“Everything is true. God’s an astronaut, Oz is over the rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live,” says Peloquin to Aaron Boone.
The first time I had ever heard of Clive Barker’s 1990 film Nightbreed was when I purchased the Danny Elfman compilation album Music For A Darkened Theatre Volume 1 over a decade ago. A suite of music from Nightbreed appeared on the album, and I enjoyed it very much. It prompted me to track down a copy of the soundtrack, and eventually I was able to buy a new copy online. A few years ago, I finally got to see the film on cable during a late night/early morning period. I saw most of it and thought it was pretty decent. I soon read online about rumors that there was a longer version of the film (rumors confirmed by Clive Barker himself). It seemed like Barker’s director’s cut would never see the light of day, that is until Mark Miller of Seraphim (Barker’s company) found a VHS workprint of the original version. Requests were made to Morgan Creek Productions to gain access to the original film negatives so that Nightbreed could be properly restored, but they were denied because Morgan Creek believed that no one was interested in the film. Russell Cherrington, friend of Clive Barker, would oversee a restoration of the film using two VHS sources and the Nightbreed DVD released by Warner Bros. (for a ton of more info about how the Cabal Cut came to be and how the Occupy Midian movement got started, please go here).
I’ve been wanting to see the new cut of the film for over a year, but there have yet to be any New York City screenings of the film. I finally decided to attend a screening, and picked Duluth, Georgia (which is approximately a half hour away from Atlanta). The film was screening at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center as part of the Gwinnett Center International Film Festival. It was a midnight screening on a Saturday night, and there were about 40-50 people there (understandable considering the time and location of the screening). Restoration director Russell Cherrington and actor Craig Sheffer were signing posters and posing for pictures prior to the event, and then did a Q&A prior to the screening. They were really cool (Sheffer in particular was quite funny), sharing stories and answering questions from the audience. Sheffer mentioned how weird David Cronenberg was on set, and that Cronenberg had been busy writing Naked Lunch off set. Cherrington stressed that the image quality of the VHS sources must be forgiven since Morgan Creek has still refused access to the original film negatives for Nightbreed; what was important was to pay attention to the story and the characters. I only had one disappointment from the screening: the film was screened in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio (full frame) rather than its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (widescreen), although I forgave this since I knew that the film would be further improved for the Blu-ray release that was recently announced for next year by Scream Factory (part of Shout Factory) and I was sure that it would be released in its proper aspect ratio.
[UPDATE: 10/19/13- Just saw Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut at the Warner Theatre as part of the Eerie Horror Film Festival in Erie, PA. It played in its original aspect ratio and was introduced by Cherrington, as well as cast members Doug Bradley (who played Lylesberg) and Christine McCorkindale (who played Shuna Sassi).]
Based on Barker’s novel Cabal, Nightbreed follows a young man named Aaron Boone, who is having nightmares involving a place called Midian that’s populated by a tribe of monsters. On the advice of his girlfriend Lori Winston, he goes back to seeing his psychiatrist, Dr. Philip K. Decker, who unsuspectingly gives him LSD. After Boone gets hit by a truck and is taken to a hospital, Decker implicates him in the murders of several families (murders actually committed by Decker). Boone escapes and heads to Midian, believing that he’s a murderer. Once inside, he’s caught by Peloquin, who tells him that he can’t live there because he smells Boone’s innocence. Peloquin then bites him, marking him as “meat for the beast.” Boone escapes from Midian but is gunned down by the police after Decker tells them that Boone has a gun. After being pronounced dead, the effects of the bite resurrect Boone at the hospital and he makes his escape back toward Midian. Lori, who’s been grief-stricken over Boone’s death, heads to Midian after finding out that Boone’s body was missing. Decker decides to follow Lori, and after he encounters Boone again, he mobilizes the police to wage war on Midian as Lori tries to convince Boone to return to the human world with her.
One of the biggest differences between the theatrical version and the Cabal Cut is the 44 minutes that show the film as a love story rather than a slasher film. The additional footage shows significant character development and the story is significantly fleshed out (the Cabal cut is essentially the same as the novel with some minor changes), and it includes Barker’s original ending. The additional footage benefits a number of characters, particularly Boone, Decker, and especially Lori. Strong performances are given by Craig Sheffer as Boone and Anne Bobby as Lori (whose relationship is fully fleshed out in the Cabal Cut), as well as David Cronenberg (in a rare acting performance as Decker). Cronenberg’s performance here is very fascinating; it reminded me of the character Dr. Jonathan Crane (aka Scarecrow), who was portrayed by Cillian Murphy in 2005’s Batman Begins. Both characters are psychiatrists who are crazy and wear masks while terrorizing people. I don’t know if David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan used Decker as an inspiration for Scarecrow or if Cillian Murphy had based his performance partly on David Cronenberg’s, but, considering the 15 year gap between the films, the similarities and performances of the two characters are quite eerie. Doug Bradley also appears as Lylesberg, and the Cabal Cut has allowed Bradley to use his own voice in the film (Morgan Creek brought in another actor to dub Bradley’s lines during the film’s post-production; Bradley voluntarily came in when the Cabal Cut was being put together to dub his lines).
Bob Keen and Geoffrey Portass were responsible for the incredible makeup design. Their Oscar-worthy prosthetic makeup work was unparalleled, especially at the time of its release. Few films since its release have displayed the level of makeup work featured in Nightbreed (some Guillermo Del Toro films come to mind). Ralph McQuarrie created the terrific matte paintings as well as the mural that depicted the history of the Nightbreed (seen during the opening credits as well as later on in the film). Danny Elfman provides an excellent score in a year that also saw him score Darkman, Dick Tracy, and Edward Scissorhands. His music emphasizes the tribal nature of the Nightbreed as well as the romance between Boone and Lori, and he makes excellent use of the chorus. Clive Barker has stated in the past that Elfman’s score was the one element of the film that wasn’t compromised, and it’s a statement that I easily find agreeable.
What’s amazing about the 144 minute running time is that it never feels like it drags. The story is so strong that it pulls you in and, before you kn0w it, almost two-and-a-half hours have passed by. It’s a shame that Barker wasn’t allowed to release the film as he originally envisioned. It is a masterwork of the horror and fantasy genres that was years ahead of its time (a film in which the monsters were the good guys and a number of humans were the bad guys). Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut is certainly the Gone With the Wind of monster movies, and I hope everyone will feel the same when it finally gets a long overdue Blu-ray release in 2014. Shame on Morgan Creek for butchering this masterpiece and continuing to deny access to the original film negatives. The Cabal Cut exists because of the fans (including myself) and I am delighted to have been a part of the Occupy Midian movement. I strongly recommend catching a screening of the film since it won’t be screened after November 2013. Thank you, Clive Barker, for this wonderful film, and a special thank you to Russell Cherrington, Mark Miller, and the entire restoration team for bringing us the Cabal Cut.