Nightbreed: The Director's Cut - Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (11th October 2014).
The Film

"I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker."

Nearly every horror fan is familiar with the above quote, taken from another one of the genre’s titans, Stephen King. This was said sometime in the mid-80's, when Barker’s “Books of Blood” were hitting paperback in the U.S., before he’d even crept into the film industry with “Hellraiser” (1987). King’s words weren’t just hyperbole designed to move copies of Barker’s books, however, because the promise was there. Clive was a visionary in so many ways. Even today, years after his most revered and cherished works have been released, Barker’s name hangs firmly in the upper echelon of horror. It’s a rare talent that can master so many mediums – art, literature, and cinema, specifically - with such a distinct vision that remains fully intact… usually. Of those three, cinema is easily the most fickle, as Barker quickly found out on his second film, “Nightbreed” (1990).

“Hellraiser”, his first foray into cinema, had a relatively small budget (about $2 million), with Barker being given almost total creative freedom to make the movie he wanted. Other than some cuts forced by the studio to tone down violence, the movie released to theaters was the film he intended to make. Well, to get a bit more technical the studio did also force him to change the film’s name from the original novella title, “The Hellbound Heart”, to something more horror-y. He encountered this exact same problem with “Nightbreed” - which was going to be called “Cabal” since, that too, was the original novella title. And this time around they gave him a lot more money – approximately $11 million. Armed with a sack of cash, a wealth of monstrous characters from his novella, a crew of England’s top special FX artists, and the expanse of venerable Pinewood Studios, Barker set out to make “the “Star Wars” (1977) of horror movies” as he put it. It was an ambitious undertaking. Barker was building an entire universe on screen. There were hundreds of characters, literally. Sure, the principal faces only numbered a dozen or so (which is still large), but all-in there are some 300 monsters in total. I know this because one of the bonus features included here mentions how “Nightbreed” held a Guinness World Record at one point in time for having the most made-up characters in a movie.

Once shooting was completed, Barker delivered his cut to the studio. They balked. Reshoots were done in Los Angeles to punch up some of the plot (mostly related to David Cronenberg’s character) and Barker recut the film once again. It still wasn’t accepted. At this point, original editor Richard Marden left, refusing to butcher the film further, and the top brass brought in another editor to chop it down to a final running time of 102 minutes with credits. A far cry from the 2+ hours Barker had originally assembled, and even further from the vision he had in mind. This watered down version was released to theaters during prime dumping season – February – where it didn’t even recoup its modest budget. A home video release followed and, while a strong cult following quickly developed, the door had effectively closed on the world of Midian.

Cut to over two decades later and the artistic integrity of “Nightbreed” has finally been reclaimed. The story of how the ball got rolling is covered somewhat extensively within this package; watch the supplements, read the booklet, and learn the facts. Suffice it to say very few people ever thought this day would come, Clive among them. But to understand what makes the "Director’s Cut" work so well, we must first express why the "Theatrical Cut" does not. What it all boils down to is marketing and cold feet. Studios only love originality when it makes them money, but they’re afraid to embrace new things for fear of losing that money, causing them to stick to trodden paths. See the catch here? “Nightbreed” was simply too ambitious, which you would have thought the executives knew considering they greenlighted Barker’s film based on that vision.

The plot was “tightened” and focus shifted more toward Cronenberg’s Dr. Decker and his battle with Boone (Craig Sheffer), a patient who dreams of a world where monsters live - Midian. Decker tries to convince Boone he’s the one responsible for a spate of familial killings that have occurred recently, when the reality is it’s Decker doing the dirty work. Boone absconds to Midian, is initially spurned by the inhabitants (during one of the film’s best sequences… Peloquin (Oliver Parker) and Kinski’s (Nicholas Vince) introduction is fantastic), and winds up “dead” after a run-in with local law enforcement due to Decker’s meddling (“He’s got a gun!”). Because Peloquin gave him a chomp on the shoulder, however, Boone revives as one of the “Breed”, once again making his way back to Midian, where he is now welcomed with open arms. Boone’s girlfriend, Lori (Anne Bobby), also makes a visit to Midian and tries to find her man. She does, but she also finds Decker and the Nightbreed, who don’t take kindly to her being a “Natural”. Boone and the tribe clash over her presence, leading to both of them being banished by Lylesburg (Doug Bradley, but voiced by an unknown German actor), leader of the Breed. Boone can’t stay away, though, and soon law enforcement agents are brought in at the behest of Decker. What follows is an all-out war on Midian, with Boone galvanizing the typically-peaceful inhabitants to fight for their turf. And, of course, it all culminates in a showdown between Boone and Decker.

