See It/Flee It: Monsters and Monstrosities

See It: Nightbreed

Some of the most effective fantasy/horror films involve a reshuffling of the heroes and villains deck – an awkward way of saying that the monsters become the good guys. And lately, a prevalent source for stories like these has been Guillermo del Toro, the visionary director of The Devil’s Backbone, in which the ghost of a murdered boy is a misunderstood hero, and Hellboy, where a top-secret government bureau of monsters and freakazoids protects an unassuming public from paranormal danger. Del Toro’s affinity for stories like these, and obsession with elegantly freaky creatures, means he must have watched Nightbreed on a loop back in the day. Clive Barker wrote and directed this 1990 adaptation of his novel Cabal, and the resulting tale of a forgotten society of shapeshifters, undead sages and imaginatively deformed beings – and the police witch hunt bent on destroying it – is an inspired allegory for any kind of uprising of the downtrodden. That might be high-falootin’ talk about a movie that depicts an obese housewife getting murdered in her kitchen, or a guy in makeup that’s a cross between Jar-Jar Binks and Darth Maul hissing “Y’all come back now, y’hear?” But Nightbreed is well made – Barker isn’t a master storyteller like Del Toro, but his creatures are beautifully bizarre, with the exception of the one I just referenced and another that looks like Jay Leno with a condom hat and douche bag goatee. And it’s decently acted – Craig Sheffer’s turn as main character Aaron Boone is strong, effectively toeing the line between humanity and monstrosity, and David Cronenberg is unforgettable as the mad psychologist/serial killer Philip K. Decker. Regardless, Barker must have been doing something right, because by the explosion-heavy climax, when the residents of Midian decide to fight back against their oppressors, the desire to see them triumph comes from a real place.

Flee It: The Bride

The characters of Count Dracula, The Wolfman, Mummy, and the Drs. Frankenstein and Jekyll have been the subjects of so many bad movies. And 1985’s The Bride has gotta rank as one of the lamest. A reimagining of James Whale’s iconic The Bride of Frankenstein, the film stars Sting as the tortured outcast Baron Charles Frankenstein, and Jennifer Beals as Eva, the creation he cobbled together from various corpses to be a mate for his original monster (tenderly portrayed by Clancy Brown). But for a reanimated, coat-of-many-colors abomination, Eva has no visible scars or abnormalities. She just looks like that girl from Flashdance in period garb, with pouffy ’80s hair intact. And this is the least of The Bride’s problems. The Frankenstein character is vicious and tormented; in his perverse love for his creation lie the seeds of his own destruction. But Sting’s attempts at brooding are so wooden, he comes off better suited to a Twilight installment. More importantly, director Franc Roddam’s movie doesn’t add anything to the legend of either monster, save a subplot of monster #1 befriending a circus performer and Eva growling at a house cat because Frankenstein hadn’t taught her they exist – “I thought it was a little lion,” she explains afterwards. (Sting’s lesson plans must be comprehensive, because we’re supposed to believe his pupil had learned about everything on earth, except for cats.) Of course, the twisted Count gets his, the two monsters reunite and run off together. But we’ve already learned these lessons before – you can’t live healthily without accepting death as a reality, don’t judge a book by its cover or it’ll kill you with its superstrength, etc. Beyond establishing the facts that Sting has great bone structure and Beals is awful, all The Bride teaches us is that lovers of classic horror stories will sit through some horrible stuff, just to get the faintest taste of the original.

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