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Nightbreed: The Director's Cut
Clive Barker's vision is finally realized
Loves: Visually-inventive films, Cabal
Likes: Clive Barker's writing, creepy films
Dislikes: Exclusive extras
Hates: Business intruding on art
For some reason, one clear memory from my childhood is going with my father when he had to help a friend move. I remember going, but not helping (as I was much smaller than him and his friends.) So, instead, I sat against the wall in the kitchen reading my copy of Clive Barker's Cabal, which I had recently received from the Science-Fiction Book Club. I was entranced by the story of Boone, a troubled man who finds himself living in a hidden society of monsters, and the results of his intrusion. To this day, it remains a favorite, though at the time, being a wee lad recently kicked out of a screening of Robocop 2 for being too young, I didn't have ready access to Barker's own adaptation of the book, which became known as Nightbreed.
Well, I wasn't missing much. I probably would have been very confused at that age as to why this book I loved became a very different film, one nearly unrecognizable outside of the basics. After shooting the story he wrote, Barker essentially lost the reins of his creation to the beancounters, who hacked and mangled it into a somewhat basic horror slasher that passed without much notice outside of diehard Barker fans who could fill in the gaps fro their knowledge of the book, wondering where the story they enjoyed so much had disappeared to.
Well, eventually, fans were given "The Cabal Cut", a bootleg version of the film that restored much of what was lost, but which looked like hell, a mongrel blend of sources, usually delivered on VHS that had plenty of charm as a lost curiosity, but which fell short of satisfying as a film experience. However, Mark Alan Miller, VP at Barker's Seraphim Films, took on the task, alongside Barker, to find the original materials and build a legitimate director's cut of Nightbreed, adding in 20 minutes of footage, while including almost 45 minutes of footage in all, thanks to alterations throughout that correct the results of studio meddling. The film is immeasurably improved because of it, finally wholly earning the cult popularity it had engendered.
The true Nightbreed is the story of Boone (Craig Sheffer) and Lori (Anne Bobby) a couple torn apart by Boone's mental issues. He's seeing visions and despite seeing Decker (David Cronenberg), a doctor trying to help him, the problems are getting worse. Decker has convinced Boone that he's responsible for a spate of murders that Boone doesn't remember committing. That's mainly because he didn't. It was Decker, wearing a terrifying mask. However, as Boone tries to run away, seeking salvation in Midian, a place he sees in his dream, Decker manipulates him, leading him to be shot dead by police.
Thing is, Boone had been bitten by one of the residents of Midian, and was reborn as one of them, a monster looking for a place in the world. Unfortunately, Lori comes following, which leads Decker to Midian, along with an all-out war the likes of which the plains of Alberta, Canada have never seen in a final act that's bombastic to no end, as the Nightbreed defend their home. Midian is the key to this cut of the film, as the monsters and their turf are far more of a focal point, with good reason, as they are the heroes. Though the package maintains the tagline "A New Reason to Fear the Night" it's the ‘Breed who are the one who need to be concerned, with a redneck Canadian onslaught coming their way. We get to meet far more of the exquisitely unique members of the tribe and see far more of Midian, which makes them a far more sympathetic part of the movie and humanizes them.
Though this version takes some of the emphasis off his character, Cronenberg remains a tremendously disturbing presence, and it's not just because of the horrifying mask he sports. Even without it, you know this is a man to be feared. It's kind of a shame that his counterpart, Boone, doesn't inspire the same level of emotion, as Sheffer is more of the cool guy entry point into the world of the monsters (as evidenced by his Rob Lowe-esque presence on the original poster) though the added material early on fleshes him out a bit more. Hugh Ross' performance as Narcisse, a member of the Nightbreed who cuts off all of the skin from his head expect his face, in one of the film's most iconic moments, is far more memorable, and not just for his physical appearance (though that is unforgettable.) His impish presence on the fringes of the action make him a frequent scene stealer, much like some of the other Nightbreed, including the threatening Peloquin or the seductive, quill-covered Shuna Sassi.
Following his terrific Hellraiser, Barker really went for it in telling the tale of the ‘Breed, creating an organically epic stage for his creatures. It's the kind of film that just isn't made anymore, a blending of genres that's beautifully hand-crafted, relying on practical effects rather than CGI. There's something about the look of the film that feels so ‘80s, but not in a bad way, rather that it slots in well alongside the great adventure films, like Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films and Big Trouble in Little China. It makes a fantastical world feel very real. That this version also returns Bobby's era-perfect performance of "Johnny Get Angry" is the cherry on top.
This new cut greatly expands the climactic battle of Midian and also comes with a new ending, and...it's definitely different. It's hard to say if it's a better ending, though it's definitely no worse than the original. If anything, this new ending fits more in-line with Barker's vision as seen in this cut, which makes it worthy of inclusion. After all, if we're finishing a ride that's taken almost 25 years, we may as well arrive where we meant to be when we set out.