Barker had meant for this to be the story of two troubled lovers – Boone and Lori – and how they navigate the tribulations of the two worlds each inhabits. It wasn’t supposed to be the routine slasher/creature feature hybrid that wound up being the "Theatrical Cut". Truly, if you watch both versions back-to-back it’s clear the studio cut is a desperate attempt to corral Barker’s imagination into something audiences were familiar with. Too much emphasis is placed on Decker, leaving other subplots to languish thanks to unscrupulous editing. The "Theatrical Cut" is not a bad film per se, but even fans agree it feels truncated and incomplete.

This brings us to the "Director’s Cut" – finally, right? All the proper film elements had been located, allowing Barker the ultra-rare opportunity to go back and re-cut the picture to his specifications. Unlike, say, the recently released “Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers” Producer’s Cut (1995), Barker had actually shot the film he wanted to make without great compromise; that part came during editing. Also unlike that film, this is truly something to be proud of. The "Director’s Cut" is a wholly superior film in nearly every way. Barker added an additional 20 minutes of footage, as well as including 20 minutes of alternate takes, and the final product feels every bit like the film it always should have been. Decker’s storyline is now just one of a few major subplots, with more emphasis added to Boone and Lori’s relationship. There’s also much more in Midian, in particular the final assault which is replete with new monsters, new footage and a completely different ending… which I wasn’t totally nuts about. Without spoiling anything, I’ll simply say many characters are left in a place vastly different than the "Theatrical Cut". The theatrical ending held promise for the future of Midian; this ending goes for something more intimate and less utilitarian. It’s not bad, just different and maybe not as good. But all of the additions to the film help a great deal. This is a remarkable achievement, both for Barker and for the film’s fans.

I do have one very minor qualm, though: there’s a weird edit at the end, when Lylesburg is preparing to release the Berserkers and one of the plaid-clad yokels pops his noggin with a rifle shot. In the "Theatrical Cut" the redneck sort of plays around with the red dot a bit before firing, whereas in the "Director’s Cut" nearly as soon as the dot appears on Lylesburg’s forehead the shot’s impact is shown. Barker’s choice? I don’t know; seems arbitrary. Most won’t notice this but I watched them back-to-back and it was glaring.

This is the set “Nightbreed” fans have dreamed of owning. If there’s maybe one thing I would have liked to see, it’s a lengthy piece covering the process whereby this cut came to be, but all the facts are presented here in one form or another; a featurette may have felt redundant. Casual fans will have zero complaints about what’s included on the standard edition, while serious fans will be extremely pleased by the Limited Edition’s offerings.

"Theatrical Cut" film rating: B
"Director’s Cut" film rating: A

Video

Much debate has been had over how this affair would look & sound. The "Theatrical Cut" has existed on DVD with a decent transfer for years. This new cut of the film began life as a VHS tape – under the moniker of “The Cabal Cut” - and it looked rough. Really rough. Because film elements were located, and because Scream Factory wisely put some money into new color timing and a new sound mix, the results are spectacular. It doesn’t look rough anywhere at all, and the audio is almost perfect, too. Visuals come in the form of a 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer. The "Theatrical Cut" came straight from an inter-positive source, and it looks very good considering no real restoration work was done to it. Similarly, the "Director’s Cut" looks nearly identical. Detail is very strong during daylight scenes, of which there are actually quite a lot. Night shots are mostly stable, but can get a bit iffy when darkness really sets in. There’s a slight bit of crush in a few scenes, nothing too major. Honestly, I was just amazed the entire time that here’s this long lost cut of “Nightbreed” and it looks killer in HD. There are no glaring problems to nitpick.

