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31 Days of Horror: A Tribute to Dr. Philip K. Decker in ‘Nightbreed’

To celebrate the spookiest month of the year, we’re exploring the cinematic macabre. Today, we look at David Cronenberg’s unforgettable performance as Dr. Philip K. Decker in Clive Barker’s ‘Nightbreed.’

Quite a dance huh? Death everywhere and you and me in the middle! 

Forget the supernatural. Forget man-made disasters. The scariest thing a villain can be in a horror movie is a serial killer. Michael Myers, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and Norman Bates remain terrifying and fascinating despite the passage of time. One such character that is often overlooked is Dr. Philip K. Decker, played by filmmaker David Cronenberg, in Nightbreed.

Written and directed by the legendary Clive Barker, the fantastical Nightbreed gives us a troubled young man named Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) who dreams about Midian, a land where monsters run free. He seeks the help of psychotherapist Dr. Phillip K. Decker, who convinces Boone that he’s a killer who simply can’t remember his actions.

Twist? Decker is the serial killer trying to get Boone to take the blame for his grisly mayhem (no spoilers since this is revealed right at the beginning of the movie). The opening sequence of Nightbreed could lay claim to providing one of the most unsettling moments in cinema (and yes, we know we’re making quite a statement).

As the film begins, Decker is shown murdering an innocent family in cold blood while wearing a terrifying burlap mask with button eyes and a zipper for the mouth. The Director uses POV shots from his victims to show the audience Decker’s menacing gait, so the horrified viewers identify closely with the family members as Decker coldly and systematically kills them.

What makes Decker so scary is his intelligence. He maliciously misleads and manipulates Boone and continues to kill for the fun of it.  Finally, Boone eludes death (sort of) by becoming one of Midian’s monster residents and the audience can relax. However, Decker's pursuit of Boone turns out to only have only just begun. David Cronenberg has not explained why he doesn’t act anymore. Sure, he’s busy with the whole writer/director gig, but his performance as Dr. Philip K. Decker, one of horror’s most mesmerizing and haunting killers tells us that he can move in front of the camera any time he feels like it.

If you haven’t even seen Nightbreed, you can take in the ultra-rare Cabal Cut at Film Society’s upcoming Scary Movies series. If you are an NYC horror buff and haven’t seen the film yet, run, don’t walk, to the showing.


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