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David Cronenberg

Blu-ray/DVD: David Cronenberg’s ‘The Brood’ and ‘John Carpenter’s Vampires’

BroodThe Brood (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – I’d seen David Cronenberg’s The Brood before watching the terrific new Criterion edition but it never really registered the way it did this time. Perhaps the quality of the presentation (newly remastered from a 2K master supervised by Cronenberg) helped me connect this time—Mark Irwin’s cinematography not only establishes the chilly tenor of the film, it belies the low budget with such strong, controlled images—but I think it’s more a matter of time and appreciation. I love the raw, primal imagery of Cronenberg’s Shivers and Rabid but here that primal body horror erupts from an environment of normalcy (albeit one of social disconnection), a seemingly stable world where the suppressed horrors are no longer held in check.

The beauty and the power of Cronenberg’s body horror—of flesh invaded, transforming, rebelling—has always been how they are completely visceral experiences that grab the viewers on a biological level and evocative metaphors at the same time. In The Brood the metaphor is both on the surface—the emotionally damaged Nola (Samantha Eggar) transforms her most powerful emotional impulses into biological incarnations of her darkest desires—and underneath it. Cronenberg quite famously explained that the film was “my version ofKramer vs. Kramer, only more realistic,” and he had the emotional bruises of a painful divorce of his own to inspire him. But what came home to me on this viewing was not the jealousies and feelings of betrayal behind divorce but the scars of child abuse that take root in the victim. Nola is a survivor of abuse and when she becomes the willing guinea pig in the radical experimental “psychoplasmic therapy” (a term right out of the zeitgeist of sixties and seventies fads) of Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed), she quite literally gives birth to those psychic wounds. Her mutant children are rage babies, born of her most intense, unresolved emotional storms, and they enact the vengeance she desires (perhaps without her even knowing or understanding).

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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.

Blu-ray/DVD: ‘Cosmopolis’

Cosmopolis (eOne) is a microcosm of a disconnected existence, life lived in a bubble in financial dealings and digital communications and brief face-to-face conversations and sexual intermissions in a space shuttle of a limousine creeping through the gridlock of an anonymous New York City.

David Cronenberg adapts Don Delillo’s massive novel, distilling it down to a two-hour odyssey through a long day of digressive debates and ruminations as the grand gamble by financial kingpin Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson, perfectly disaffected in a mix of boredom and anxiety) turns against him, pulling down his empire with it. But inside the bubble, the ruin is no more real than the words swapped in dialogues the devolve into parallel monologues and indecipherable symbols flashing across the screens of his moving office.

Cronenberg is in fact the perfect director to bring this book to the screen. He turns this day in the urban jungle into an unreal window on an alienated world, where civilization pitches on the verge of ruin and Packer, dissatisfied with its pace, nudges it along, taking the motto “destruction is a creative act” to heart.

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M Butterfly and The Sky Crawlers – DVDs for the Week

M Butterfly (Warner)

Warner Home Video releases a quartet of DVD debuts, all with troubled critical histories: loved by some, disliked by many, largely ignored by most. And that’s what makes their arrivals so interesting: it gives us a chance, an excuse even, to revisit the films. That said, I’m up to my eyeballs in the Seattle International Film Festival and thus only had time to see one of them, but it was a revelation.

M Butterfly on DVD
M Butterfly on DVD

David Cronenberg’s M Butterfly was largely misunderstood or, worse yet, dismissed by most critics when it was released in 1993. The coolly dispassionate screen adaptation of the David Henry Hwang’s Broadway play, itself based on a true story, is in the same key as Cronenberg’s Crash and A History of Violence, and explores the same issues of identity, sexuality and self-definition that he’s been exploring all his career. But in 1993, coming in the wake of The Crying Game and Farewell My Concubine, this elegantly directed period film struck critics as wrong-footed. Jeremy Irons’ René Gallimard, a French diplomat in 1964 Peking, falls in love with Chinese Opera star Song Liling (John Lone), who becomes his fantasy of the submissive Asian woman, as much René’s creation as Song’s. Because, of course, Song is a man. It’s not only obvious to us but to everyone around René that Song is a man (if not as it plays out, then in retrospect – the odd looks René gets as he comes backstage at the Chinese Opera to see Song and the disgust on the face of Song’s servant as René visits Song’s home are not for Song but for René). His mistake is not a misreading of the culture – that would require some knowledge of it – but a complete ignorance of it.  Anyone who knows anything about Chinese Opera understands that the female parts are  all played by men, as least before the Cultural Revolution put an end to all such decadent and chauvinistic practices. There’s plenty of evidence that René sees only what he wishes to in the Chinese culture, from the trap that he and his wife fall in to accepting all the western assumptions of Chinese clichés to his disastrous predictions of the Chinese response to American policy in Vietnam. Just like the opera that gives the film its name (and the name that René gives Song: Butterfly), it’s a western fantasy of idealized, self-sacrificing Asian submitting to the power of the west with demure grace and romanticized tragedy. In other words (Song’s words specifically), another example of imperialist arrogance in a foreign land.

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