own violent nature.

The best element of “Witness” is, without a doubt, Weir’s delightful eye. There is an abundance of close-up shots: tight shots of faces, tight shots of hands, tight shots of wounds. Even shots that should be medium shots are interrupted by elements in the extreme foreground–a waterwheel, a glass of lemonade–forcing them into becoming tight shots. Accordingly, true wide shots, displaying the placid beauty of Pennsylvania farm country–Ford’s car wreck, the barn raising–feel like breaths of fresh air. This penchant for tight shots, combined with occasional use of low angles, gives the film a child’s-eye perspective in its more tender spots and a sense of urgency in its more tense moments.

So if the direction is the best, the worst thing about “Witness” is the tone, which has all the calm and sense of direction of a drunk jackrabbit. “Witness” is not based on a book, which is too bad, because that would explain why the movie lurches back and forth between so many genres. The film opens almost like an ominous period drama (oddly similar to Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs”) before switching to a white knuckle thriller–we move from Samuel observing a funeral to Samuel observing a train station to Samuel observing a murder. This is the best sequence.

However, as soon as Book is in the Amish village, it turns into a comic fish-out-of-water story, occasionally veering into erotica, and all the while a coming-of-age story for both Sam and Book, before finally crashing back into thriller at the end. Perhaps screenwriters William Kelley and Earl Wallace felt they needed all these genres to explore the film’s dichotomies–violence and pacifism, urban and traditional, romantic and traditional–but they didn’t. The violence is made all the more graphic since it bookends the tender humor and tasteful nudity in the middle and, for me at least, presents what the film could have been had it been a few minutes shorter and a bit tighter in focus. Oh well.

The acting is all fine, although nothing particularly stands out. Ford is fine as Book, but I think he was better playing that guy from “Blade Runner.” Everyone else is fine too, but they’re just fine. The soundtrack stands out, only not in a particularly good way. Maurice Jarre’s score is heavily reliant on synthesizers, which makes sense given it was 1985, but it doesn’t fit the film and probably wouldn’t work with a full orchestra anyway.

Oh, and, the eclipse connection? A solar eclipse prompted Weir to shoot some impromptu footage of folks in Amish costume observing the phenomena. However, something got scrambled in the editing room, and the footage was left out of the film. The only source of this info that I could find was that Wikipedia page. Hmm.

The undead have daddy issues: A critical review of “Maggie” (2015)

So apparently I do not like zombie movies. I was reminded of this the other day when a friend of mine and I were talking about horror films, and he was about to mention something when he hesitated, then told me what I did and didn’t like. This is, of course, a flagrant lie. I don’t not like zombie movies. I just…haven’t liked one very much since 1943’s “I Walked With a Zombie.” All right, so I don’t like zombie movies. But I’m not a hater. I’m just wildly picky.

Case in point, I recently watched “Maggie,” the directorial debut of title designer Henry Hobson. And I didn’t hate it. I didn’t like it much either, but I gave it a shot in spite of my lack of feeling for zombie flicks. In fact, I might have watched it because of my lack of feeling, since “Maggie” was supposed to be quite different from your run of the mill Romero rip off. And it was. “Maggie” was an effort to humanize what is, by its nature, an inhuman genre, an effort at showing us what a zombie apocalypse might look like not in real time but in ordinary people’s time (the script, by John Scott 3, is another freshman effort). “Maggie” is to the zombie genre what John Cassavetes’s “Faces” was to independent cinema. So how does that probably inappropriate comparison work out?

“Maggie” is about Maggie (Abigail Breslin), a typical American teenage girl except that she occasionally feels the need to go into the woods and eat live prey. Actually, in this not too distant future, she’s not that unusual. A virus has spread across the country and people have had to learn to cope with it. While in other films that would mean a lot shotgun blasts to the sternum and skull gnawing, here it means more heavy sighing and inevitability. When Maggie’s father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) snaps a zombie’s neck in the first five minutes of the film, that’s not a vision of things to come. Pay less attention to the sound effects and more to the stern look of disappointment with the way things have turned out on Schwarzenegger’s face.

Still, the film almost works. The cast works. Schwarzenegger is no stranger to thoughtful thriller. Remember “Total Recall”? The original, obviously. His co-stars seem to be pulled from the more interesting side of horror TV–Breslin was on “Scream Queens,” and Joely Richardson (playing Maggie’s icy stepmother) was on “Wayward Pines.”

The film pulls off its goal visually as well, although it does vary a bit between shots (Lukas Ettlin was the cinematographer). Some of the prettiest photography is of the burning fields of farmland, the sky all apocalyptic gold to gray. But a little while later, close ups and blurry slow motion at an over-night teenage get together give us the awkward sensation of home movies. But perhaps that was the point.

There is a curious mixture of hominess and horror in the film. A knife that Richardson is using to chop tomatoes is used a few minutes later to chop off necrotic fingers. The house itself takes on the weird sensation of existing halfway between a home and a mortuary, much like it titular inhabitant. It’s an interesting concept, and one it’s that’s not often mined in zombie cinema.

Some of the best tension in the film doesn’t come from watching a monstrous Maggie vanish suddenly on a backyard swing; instead, it happens while her father is making her laugh at the dinner table. In a family drama, it would be pleasant filler; in “Maggie,” it’s a failed attempt at respite since, despite her giggling, we can see the lines of infection drawn around her face. Like father like daughter, perhaps. Lines of shadow from boarded up windows cross Schwarzenegger as he moves around their house. The visual is repeated later, this time with the shadows cast from drawn blinds on Breslin in a doctor’s office, strengthening the bond between the pair.

