Clive Barker’s second feature film as a director hit theaters in 1990 in a compromised and heavily molested form thanks to the meddling suits at 20th Century Fox and Morgan Creek, but while Nightbreed died a quick death on the big screen the desire for Barker’s full vision lived on in the hearts and minds of fans. Rumors swirled about lost footage, and when years later much of those scenes were found the world was treated to a “restored” cut of the film featuring these rediscovered scenes dropped into the existing feature to form the Cabal Cut. The resulting cut had its pros and cons ‐ my full review is here ‐ but it was a kitchen sink version and never meant to be construed as Barker’s preferred vision.
Happily, and somewhat miraculously, that vision is now getting its day in the sun as Scream Factory releases the lovingly restored, Barker-supervised director’s cut complete with a beautiful high-def remaster. There’s no arguing that this new cut looks and sounds great and is long overdue, but is it an improvement over the theatrical release? Is it any good at all?
The answer to both questions is a pretty resounding yes.
Nightbreed tells the story of Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), a young man plagued by dreams and visions of a dark place occupied by monsters, and his remarkably loyal and understanding girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby). Boone’s psychiatrist, Decker (David Cronenberg), has him convinced that those dreams belong to a man guilty of murder, and he accuses Boone of being responsible for a series of horrific slayings. The place in question is Midian, and when Boone visits in a daze he comes face to face (and skin to teeth) with some of the creatures hiding there leading to his welcoming into their monstrous fold.
His journey into the night is paired with his pursuit by Decker and locals including both authorities and drunken townspeople, but one of the main stories above it all is the love shared between Boone and Lori… between monster and human. The theatrical version of the film short-changed that element in favor of Decker’s slicing and dicing as a masked serial killer, and it was equally unforgiving towards Midian’s citizens being perceived as anything but monstrous creatures.
The director’s cut restores Barker’s intent on both the love story between Boone and Lori as well as his desire for the monsters to be the sympathetic heroes of the film, and the result is a vastly superior film to its theatrically-released cousin. The movie’s roughly 20 minutes longer than the theatrical version, but there’s actually nearly 45 minutes of new footage included as scenes were swapped out for alternate takes or replaced with whole new sequences.
Boone and Lori are given more time together both before and during his journey towards the supernatural, and it’s a world of difference. Whereas before we wondered what she saw in him we now see the attraction and affection between them, and it’s a good thing too as the new ending pushes that love to an otherwise untenable conclusion. We see more of Lori’s efforts to track down Boone, but we’re also treated to a musical number with her performing a rousing song onstage at a bar. It adds little to the narrative, but it shows her to be a more lively and energetic character apart from her presence as simply “Boone’s girlfriend.”
But enough about love.
We also get more of the real heart of the movie ‐ the monsters. There are a handful of scenes throughout that give brief looks at the new creatures, but the majority of them are on display in the film’s third act as Midian comes under attack. Some characters also get new fates leaving the survivors in a different stasis than we get in the theatrical cut. This version brings the romance and the monsters together in a specific way, and while I can see some people being hesitant as to its execution there’s no doubt that this fits more in line with the classic tales of years gone by, albeit with a slightly more hopeful bent.
The new cut doesn’t fix all of the original film’s issues ‐ it’s still a fairly cheesy movie, Cronenberg is still a terrible actor, and the bit with the female motel clerk trying to pick up her disgusting creme-filled pastry is still the worse scene I’ve ever seen in a movie ever ‐ but it addresses the thematic and character weaknesses in strong fashion. Beyond viewers’ reactions though it’s great to see Barker’s vision restored to what it should have been in the first place. Would it have made a difference at the box office back in 1990? Who knows, but better late than never I suppose.
Scream Factory is releasing two editions of Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut. Both versions include the restored cut of the film, audio commentary with Barker and restoration producer Mark Alan Miller, the theatrical trailer and the extras featured under disc one below. The standard release also includes the director’s cut on DVD, but the limited edition includes two exclusive Blu-rays. One is a bonus disc of additional special features (see disc 2 below), and the other is the Nightbreed theatrical cut on Blu for the first time with a new transfer from the inter-positive. Both cuts look stunning in HD, and I can honestly say there are only two things I would liked to have seen added here ‐ a featurette with Danny Elfman on his absolutely fantastic (and possibly best?) score, and some kind of explanation as to the very cool looking big-mouthed Peloquin glimpsed in the title sequence.