The Director's Cut of Nightbreed arrives in a two-disc set (one Blu-ray, one DVD) packed into a standard, dual-hubbed Blu-ray keepcase that's wrapped in a slipcover that repeats the cover art. However, if you open it up, the cover is two sided, and you can choose to have the original poster art. (You can. I won't.) The disc's animated menu offers a choice to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the special features. Audio options include English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, while subtitles are available in English.
What could you honestly expect from a film cobbled together from bits and pieces shot almost 25 years earlier, given the studio treatment that Nightbreed received and then lost in storage units, only found through some hard detective work? Well, whatever your expectations, they will be met by this gorgeous restoration, which comes a long way from the awful VHS origins of "The Cabal Cut." The image features appropriate, well-saturated, but not vivid color (this world, outside of Decker's cold environs, is an earthy one); a high level of fine detail (check out Lori' s sweater, the makeup on the ‘Breed or the cabin outside of Midian) and extensively deep black levels, which really helps with the feel of the film. The whole thing has a consistent layer of grain that's pleasing, and no concerns about digital distractions. Sure, there are a few bits of minor imperfections here and there, but they will only be noticeable if you're looking for them. Otherwise, as Barker notes, this movie looks better than it ever could have when it came out.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivers Danny Elfman's score with the proper sense of grandeur, while making sure the dialogue is clean and mostly well-defined against the rest of the action going on, though there are some varying levels at times, perhaps a result of pulling together the mix from a number of sources (there's mention in the extras of pulls some bits from VHS sources.) Impressively, there was quite a bit of audio restoration done, which included returning Doug Bradley's voice as the Nightbreed elder Lylesberg, which had previously been dubbed over, with a German accent for some reason. The surrounds are mainly responsible for building up the atmosphere, but in the action-focused scenes they make their presence felt, particularly during the battle at Midian, when the combat is all around the sound field. The low-end offers a good deal of support as well, boosting the music and effects when needed.
Along with delivering an on-screen introduction (5:30) explaining the reasons for the director's cut, Barker and Miller provide an audio commentary, a very friendly and interesting conversation about the film, with Miller acting a bit as inquisitor, while Barker responds with candor, a slightly twisted sense of humor and extreme enthusiasm and appreciation for seeing his work finally complete. Among the topics discussed are concerns about working with Cronenberg, the involvement of Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie, the changes that were made in creating the director's cut and the motivation behind the decisions made. I'm not sure if it's a health issue, but it is slightly difficult to listen to Barker, whose breath at times sound very labored, but fans will power through to enjoy his perspective.
"Tribes of the Moon: Making Nightbreed" is an extensive 72-minute review of the film's creation, focusing on the memories and comments of the actors involved, through interviews with Scheffer, Bobby, Ross, Bradley, Simon Bamford (Ohnaka) and Christine McCorkindale (Shuna Sassi.) As a few of the participants have known Barker since his early days in theater, the piece covers the development of Nightbreed from a pre-Hellraiser period through to the editing fiasco and now the restoration. The stories are plentiful about how these people came to be involved in the film, their experiences on-set and their opinions on what happened, which are supplemented by plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, which, on a film like this, looks rather surreal at many points. Combined with Barker and Miller's commentary, it's hard to imagine anything missed about the film at all.
That said, there are two more in-depth featurettes, which focus on technical elements of the movie. "Making Monsters: Interviews with Makeup Effects Artists" (42:10) offers up the recollections of several members of the effects team: Bob Keen, Martin Mercer and Paul Jones. The trio talks about what it was like collaborating with Barker, the atmosphere on the set, the challenges faced in bringing Barker's vision to life, particularly the Berzerkers and their personal reactions to the changes to the film. Then we get the amusingly-titled "Fire! Fights! Stunts!: 2nd Unit Shooting," a 20:19 interview with assistant director Andy Armstrong. He discusses the work done by his group on the film, including the battle in Midian and the bridges that are a core component, as well as the doubles for Cronenberg in the stunt scenes. In all, there's plenty for a fan to digest, and not just about the making of the film, but it's comeback in the director's cut.
Also included is the film's misguided theatrical trailer (1:05) and a DVD copy of the film, which holds all the extras as well.
The Bottom Line
Nightbreed easily could have been a film that was left on the scrapheap of time, vaguely remembered; yet another victim of studio interference. Instead, thanks to the work of Miller and company, it rises like a phoenix with this new cut, a polished gem that restores the legacy of Barker's Cabal and rewards the fans who stuck by the film and made "The Cabal Cut" happen. This release looks and sounds great, better than anyone could have expected considering its origins, and the extras round out the package as a loving tribute to the world of Midian.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.