Reviews - Nightbreed

Review #1 by the Groovy Yak

To sum up the score to Nightbreed is easy. It's just two words: "stereotypical Elfman." I can't think of another composer that can write a score like this. It's so very Elfmanish. Written in 1990, during Elfman's second period (or his Batman period as us Elfman historians like to call it), I classify Nightbreed as the little sister of Batman and Darkman. Much of the score is a re-tread of his full-blown Wagnerian style. The term "retread" is a little harsh, though. The score rarely reaches a point where it is too boring or re-used. It simply has a sound that is like Batman, a score that he has received an unbelievable amount of acclaim for. What's wrong with using the same formula?
Oh, but Nightbreed does have some of its own personality. Sure, there's the uninhibited brass and percussion- some Elfman's most manic and atonal to date, there's the choral effects of Batman (soon to get the spotlight in Edward Scissorhands released later that year.), and the woodwind and string textures. However, what keeps Nightbreed apart from the other scores is the enormity of ethnic percussion and pipes in the score. From the very start, you can hear a pipe-instrument (I'd love to know its name.) that is used continually throughout. There's also some marimba-like instruments (african xylophone?) and other percussion sounds. Combined with massive amounts of timpani, Elfman gives Clive Barker the necessary tribal soundscape for his mutants to run around on.
But there is a humanistic side to the score and movie. (The movie itself deals with the theme of monsters only occurring from within and not because of your physical appearance.) Nightbreed contains some of Elfman's tender sensibilities. Much of the score has a theme that sounds very much like his love theme from Darkman - another score released that year. All it is really is the resolving of an augmented triad. (A tense chord moving to a chord that sounds more comfortable in comparison.) There's also the addition of children's choir that makes much of the score a treat. Tracks like "Carnival Underground" make the score worthwhile with the children's choir and bubbly "Nightmare Before Christmas" woodwind lines. There's also a 6-note string (also heard in gamelan instruments) motif that adds beauty to the score. (Check out "Resurrection Suite")
By the end, Nightbreed reaches all of the extremes in Elfman's emotional palette. There's carnage, beauty, mystery, and triumph. However, there's mostly carnage! This is indeed a wild and loud score. The score is a nice ride. It may drive the non-appreciative nuts on some of the louder tracks, ("Party in the Past," "Mayhem in Midian") but who cares? This score sums up much of what people enjoy about Elfman's sound and that's enough to give it a decent rating, even though much of the Elfmanish characteristics were displayed better in Batman and Darkman.
Rating: * * *

Review #2 by SFT

As a whole Clive Barker's film Nightbreed is a failure from start to finish, mostly due to the irritatingly uneven storyline and an abundance of characters; but there are many great elements in it: the spectacular make-up effects, Robin Vidgeon's beautifully ominous cinematography, a genuinely creepy performance by David Cronenberg, and the terrific score by Danny Elfman all serve to ensure an interesting cinematic experience. The music for Nightbreed is perhaps the film's most impressive feature - and one of the finest scores of Elfman's career.
The most striking thing about the Nightbreed score is how the viewer/listener is immediately transported into an entirely different world - in this respect Elfman certainly equals even his score for Edward Scissorhands (Nightbreed's closest relative). With the opening of the Main Titles and the following dream sequence the viewer is mercilessly thrust into Clive Barkerīs surreal landscape of monsters and madmen. To depict this strange world Elfman employs many of his trademarks: the choir (here both male, female and children), the heavy brass and percussion and the usual string writing; much of which is in the same style of Batman, Darkman, and Edward Scissorhands . The interesting thing is, though, that Nightbreed was the first Elfman score wherein the choir played a central role, preceding both Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns. It was used sparingly in both Batman and Beetlejuice - but in Nightbreed it dominates the score throughout, with wondrous results. Elfman wrote some of his most beautiful choral effects for the film, even compared with Edward Scissorhands (check out Into Midian and The Initiation) and some of his most manic, as heard in the extremely bombastic, almost hellish Dream and Party in the Past (two of the most brutally intense cues Elfman has ever composed).
Another key element of the score is the enormous amount of ethnic percussion, supplemented with use of woodwinds in all shapes and sizes . This is probably what Elfman had the most fun writing, seeing as he is a big percussion freak; and it really shows. The use of percussion is very imaginative and is what gives Nightbreed the distinctive tone Elfman was striving for, and which sets it apart from anything he has written before or since, even now, over 10 years and many choral-based scores after. Giving Nightbreed a score so heavy on percussion was not an obvious choice for a monster film of this kind, but Elfman made a perfect match. His music fits the monsters frighteningly well, and it is especially in the action cues that his genius shows. Nightbreed is unforgettable for its pure sense of brutality and ferocity (just listen to Meat for the Beast) and is undoubtedly one of Elfmanīs most bombastic scores. No less ingenious is his more subtle use of percussion in the scoring of Cronenberg's killings - the scene in which he "does off" a family of three is brilliantly scored by Elfman with an ostinato slowly clicking away as the demented psychiatrist (dressed in a very creepy mask reminiscent of Jason Voorhies and Michael Meyers) slashes his way through the innocent victims. The scene absolutely terrified me when I first saw the film as a kid, and gives us a hint towards what Elfman might do with a more stereotypical teen-slasher flick. The cue is however, sadly, not on the soundtrack release, but instead we have Uh-Oh Decker which has some great string writing, reminding me somewhat of the Scherzo movement of Bernard Herrmannīs Sinfonietta for strings (1936), much of which reappeared in Psycho.
While Nightbreed is mostly very hard on the ears it also, as I mentioned with regard to the choral writing, contains some very beautiful music - some of it even comparable to Edward Scissorhands, I think. A major theme in the film is the juxtaposition of humans and monsters, or rather lack thereof: in Clive Barker's world of the Nightbreed monsters are more human than people, and the humans more monstrous than the citizens of Midian could ever be. Thus, the line between monsters and humans becomes blurred, and what might seem gross is where the real beauty lies (the various overtones here are obvious, even for the dim-witted). This is probably the most successful element of Barkerīs rather muffled plot, and certainly made clear by Elfman in his scoring for the inhabitants of the underworld. In the Main Titles a small motif, rather than a theme, is presented which lends a sense of serenity to the film and is used throughout the score in several variations to depict the true nature of the monsters (and thus ourselves) and their hopes and dreams. In some weird way this is one of Elfman's most beautiful themes, and is at its best in cues such as Rachel's Oratory, Farewell and the End Credits. There's also some tender music written for Boone and Lori, the two main characters, although a specific "love theme" is not given. In general, Nightbreed is not as obviously thematic as, say, Edward Scissorhands or Batman, but there are motifs used to tie the score together, although I would be lying if I said I knew exactly which.
To sum up, Nightbreed represents what we've all come to know and love Danny Elfman for: it's dark, beautiful, surreal, action packed and with a touch of the horrific. That alone should be enough for the average listener. Although many probably think of it as a lesser effort from Elfman, there's something about it which, at least for me, puts it above many of his other scores. It's not just the choir or the wild use of percussion - there's something else about the music which appeals to me. Maybe it's just that Elfman managed to perfectly capture the essence of fantasy with his score for Nightbreed: Just put it in your CD-player - and dream...
Score Rating: * * * *
CD Rating: * * * 1/2

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