Ginger Nuts of Horror
Confession: I’ve always had a soft spot for Nightbreed. I responded to what it was trying to accomplish, to make monsters into sympathetic characters and humans the villains, rather than what it lacked. Even as a kid, I knew there was something fundamentally flawed about it, but I held firm to my love for Boone and the monsters of Midian, and—perhaps more so—to the coldblooded serial killer, Dr. Decker. I’d often found myself embarrassed as I defended the movie I knew it could have been, not the movie they’d given us.
Later interviews revealed Barker’s bickering with studio heads, who had liked Hellraiser (or at least the money it made them), but felt audiences wouldn’t “get” a movie with monsters as the heroes.
To Clive Barker and his fans, they had entirely missed the point.
The finished film suffered greatly for it.
Critics pointed to uneven direction and lack of characterization. Little did they know, 40 minutes of Barker’s original film had been cut. And until very recently, it was thought this footage was lost.
The story of how Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut came to be started in 2008, when Mark Miller, co-head of Barker’s production company, Seraphim Films, began to hunt down the extra footage. It was clear from the get-go the heads at Morgan Creek weren’t eager to help. When they finally relented, he was left with a box full of VHS tapes. All the film they’d shot, according to Morgan Creek bigwigs, had vanished.
After a lucky group of fans saw the extra footage at something called the "Mad Monster Party" in 2010, the “Occupy Midian” campaign was born. That was the last I'd heard of it, from Clive Barker’s Lost Souls website, aside from the occasional brief this-is-what-you’re-missing review from someone who’d seen the cut with the VHS footage inserted.
Then in 2012, Morgan Creek officials miraculously “found” the original filmed footage, after seeing the potential audience (ie. dollar signs). From there, Shout! Factory put together the Blu-ray and DVD version with new interviews and featurettes, and released it in 2014.
Fans asked for it, and we got it.
I bought the Blu-ray the second I heard it was released, and popped it in the PS3 as soon as it arrived. For the most part, the additions work. It’s definitely closer thematically to what Clive Barker—and all of us diehard Cabal fans—had envisioned. There’s no doubt the monsters are the good guys here, and there’s a massive amount of sympathy generated for them throughout, despite the few "lawbreakers" like Peloquin, who just wants to eat the “Naturals” (humans).
The main villain, as in the original cut, is Dr. Decker (aka Button Face), played with typical eerie cool by David Cronenberg. He’s a maniac on par with some of the best, though he gets precious little screen time. I’d love to see a prequel movie about him and his murders, his adoption of the mask—which is pretty goddamned creepy—and if he’d blamed any of his previous murders on other patients. It doesn’t feel as though his part was beefed up at all from the Theatrical cut, but neither does it feel chopped.
Many of the additions focus on the relationship between Boone and Lori; some work and some don’t. The scene in which Dr. Decker has drugged Boone, and Boone is hallucinating in his apartment, watching himself from outside his body having sex with Lori (who for some reason wears white lingerie, likely to symbolize her purity), works much better in the original cut. He takes the pills and suddenly he’s tripping balls, walking down the highway. We see all we need to. What they've added here doesn’t work, does little for the story, and harms the film’s pace, front-loading it.
This sequence also features Lori singing to a sold-out crowd in a country bar. The song is “Johnny Get Angry,” whose lyrics suggest she wants a “real man,” but also that Boone might be a little abusive. The song itself works fine, and has a very ‘90s feel, reminding me of those scenes in Twin Peaks with Julee Cruise—but it’s overlong. The entire song is played. During it, Boone, still tripping, wanders in and becomes confused and frightened. He stumbles off, and that’s when we rejoin the original cut, where he's about to be hit by a truck. I think it works well to establish Lori as a character, but it should have been pared down.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD:
The biggest changes are in the big final battle, which is more of a bloodbath than anything, since the Nightbreed barely get any shots in. This is The ATF Storms the Koresh Compound times a thousand. The police here act like paramilitary, lock-and-loading a plethora of automatic weapons (a Twitter friend remarked on the inordinate amount of guns in Canada, since it’s meant to take place in Alberta). The scene in which the cops beat Ohnaka to death, a little man with his little dog, seems just about as traumatizing as in the original film.
Shot in slow-motion, this Rodney King-style beating during which the victim, dragged out into the sun and beaten, turns to dust, sets the stage for the slaughter to follow.
As Midian explodes, it actually seems like a BIG thing, unlike in the original cut, which felt and sounded like a Hollywood soundstage. We hear babies screaming, mothers crying. The earth cracks underfoot with huge, surround-sound rumbles. By the time Boone finally unleashes the Berserkers (giant, slimy monsters with football player padding), we’re rooting for them to take out the human invaders—and they do, in classic monster-rampage style. Another good addition is adding clarity to the scene where Boone inherits the spirit of Baphomet, the Nightbreed’s version of God, and becomes the living god “Cabal.”
In the end, when Lori asks Boone to bite him so she can become Nightbreed and stay with Boone, the decision makes much more sense, as their relationship is solidly established. Boone refuses, still the good guy even now he's a full-on monster, and in her desperation Lori stabs herself, forcing him to bite her so she’ll live forever. The surviving Nightbreed, hidden in a barn, speak of Boone/Cabal returning “on the next wind.” “Johnny Get Angry” plays us out into the credits.
If you’re a fan of the original cut, you owe it to yourself to watch Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut. If you’re a horror fan who's never seen it, it's worth a look. Alejandro Jodorosky called Nightbreed "the first truly gay horror fantasy epic." This is the movie that inspired Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, and it’s a far better film. For creature fans, the Director’s Cut has many more monsters to satisfy your deviant pleasure. All-in-all, the new cut is a more cohesive story with a lot more focus on Boone and Lori's relationship, and much more sympathy for the Nightbreed themselves. If it had been released this way originally, it might have spawned its planned sequel instead of just a cult following and a terrible video game.
Have you seen the Director's Cut yet? Let me know what you thought of it below, or via Twitter @userbits.
Duncan Ralston is the author of Gristle & Bone, a collection of short and not-so-short horror, and the upcoming novel, Salvage. He lives in Toronto with his girlfriend and their dog.