Videophiled Classic: Halloween Disc Pick – ‘Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut’

NightbreedNightbreed: The Director’s Cut: Special Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut: 3-Disc Limited Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)

Clive Barker’s 1990 film Nightbreed, adapted from his novel Cabal, was taken from Barker’s hands, cut down drastically from his 142-minute rough cut (which made the bootleg rounds in a version called “The Cabal Cut” taken from a video workprint), and released in a form that Barker was never happy with. The release of Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut: Special Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) features a new cut of the film overseen by Barker and restored by Mark Allan Miller, who hunted down the original footage discarded from the rough cut. This is the version that Barker claims as his director’s cut, as he was not given the opportunity for his own final cut before the studio stepped in.

That brief history comes from Barker and Miller themselves in a new video introduction to Scream Factory’s release and it’s clear they are both proud of this release. Morgan Creek, the producing studio, wanted something along the lines of his low-budget Hellraiser. Barker had something else in mind, a celebration of misfits and monsters in a weird story of fear and prejudice filled with Biblical references and mythic resonance. The real monsters of Nightbreed are the humans, especially a psycho psychiatrist named Dr. Philip K. Decker played by filmmaker David Cronenberg with a flat delivery and deadened voice that makes him all the more unnerving. This doc is a real piece of work, drawing his kills from the nightmares of his patients and then framing them for the crimes, but Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is not a normal patient and his visions of a place called Midian aren’t nightmares. They are anticipations of his legacy: he belongs to an ancient race of misfit outsiders considered monsters and banished to an underworld away from humanity.

Nightbreed is neither the dark gorefest of Hellraiser nor a conventional monster movie. The nightbreed do have a taste for human flesh but they are not predators per se, while the final act offers the forces of human law and order as the modern version of an angry mob with torches and pitchforks wading into Midian to murder the misfits. Barker’s affection for Freaks and the Universal horror films of the thirties is apparent, though it’s all updated to a world of haunted souls, psychotic serial killers, rock and roll (there’s a rather silly but fun number in the first act), and mutant misfits who carve out an underground existence in a world that won’t have them. Barker doesn’t make his outcasts into saints or fallen angels, which is perhaps why he loves them so much, but they are devoted to looking after each other and determined to survive the hatred and hysteria of the human world.

I haven’t seen the theatrical cut since its theatrical release and I’ve never seen the “Cabal Cut” bootleg, so I can only really judge this cut on its own merits and with a little guidance from an official statement from Clive Barker’s Office:

“The Nightbreed Director’s Cut is an entirely different film than the one which was released in theaters. Its 20 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, but it contains over 40 minutes of new and altered footage. Clive oversaw the reconstruction and edit himself, personally ensuring that, at long last, he was able to tell the story he always wanted to tell, but until now, had never been given the chance. Once the scenes were reordered, and the original film footage restored, the entire film received a brand new sound mix and color pass. It is, in every way, a different movie. It contains more story, more monsters, and there’s even a musical umber. Ultimately, what we’ve delivered is a love story 25 years in the making.”

This story is an odyssey of one man discovering his legacy and his potential: Aaron Boone is reborn as Cabal to lead his people out of Midian (which is where the Biblical Moses spent his 40-year exile) to their own promised land. And it’s a love story, a horror film, and a loving freakshow of marvelous, colorful monsters, who are presented with a more sympathetic perspective than in the theatrical release. Performances are variable and the narrative may still confound viewers expecting a more conventional horror film, but this is the film that Barker intended.

Miller performed a superb job of restoring the elements—the entire film looks excellent and (apart from perhaps a couple of instances) you don’t see any difference between the quality of the original footage and the restored scenes.

The Blu-ray+DVD Combo also features new commentary by Barker and Miller, the new 72-minute documentary Tribes of the Moon: The Making of Nightbreed featuring new interviews with actors Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley, Hugh Ross, Simon Bamford and Christine McCorkindale and some behind-the-scenes footage, and the shorter (but still substantial) interview featurettes “Making Monsters: Interviews with Makeup Effects Artists Bob Keen, Martin Mercer and Paul Jones” (42 minutes) and “Fire! Fights! Stunts! 2nd Unit Shooting” with Andy Armstrong (20 minutes).

The Limited Edition Box Set (which I did not receive) features two addition Blu-rays: a Bonus Disc with deleted scenes, bonus production featurettes, and other archival footage from the production, and a new edition of the theatrical cut.