The details of the special features are below, but it’s worth noting ‐ especially at its $79.99 price point ‐ that the limited edition comes in a beautifully-realized, open-sided case housing two Blu-ray cases as well as a 36-page color booklet featuring photos, artwork and a detailed essay by Miller regarding the evolution of Nightbreed up through the creation of the director’s cut.
Disc 1: The Director’s Cut
- Tribes of the Moon: The Making of Nightbreed [72:17] ‐ Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley, Hugh Ross, Simon Bamford and Christine McCorkindale discuss their experiences making the film beginning with what drew them to the production. They provide some interesting and fun anecdotes (there’s a Neil Gaiman cameo in Lori’s musical number!), and we also get some behind the scenes footage, alternate/unused sequences and more.
- Making Monsters: Interviews with Makeup Effects Artists [42:11] ‐ Bob Keen and two of his Image Animation employees (at the time), Martin Mercer and Paul Jones, talk about the process of creating the immense number of breed creatures for the film. Their memories are combined with behind the scenes footage and additional scenes. The section on the berserkers is especially entertaining as they recall how the beasts were based on “American football players,” how the artists had to wear the sweaty suits themselves one day and ‐ this should surprise no one familiar with Barker’s artwork ‐ how the director wanted each of the berserkers to have a swinging phallus between their legs.
- Fire! Fights! Stunts!: 2nd Unit Shooting [20:20] ‐ Andy Armstrong discusses working alongside Barker to plan and shoot action sequences that made the film seem bigger than it was. He also confirms that most of the scenes featuring a masked Decker were played by people other than Cronenberg (including Armstrong himself on at least one occasion).
Disc 2: Bonus Disc (available only in the limited edition box set)
- Deleted Scenes [22:48] ‐ This is a collection of cut and alternate scenes, all of which were trimmed for obvious reasons.
- Monster Prosthetics Masterclass [11:11] ‐ Nightbreed was apparently in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most monsters on screen at one time. Here Bob Keen discusses the craft and impact of prosthetic work.
- Cutting Compromise: With Mark Goldblatt [13:55] ‐ The co-editor talks about his contribution to the film once the studio took control. He compares his work to other films he edited including Rambo and Commando, films he proudly says leave you “no time to get bored.” Does he have a point? Sure, but action films are not meant to have the same pacing and impact as atmospheric, fantastical horror.
- The Painted Landscape: The Concept Art of Ralph McQuarrie [5:08] ‐ McQuarrie painted a 60-foot mural at Pinewood Studios, and this featurette offers up some of the original art that informed that wall as well as the film’s matte paintings. We also get a glimpse of McQuarrie’s stabs at the film’s theatrical poster, and yes, they’re far better than the ones that were eventually used.
- Matte Painting Tests [8:57] ‐ This is exactly what it sounds like as we see actors wandering in front of matte tests, all set to the film’s score.
- Makeup Tests [4:52] ‐ Again, just what it sounds like.
- Stop Motion Lost Footage [7:01] ‐ We already have a glimpse of the stop motion work in the existing film, but here we’re shown more of the intended effects sequences.
- Extended Torture Scene [3:29]
- Rehearsal Test [2:56]
- Extensive Still Galleries [2:41] ‐ Early Sketches, Deleted Scene, Poster and Pre-Production Art, On the Set of Nightbreed, The Cast and Crew
Scream Factory’s release of Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut should be a day one purchase for fans of Barker’s work, and while the price of the limited edition may be an understandable deal breaker for some I’d argue the cost is justified not only by the package and presentation but also by the work that went into the film’s recovery, reassembly and remastering. (Happily the best part of the entire release is the director’s cut itself which is available as a standalone Blu-ray.) The difference between the theatrical and director’s cuts is significant, and while the cheese remains, both romantic and otherwise, this cut of the film is far more cohesive and affecting. More than that, a restored Nightbreed is something I never thought I’d ever get to see, so immense thanks to all the folks who had a role in bringing this project to an epic close.
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