Audio

There were one or two scenes where it sounded like a tape source had been used for dialogue (specifically, when Lori meets Boone at the auto mechanic shop where he works near the beginning), but the quality didn’t dip to a level where it became unacceptable. These are minor complaints. In fact, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track (48kHz/24-bit) is quite robust, with a strong presence and deep, resonating bass. It positively smokes the "Theatrical Cut" is weak-by-comparison English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo offering. Danny Elfman’s score was composed during his prime years, full of the wonderment and ethereal stoicism that are his trademarks. I’d say it’s arguably one of the finest scores he’s ever done. As strong as the track is for most of the film, it really kicks things up a notch once the big battle happens at the end. I swear my subwoofer rumbled for ten minutes straight. Subtitles are included in English.

Extras

Not content just to lovingly restore a cult classic, Scream Factory also spoils us with an embarrassment of riches in the bonus feature department. If you’re a serious Midian aficionado, you’ve probably pre-ordered the Limited Edition three-disc set. You will be pleased. Here’s the thing: I’m glad they included the "Theatrical Cut" of the film for the sake of posterity, but I’ll likely never watch it again. Barker’s vision is realized with this "Director’s Cut". This is how it should have been. Looking back on the "Theatrical Cut", it feels so inferior in light of how much Barker’s cut enhanced the picture. The "Theatrical Cut" will be reserved for those who watch it to waxy fondly on nostalgic memories, and even they might opt for the new cut nine out of ten times simply because it’s a better movie. Additionally, the Limited Edition also features a bonus Blu-ray disc full of exclusives. It’s all great stuff, featuring a mix of new interviews and old footage. But first, let’s dive into disc one…

DISC ONE: "Director’s Cut" Blu-ray

Writer/director Clive Barker and restoration producer Mark Allan Miller collaborate on an audio commentary track that I would describe as lively and occasionally struggling for clarity. First off, I’m pleased to hear that Clive has a smoother speaking voice after having some throat problems in recent years. He now sounds very British and very old, despite not being very old. It’s the sort of voice that should be narrating the migration of birds on a BBC nature special or something. Both of these guys are exuberant about being there, finally watching what Clive had tried to make all those years ago. Miller, of course, recalls in detail all of the events which led to this historic moment. Clive, meanwhile, is so damned excited that he spends the entire track tripping over his words to get them out. Take a shot every time he says “Um, um, um” and you will die. You can’t blame him, though. It’s great to hear the man so enthused about the project and every frame of footage he was able to add back in, including that musical number, which is awesome by the way.

“Tribes of the Moon: The Making of Nightbreed” (1080p) is a documentary that runs for 72 minutes and 17 seconds. Barker, strangely, doesn’t participate here, but we do get Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley, Hugh Ross (wearing his King Rocker shirt!) and a few other notable names. This lengthy piece gets in detail about what Midian means to these actors and in general, as well as discussing their respective characters. Bradley recalls a lot about Clive’s early days, when the two first became friends. Other topics include make-up application processes, the production design, marketing, Bradley’s voice being ADR’d out of the movie and this new cut of the film.

“Making Monsters: Interviews with Make-up Effects Artists” (1080p) featurette runs for 42 minutes and 11 seconds, and features interviews with artists Bob Keen, Martin Mercer and Paul Jones. The three, interviewed separately, talk about the wealth of ideas everyone had on set, designing the monsters (specifically the Berserkers) and the contribution of Tony Gardner to the film. Interesting takeaway: Clive insisted all the Berserkers have a large phallus, something I never noticed before seeing the clip included here.

