Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Director Report Card: Clive Barker (1987-1995)

1. Hellraiser
One of the most creative horror movies of the eighties. With the cenobites, Clive Barker created a series of unique villains and the mythology behind them and the puzzle box are even more fascinating. The fact that they aren’t even the main focus of the film shows how strongly they are pulled off on screen. Barker really planted a route for something ingenious here that, sadly, has only been explored on any level by one of this film’s numerous sequels.

The Frank story is creepily executed and escalates quite nicely. The story is just very tightly plotted and I like how it builds to its climax. Sadly, said climax is lacking something. It seems to be going for a “Shining” level freak-out but it feels a bit tacked on. That’s the only main problem with the film. All in all, “Hellraiser” is a great, original horror film.
[Grade: A]

2. Nightbreed
Starts off interesting enough, with a very well directed opening horror sequence that doesn’t really give you a good impression of what’s to come. The great director David Cronenberg acts in this, playing a psychotic psychiatrist determine to cut down on the excess population. He’s actually really good and is easily the best part of the film. A whole movie devoted to his Dr. Decker character would have been great, but he’s really only the villain of the piece.
The majority of the film is a very Clive Barker like horror-fantasy, dealing with a newcomer being initiated into a magical world of monsters. This half of the film is quite good. The build-up to this pay-off is handled nicely and when we actually get there, we are presented with a very interesting fantasy world. However, in the last act the local racist police invade the world and the film takes a very sudden mood shift. Suddenly it seems like they’re going for an action movie route. It doesn’t work and the last half-hour feels rushed and messy. The whole “us against them” angle is also hammered home a bit too much. The ending feels like it’s setting up a franchise, which obviously didn’t happen, which is a shame because I think a sequel could have helped ironed out some of the kinks in the formula. However, as it stands now, “Nightbreed” is a highly interesting fantasy/horror film that isn’t quite as good as it could have been. [Grade: B-]

3. Lord of Illusions
“Lord of Illusions” has a lot of interesting ideas within it. However, the film seems to exist more to showcase these ideas then to tell a story containing them. Weak pacing is definitely the biggest problem here. There is so much build-up to the conclusion. Build-up actually comprises most of the movie. We get neat tidbits of the bigger picture that are rather tantalizing but when said bigger picture is revealed, it’s rather ordinary, normal genre stuff. By the time we get to the finale, we feel a little let-down. There are also too many unanswered questions. Why did Nix attract so many followers in the first place? Why was he brought back when he was and how did his followers know? There’s a lot of discussion about illusion, magic, and what reality really is. However, these themes are left mostly unexplored. The opening sequence is too long and confusing. The conclusion is over too soon and feels rushed.
Scott Bakula is a good actor and does okay in the lead but he never seems to really get a feel for the material. Kevin J. Conner seems half-asleep. The rest of the cast is pretty unnoteworthy.

Stepping away from these problems, there are some positive details. Though Clive Barker does throw in some annoying rock video shots, his direction is still quite good with some interesting camera angles. I usually don’t pay that much attention to it but I thought the set design was really something else. The music is solid too. The CGI hasn’t aged well but the practical effects are above average. The first quarter is a set-up for a good mystery. There are actually a lot of really cool scenes and concepts here, such as the magic trick going wrong or Nix’s containment mask, but the story that holds it together should have been stronger.
[Grade: B-]

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