The question of the nature of the virus is examined throughout “Maggie,” but not as it normally is in these films. Instead of a scientific approach, the film takes a humanistic one. It’s less interested in how a theoretical zombie virus might work and more interested in the philosophical question of what happens to the infected, as well as how people respond to them. Early in the film, we pass some post-apocalyptic graffiti. “We are human,” reads one piece; right next to it, another asks “Are we human?”

Later, one of the family’s neighbors, who also had an infected child, talks to Schwarzenegger about the fine line between human and monster. “‘Avoid touching subject without gloves,'” she says, cynically repeating instructions given by a doctor about how to care for her child. “Never once said her name. ‘Julia.'”

A less sympathetic approach comes from Richardson. “I’ve loved her like she was my own,” she tells Schwarzenegger, “but she’s not her anymore.” The notion of zombie as illness is hardly new, but it takes on a particularly melancholy air here, recalling Scottish psychiatrist James Brown’s book “Freud and the Post Freudians.” In it, Brown suggested that the difference between psychological and physiological illness is that a psychological illness is one in which the person doesn’t seem like the same person anymore.

OK, we’ve covered a lot of highfalutin’ ground for an Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie flick, but it’s more appropriate than you might think. Because, while “Maggie” is not an entertaining film, it is an interesting film. And sometimes, an interesting film is better than an entertaining one. Certainly within the confines of both the zombie genre and Schwarzenegger’s career, the film is impressive, even if it fails to make an impression.

Of monsters and monasteries: A critical review of “Nightbreed” (1990)

Writer-director Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” (adapted from his own novel “Cabal”) is the kind of movie that could only have come out at the end of the 1980s. A few years earlier, and it would have lacked the kind of overblown pathos it exhibits; a few years later, and it never would have been financed. Indeed, the movie was fraught with creative control issues, particularly commercial ones, and it has gone on to rival “Blade Runner” in terms of different prints available. Still, whichever version you find yourself watching, you will be viewing a flawed, albeit interesting and intelligent, piece of horror cinema.

Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer, who ends up in “Hellraiser: Inferno”) thinks he’s better now. His nightmares of an otherworldly city called Midian are on the back burner thanks to some pills he’s popping that have been prescribed by his psychiatrist, Dr. Philip K. Decker (David Cronenberg, yes, that David Cronenberg, who ends up directing “Naked Lunch,” “eXistenz,” et al). Of course, he’s not better, because what kind of movie would that be? Instead, Boone has become fascinated with bizarre murders that he believes he’s been pulling off. Maybe he has. The cops think so, because they end up gunning him down outside of an abandoned cemetery just outside of town.

After Boone is killed, Lori Winston, his girlfriend (Anne Bonny, who ends up voicing Brigid Tenenbaum in the Bioshock series), steps in to investigate. She discovers that neither Aaron nor the cemetery are entirely what they appear to be; indeed, the cemetery houses a secret city of monsters who, after centuries of pressure from humans, have chosen to separate themselves from the rest of the world to live in strange peace and contemplation. Of course, the presence  of Winston shakes up the city of monsters, attracting unwanted attention and quickening their ultimate purpose.

I want to quickly mention the music, which is by the always solid Danny Elfman and is suitably big, brash, Gothic and fun. I actually didn’t know going into the movie that Elfman–one of my favorite film composers–wrote the score, and I liked it before I realized he was the man behind the baton. I always find it rewarding when something like that happens.

Also, the cast is familiar and oddly brilliant. Cronenberg is a great choice; as a kind of mad scientist, he’s a perfect mix between dispassionate and informative. Doug Bradley—you know him as Pinhead—is buried underneath makeup, but his presence is well felt.

So in case you couldn’t tell, what we have here is classic Barker. The direction is solid, the photography is clean and professional (the cinematography is by Robin Vidgeon, another Hellraiser series alum) and the costumes and creature effects could keep a monster fan happy for days. In fact, you could watch the entire film for that and be satisfied, but you’d be missing out on Barker’s intelligent, if scattered, script.

Barker is commenting on marginalized groups in this film–how society marginalizes people, how they form groups accordingly and react to marginalization–but he’s also creating a mythology. Created mythology courtesy of Barker tends to go one of two ways: it’s either elegant and compelling, as in the novella “The Hellbound Heart,” or it’s messy and confusing, hopefully as much to the author as to the audience, as in some other works I could mention. Although the mythology presented in “Nightbreed” seems like it ought to go south, it never does. Perhaps it helps that Barker seems to be taking cues from 19th century English artist and poet William Blake. Like Blake, Barker’s mythology here is not strictly dualistic but polyistic and cyclic.

Regarding religiosity, the film is not anti-faith or pro-faith per se. Again, like Blake, Barker seems to be suggesting that in order to understand our place in the cosmos, we need to toss off the shackles of organized religion’s more militant and senselessly ritualistic elements to get at the real heart of the matter. The seed of religion is more compelling than any kind of garden we can prune it into. This is relayed through the small but intriguing character of an alcoholic priest (Malcom Smith, who was not in any of the Hellraiser movies) who loses one faith only to pick up another, far older, one in the final act of the film.

Which is perhaps part of the problem with “Nightbreed.” Not its outlook, but its evolution. Barker is toying with these great themes, but he seems hesitant to discuss them; however, once they’re in the open, he shoves them forward in a rush. Coupled with some slightly flat characters, “Nightbreed” suffers from a case of style over substance perhaps…but I’ve always been a style man, and what a style it is.