“Fire! Fights! Stunts! – 2nd Unit Shooting” (1080p) is an interview featurette with Andy Armstrong who, as the title suggests, did all the second unit filming. His work was mostly capturing action, of which there was a lot considering the scope of the final battle. He worked well with Barker, and the two collaborated closely on making sure the action scenes looked big for a film with their modest budget. It runs for 20 minutes and 20 seconds.

The disc also includes the film’s theatrical trailer (1080p), which runs for 1 minute and 6 seconds. .

That’s what you get with the regular Blu-ray edition. With the Limited Edition, you’ll also get a bonus disc that includes:

DISC TWO: Limited Edition Bonus Disc Blu-ray

Deleted scenes. These run for 22 minutes and 48 seconds, with most involving Lori, Detective Joyce, or Decker. There are some interesting moments in here, though most will agree all was wisely trimmed. Anything good is now back in the movie. The quality here ranges from Blu-ray to rough VHS, with some scenes employing both to piece events together. That can be a little jarring, but at least the audio is consistent, even if nearly all of it is tape-sourced.

“Monster Prosthetics Masterclass” (1080p) featurette runs for 11 minutes and 11 seconds. This is an interesting account of the process by which actors are made up into monsters, with Bob Keen detailing every step of their work. Some behind-the-scenes footage of Malcolm Smith being done up as Ashberry is shown along with his words.

“Cutting Compromise” (1080p) featurette is a really great interview with editor Mark Goldblatt, the man brought in by the studio to deliver a “tighter” film, running for 13 minutes and 55 seconds. Original editor Richard Marden is no longer with us, but it’s equally fascinating to hear from the guy responsible for chopping Barker’s vision down to size. Goldblatt has some good stories and speaks candidly, admitting right away that he felt Marden’s cut of the film needed work. He basically did what the studio told him, with no input from Barker.

“The Painted Landscape” (1080p) featurette is 5 minutes and 8 seconds of artist Ralph McQuarrie’s artwork as compared to the final picture, set to the film’s score.

“Matte Painting Tests” (1080p) featurette runs for 8 minutes and 57 seconds. This features the actors walking around with the matte painting in place, similar to how it appears in the final film. This footage is also set to the score.

“Makeup Tests” (1080p) featurette is exactly what it sounds like, featuring footage of various characters being worked on, running for 4 minutes and 52 seconds. Again, set to the score.

“Stop Motion Lost Footage” (1080p) featurette runs for 7 minutes and 1 second. This piece briefly discusses the production’s aspiration to do more with stop-motion animation, but it was cut further and further due to budget. The "Director’s Cut" restores some of this footage, though it does feel a bit out of place but is by no means unwelcome.

Extended torture scene (1080p) is an uninterrupted 3 minutes and 29 seconds of the Crusade-like killings of the Breed as shown when Rachel tells her story.

“Rehearsal Test” (1080p) footage runs for 2 minutes and 56 seconds, and it made me laugh a little. It’s the actors doing the film’s opening run through the graveyard sans costumes. Weird seeing them out of character.

Finally, there are extensive still galleries that look at Early Sketches, Deleted Scene, Poster & Pre-production Art, On the Set of “Nightbreed” and The Cast & Crew.

DISC THREE: "Theatrical Cut" Blu-ray

All the "Theatrical Cut" has on it is a theatrical trailer, the same one included on the "Director’s Cut" disc one, presented in HD and running for 1 minute and 6 seconds.

Packaging

Everything comes housed in a sturdy side loading slip-box, with a separate standard Blu-ray keep case for each cut of the film – two discs for the "Director’s Cut", one for the theatrical. Also in the package is a thick booklet, which includes an overview of how this "Director’s Cut" came to be, as written by Mark Allan Miller, along with some character spreads for the various Breed.

Overall

THIS is “Nightbreed”, just as Clive had always intended, and all this time later fans are finally going to be able to experience what would have been. Scream Factory’s release isn’t just stellar in every way; it’s a revelation of restorative work, bonus features and presentation. I cannot recommend this set enough.

The Film: A- Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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