Tuesday, October 28, 2014

'Nightbreed' Director's Cut Blu-Ray Review: This Is The Release Fans Have Been Waiting For

Clive Barker’s Nightbreed is the very definition of a cult movie. The 1990 horror fantasy has legions of rabid fans, a swirling mythology both inside the film and without, and is one of those films intended to be the start of a franchise, but is destined to forever remain as is. At least it was. Stories of studio interference, and censors demanding that somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 scenes be cut before the film could screen theatrically, make it readily apparent that the Nightbreed we’ve been watching all these years is not the version of the film Barker initially intended. Now Scream Factory has delivered the definitive director’s cut of the film on Blu-ray, and put together one hell of a package. This is an absolute must for every Nightbreed fan lurking out there in the darkness.

Just a heads up, this isn’t the fabled “Cabal Cut.” Named after Barker’s novel that serves as the source material for the film, this is the moniker given to the massive version that screens sporadically around the world at festivals. The legend goes—and by legend I mean well known stories told by Barker and others, including in various extras on this disc—after the film was cut down and released in the form we know it, all of the extra film was lost. Through a painstaking and thorough search that spanned years, most of this footage was located, though much of it has degraded or only existing on degenerated tapes. When all of this, regardless of quality, some of which is reportedly terribly, is inserted into the film, that’s the “Cabal Cut.”

What appears on this new Blu is not the full “Cabal Cut,” some of that footage is so damaged that it’s almost beyond repair, and the discrepancy when spliced in was determined to be detrimental. That said, this cut does contain 40 minutes of previously unreleased footage, though the movie is only 20 minutes longer because Barker and company removed some elements and inserted others in their place. The result is as close to his original vision as we’re going to get, and it’s fantastic.

The story follows Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), a troubled young man who dreams of a place called Midian, a place of monsters, where everyone is accepted. Boone’s therapist, named Philip K. Decker in nice nod to Philip K. Dick, played with the creepiest deadpan by David Cronenberg, frames him as a serial killer. At 13-years-old, this was my first introduction to the psychotronic body horror director, and because I saw him in this, I tracked down movies like Shivers, Videodrome, and Dead Ringers, you know, wildly appropriate viewing for an adolescent boy, yet another thing I owe to Nightbreed. To this day, when I think of Cronenberg, the first thing that comes to mind is Decker, and I get chills.

Set up by someone he trusts, Boone is shot dead by the police, but comes back and finds his way to Midian, to where the monsters dwell. Lori (Anne Bobby), his girlfriend, follows him, but she’s not the only one. A fascist murderer obsessed with ridding the world of the filth and the breeders, Decker follows suit as well, though for very different reasons, bringing a prophesized apocalyptic war to the monster’s doorstep. Nightbreed plays very much like origins story. The Boone-as-the-chosen-one plot is remarkably similar to Keanu Reeves’ arc in The Matrix, and it’s a damn shame that we never got more from this world, because the leaping off point is right there.

Nightbreed is one of those situations where the monsters are more human than the actual humans. They simply want to be left in peace, living underneath a rural cemetery, to live and raise their children and be weird on their own, not bothering anyone. Fresh off of the success of Hellraiser, this was a point of contention between Barker and the studio, Morgan Creek. While he wanted to show a different perspective on beastliness, they money people were after the traditional ferocious, sinister movie monsters. That still comes through in the theatrical version, but one of Barker’s biggest aims with this new cut was to restore more of the humanity to the creatures, and create empathy in the viewer.

Midian, and consequently Nightbreed as a whole, has a rich history and mythology, dating back to into the dark ages and before, when the tribes of man hunted the Tribes of the Moon, as the creatures are known, almost to extinction. This place is their sanctuary, their safe haven. Still, for everything you learn of this larger world, it’s merely a drop in the bucket. There’s so much more to explore, subsequent films would have really opened up a whole new world, and as great as this movie is, it’s difficult to watch and not feel like they missed an opportunity.

The creature design is a highlight of Nightbreed, creating a wide, imaginative swath of monsters to populate the subterranean environment, from the almost human to the damn near porcupine. Not to mention the fella walking around for the entire movie with most of his scalp peeled off. Midian itself is a giant, intricate marvel of set design, and is another element Barker went out of his way to display more prominently in this cut.

This complete, elaborate world is augmented by a strangeness that infuses the entire picture. Decker wears what is one of the all-time ominous horror movie masks, an expressionless, zipper-mouthed concoction that very realistically may be made from human skin. He’s more monster than anything living underground, and this mask is his true face. Morgan Creek pushed to make Decker more prominent in the film so they could market it as a slasher. A small-town sheriff, a tyrannical allusion to a certain well-known fascist dictator, has his militia shock troops of stockpiling survivalists, trained militants, and random drunken rednecks.

In this never before seen cut, with a freshly restored picture and tons of new footage, which all looks incredible on this transfer, all enhanced by a new score, this release is worth picking up for the film alone. But fortunately for fans, Scream Factory is never one to skimp. You can pick this up as a limited edition 3-disc set that also contains the theatrical cut as well as a booklet, though this 2-disc set is still full to bursting with great supplemental material.

Barker and Mark Millar, the restoration producer—essentially the one who did most of the legwork tracking down the lost footage—deliver a commentary track. As close as both are to this, they’re in a unique position to offer insight, share anecdotes, and not only talk about the film, but also the vibrant world of fandom that has arisen surrounding it. Listening to Barker talk about the origins of the film, and the debt he owes to the likes of Douglas Sirk and Ralph McQuarrie, help position this film in the broader pop culture landscape in a different way than you might expect.

A trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes round out the collection. There’s a 20-minute video that explores the second unit filming, responsible for the massive climactic battle, and talks about fire, fighting, stunts, and how they staged the multilayered action. Creature design and effects are the subject of a 42-minute look that digs into everything from concept art to production and application.

Clocking in at nearly 75 minutes, the nearly full-length production documentary, Tribes of the Moon, is something anyone interested in learning more about Nightbreed needs to watch. Interviews with cast and crew expand on everything from the baroque sensibilities, how the film came to be, the production troubles, and all the way down to assembling this new cut.

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