For those not familiar with the plot and the back story, Nightbreed is based on Barker’s short novel Cabal. It deals with love and betrayal, acceptance and rejection. Without giving away too many crucial plot points, Nightbreed is the story of Aaron Boone, a young man who dreams about Midian, a city of monsters where everyone is accepted. After being tricked into believing that he is himself a monster, he travels to Midian, only to learn the truth — he is a natural.
Boone does not remain natural for long. Soon he is accepted by the citizens of Midian, but temporarily abandons them to save his girlfriend Lori who has come to Midian in an attempt at closure after his assumed death. This results in the underground city being discovered by the locals who arm themselves in typical redneck fashion (or whatever the Canadian version of redneck is — did I mention this all takes place in the Canadian Northwest?) and go off to hunt the monsters.
Herein lies the problem with the theatrical release. The monsters in the film, the citizens of Midian, are the heroes and the victims. The antagonists are all “naturals.” The film was released in 1990. After almost two and half decades of successful slasher films, the studio did not know how to properly market a film with this theme. Instead the film was edited (read: butchered) and marketed as a typical slasher movie. The marketing was partially the result of the MPAA refusing to let any of the monsters so central to the plot be shown in the trailer footage.
It tanked miserably.
Ever since Nightbreed’s release, there were rumors that the missing footage still existed in one form or another. In 2009, Mark Miller of Seraphim films began searching for the missing footage. A much longer version known as Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut, which clocked in at almost 3 hours, made rounds at various horror conventions. Late last year, Shout Studios released The Director’s Cut which features 40 minutes of footage missing from the theatrical version but which also edits out almost 20 minutes of footage.
Is The Director’s Cut superior to the theatrical release? Is the plot less of a mishmash? Does it more closely follow Clive Barker’s vision?
The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes.
The character of Lori, played by Anne Bobby (one of the people who lead the Occupy Midian internet charge to prove that there was a market for the new version), is more fully developed in the first few minutes than she was in the entire original film. We see the depth of the relationship between Lori and Boone. Now it makes sense that she would travel to the sticks just to gain a sense of closure.
I will admit, it has been almost a year since I watched the theatrical release, but the portion of the film leading up to Boone’s traveling to Midian seems much tighter. The theatrical release dragged a bit in the first act, relying primarily on a big reveal. The Director’s Cut does not seem flat during the interim.
Lori’s descent into Midian is also longer. We see a number of the underground city’s denizens, some actors in masks and make-up, others puppets or stop motion effects. The make-up effects are amazing. While the stop-motion characters are dated by today’s standards, replacing them with CGI would have been even more jarring. Also, the transformation effects are the originals. I applaud the decision not to “Lucas” the effects.
The color saturation and visuals on the Blu-Ray release are excellent. The new footage blends seamlessly with the old. There was some internet concern regarding this as much of the new footage was originally found on VHS versions.
Lori is a much stronger character in this version. Before she was simply someone that things happened to in order to drive the plot. Now she is someone with motivation and a fully developed character. When she says “They don’t need you, only I need you.” it is heart wrenching.
There are a number of other characters who are important to the film. Oliver Parker is amazing as Peloquin, the really scary member of the Nightbreed. Catherine Cheavalier’s Rachel is sympathetic, dramatically representing the “humanity” of the monsters. Long time Barker collaborator Doug Bradley turns in a performance so quiet and so different from Pinhead that some viewers may not even recognize him. On the other side of the fence, Charles Haid of Hill Street Blues fame is wonderful with his over the top portrayal of Captain Eigerman.
The big scene stealer, however, is David Cronenberg. His portrayal of Boone’s therapist Dr. Phillip Decker is practically perfect. Quiet, devious but believable, explosive when required, Cronenberg turns in one of his best performances.
Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut is not a scary horror movie. It will not leave you afraid to go into a darkened room. It will make you think about how we define monsters and how we view others. Viewers who have never seen Nightbreed will enjoy the movie and the opportunity to sympathize with the citizens of Midian. Those who have seen the theatrical release will love the new version.
8 out of 10.
About the Author
Michael Cieslak is a lifetime reader and writer of dark speculative fiction. He lives near Detroit in a house covered with Halloween decorations in October and dragons the rest of the year with his wife and two dogs. His works have appeared in numerous anthologies. He is the Literature Track Head for Penguicon. In 2013 he started the Dragon’s Roost Press imprint which which published its first book, Desolation, 21 Tales for Tails in 2014. His mental excreta can be found at thedragonsroost.net.