Picks and Pans Review: Nightbreed

updated 03/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

David Cronenberg

A slash or two above the usual run of garish-ghouly-gory thrillers, this production lacks both substance and style, but it is true to its own freakish vision.

The makeup effects are well done, especially if your tastes run to characters with worms coming out of their necks and heads in their stomachs. The hellish sets are 13 or 14 levels below anything Dante ever imagined. Cronenberg, best known for directing the 1986 remake of The Fly, is wonderfully creepy as a psychopath masquerading as a soft-spoken therapist.

When all is said and disemboweled, though, this remains a flamboyantly gruesome, masochistic movie that depends on shock value more than anything else.

The plot involves a young Canadian couple, adequately acted by Craig Sheffer and Anne Bobby. He's having nightmares of a place called Midian, a refuge for monsters. Then Cronenberg frames him for some murders. The police kill Sheffer, who returns to life and heads into the depths of the real Midian. (Tourists may want to note that it's near Edmonton.)

Director Clive (Hellraiser) Barker, adapting his own novel Cabal, is unrelenting. Shoot-outs and gross-outs alternate until an enigmatic ending paves the way for Nightbreed II, should it come to that. Sheffer seems to represent a monster messiah; Cronenberg becomes a devil symbol. The film's dark, religious overtones recall the 1933 Charles Laughton-Bela Lugosi classic Island of Lost Souls, but suggestion sufficed in that ancient, relatively naive era of entertainment. These days, if a berserk type decides to scalp himself, we get to see it. Lucky us. (R)

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