Nightbreed: The Director's Cut Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by Clive Barker
1990, Region A, 120 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on October 28th, 2014
Craig Sheffer as Aaron Boone
Anne Bobby as Lori
David Cronenberg as Dr. Phillip Decker
Hugh Ross as Narcisse
Doug Bradley as Lylesberg
Oliver Parker as Peloquin
Hugh Quarshie as Detective Joyce
Charles Haid as Captain Eigerman
Bob Sessions as Pettine
Simon Bamford as Ohnaka
Christine McCorkindale as Shuna Sassi
Midian is where the monsters live. This is the central message Boone is taking from his recurrent nightmares. He has been in therapy off and on for a while and his doctor, Phillip Decker, has been urgently trying to reach him lately. It seems that Boone may be more of a danger than originally suspected, as the sessions reveal he may in fact be a serial killer. Decker gives his patient 24-hours to turn himself in, but Boone is unable to handle the guilt of these crimes and tries to commit suicide. He survives the attempt and wakes in the hospital, where he learns there may actually be a place called Midian, and he makes it his goal to locate it and discover the truth.
Lori, Boone's girlfriend, is distraught with the events of the past few days and wants to clear his name. She speaks with the police and Dr. Decker, but quickly learns there is more going on than she can handle alone, so she enlists the help of a new friend to help her cope. Lori is soon the target of a serial killer, and something far more monstrous as she embarks on a journey that is every bit as strange as the one Boone has taken before her. Will she catch up with him and clear his name? What will she find in this strange place called Midian?
Writer/director Clive Barker followed up his successful film Hellraiser (1987) with Nightbreed three years later. This unconventional love story is also a bizarre family drama with everything spun into a whole new perspective. Barker creates a world of monsters and pairs it with a nightmare scenario in which humans prove themselves capable of truly monstrous behavior. The idea that hideous creatures could be presented as the “good guys” was lost on studio execs, and consequently Barker's vision was severely compromised. The movie underwent a series of creative fixes, including an extensive re-edit without Barker, some newly filmed material and a marketing campaign that removed the monsters and focused on the serial killer “slasher” angle. Not surprisingly, the film underperformed at the box office.
A few years ago, a different version surfaced, “The Cabal Cut,” that was culled from old VHS masters of the workprint of Barker's original edit. Fans petitioned to have the material restored and after a few decades in limbo, Nightbreed successfully emerges thanks in part to the fine folks at Scream Factory, who secured the rights for a definitive release. A limited 3-disc edition contains both cuts of the feature as well as additional supplements, but a 2-disc release (provided for this review) contains only the newly-christened “Director's Cut” on Blu-ray and DVD. I remember reading Barker's original book Cabal in high school and eagerly going to see the film when it hit theaters back in college, despite reports of meddling suits at the studio cutting back the creativity. So now the original cut is sitting in front of me. Was it worth the wait?
Before screening this disc, I dug out my old DVD of the theatrical cut for reference. Not bad, but now I was ready to hop the “Midnight Meat Train” to Barkerland and eagerly anticipated having my mind blown. I have learned over the years to keep my expectations low, and that being said, this new release of Nightbreed is pretty stellar. The restored material starts off a bit bumpy as the pacing lags while we spend time with Boone at work or Lori singing at a country & western bar. Decker's intro is not as strong in this version either, but for the most part the changes are subtle. There are no additions to the murder set-pieces, dispelling any rumors of excessive hits from the MPAA ratings board, but there are some alternate takes and nice moments of character development. Genre fans will be happy to hear that Doug Bradley's voice has been restored for his role as Lylesberg, having been inexplicably dubbed in the theatrical cut. The majority of the new content comes in the final act in the Battle of Midian, now almost doubled in length with individual character moments and additional revelations that set up an entirely different conclusion.
Nightbreed is actually a pretty straightforward picture that if made today would feature extensive CGI and push the monsters to the front of the marketing campaign. Sadly, it has taken a quarter century for fans to see what could have been and while I am quick to praise much of this new edition, I am still aware of how it remains an imperfect picture in need of tweaking. Much like the similarly-hampered Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, studio interference resulted in fixing many elements that worked just fine, while creating a whole new string of problems. I am glad Clive Barker has finally scored a victory with this previously-lost opportunity and I hope the film secures a new following, as the man really can tell a great story. The monsters of Midian are waiting to greet audiences in a way that has previously eluded them. Do yourself a favor and accept their invitation, for they have such sights to show you.
Video and Audio:
Nightbreed is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and has never looked better. Picture quality is a vast improvement over the previous DVD and colors are brighter and stronger than earlier releases. The previously-unseen footage matches perfectly without any tell-tale jump in quality and was sourced from the original camera negative.
The DTS-HD 5.1 track is quite robust, particularly benefiting Danny Elfman's percussive score. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and the rear channels get a nice workout during the extended finale. A DTS-HD 2.0 mix is also offered and while serviceable, the 5.1 option is the way to go.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
The audio commentary with Clive Barker and restoration producer Mark Alan Miller is a real treat, as you can hear the joy they share in finally seeing this version realized after almost 25 years. Topics are varied but the information flows steadily and is definitely worth checking out.
The main supplement here is the retrospective piece Tribes of the Moon (72 minutes) that features interviews with several members of the cast in which they discuss their time working on the film and the aftermath of the studio intrusions. Barker is noticeably absent, but appears in a brief introduction before the film starts.
Making Monsters (42 minutes) features interviews with make-up artists Bob Keen, Paul Jones and Martin Mercer, who discuss the challenges of delivering a world of beautiful monsters.
Fire! Fights! Stunts!: 2nd Unit Shooting (20 minutes) features Assistant Director Andy Armstrong reflecting on the work that went into the filming of the climactic Battle of Midian.
The original theatrical trailer offers a glimpse at how not to market a monster movie.