THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT"
When I was in college, I read Clive Barker's novel Cabal and really loved it. A few months later, the movie adaptation, dubbed Nightbreed was released, and I hated it. The film was muddled, confusing, and dull. Given that Barker wrote and directed, it was incomprehensible that he'd screwed up his own work. We now know that meddling studio executives, who didn't “get” the movie, chopped it up beyond all recognition. Nightbreed has achieved cult status over the years, thanks in part to a sporadically-exhibited “cabal cut” that ran nearly two-and-a-half hours and reinstated much of what was lost. Now, however, the world will finally get the definitive version, as Scream Factory releases the official Nightbreed director's cut on Blu-Ray. It's a near-masterpiece.
Craig Sheffer plays Aaron Boone, a decent, but troubled young man who sees a psychotherapist named Dr. Decker (David Cronenberg) at the behest of his girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby). Decker is actually a serial killer, but has abused therapeutic techniques to convince Boone that he's the one murdering people during psychotic blackouts. Horrified at the prospect that he's hurt someone, Boone goes to find Midian, a city he has had frequent dreams about. Midian is located inside an old cemetery, and is a place where monsters live. Once there, his arrival is met with resistance from the place's inhabitants. Decker and the police are hot on his trail, thereby threatening the peace and isolation the monsters of Midian enjoy. Lori is looking for Boone, too, wanting to know why he fled and what's happened to him. This sets up some engaging conflict between all the characters, as Midian's residents must fight to preserve the way of life they've carved out for themselves.
For this director's cut, Barker has reinstated 40 minutes of new material, including a vastly improved ending. About twenty of those minutes are new scenes, the rest are alternate versions of what was in the theatrical cut. The difference is staggering. Nightbreed now reveals itself to work on several levels. It's an effective horror movie, with the mask-wearing Decker proving to be a legitimately menacing villain who is relentless in his desire to kill. The various monsters, all baring some uniquely grotesque physical trait, are eerie, as well. It's great fun to simply examine all their faces. The film also works as a story of the rejected. Midian's citizens are the heroes – and this is the thing the studio couldn't understand. Nightbreed is about how the monsters keep to themselves and don't hurt anyone; the real monsters are the humans who can't leave well enough alone and therefore set out to destroy anyone unlike them. Finally, Nightbreed works as a romance, with Lori facing numerous perils in her efforts to find, and possibly save, Boone from whatever he's fallen into.
All these things are juggled deftly in the director's cut, which also has sprinkles of humor scattered throughout. The production values are excellent, with gorgeously disturbing monster makeup used to create images you won't soon forget. There's a lot more Midian in this version, which makes the theme of outcasts fighting repression that much richer. A couple transitions from one thing to another are slightly disjointed, and the monsters are so fascinating that I wish they'd received even more development. Nonetheless, this is essentially a brand new Nightbreed, one that is in every way superior to what got released theatrically back in 1990. There are so many interesting ideas and visuals within it that the movie will certainly warrant repeat viewings. Major kudos to Clive Barker for getting his cut together, and to Scream Factory for making it available to the public.
Scream Factory's Nightbreed Blu-Ray has outstanding special features, including audio commentary from Clive Barker and restoration producer Mark Allen Miller, who talk about the botched theatrical cut and reassembling this new version. They also do a short video introduction to the movie, which has been mastered in high definition from the original camera negative so that it looks magnificent.
“Tribes of the Moon” is a 73-minute making-of documentary. Stars Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley, Hugh Ross, Simon Bamford, and Christine McCorkindale all appear to talk about working with Barker, how they approached the roles they played, and, of course, their reactions to the studio's interference. It's clear that all of them believed they were making something special at the time and are now glad to see it come to fruition. Lots of behind-the-scenes footage is included here.
“Making Monsters” runs 42 minutes and offers several members of the makeup team discussing the challenges of bringing so many uniquely horrific creatures to life. “Fire! Fights! Stunts!” is 20 minutes in length, and has assistant director Andy Armstrong discussing his work doing 2nd unit shooting on Nightbreed. Again, a lot of rare behind-the-scenes footage can be found. The original theatrical trailer is included on the disc, too.
For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.
All the bonus goodies are really entertaining. Nightbreed is finally the film it was always meant to be, and it's presented in a must-own package. How great to see this movie get its due.
Nightbreed is rated PG-13 for language, sexuality/nudity, and violence. The running time is 2 hours.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!