Within in two months’ time, Scream Factory has brought horror fans two holy grails of their fandom. Last month it was the legendary producer’s cut of Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers which had been circulating on ratty VHS bootlegs for almost two decades. This month, its one that fans haven’t really been able to get their hands on but had heard about for years; Clive Barker’s intended version of his critical and box office disappointment, Nightbreed. Scream Factory, along with Barker and restoration producer Alan Miller have got on board to put together the film from recently found elements to put together the definitive cut of the movie. In this review I am only covering the release of the Director’s Cut standalone release. There is also a limited edition (limited to 10,000, still available as of writing this review) that contains the theatrical cut as well as a disc dedicated to more bonus material.
Aaron Boone (not the former baseball player) is haunted by dreams of a place where monsters reside called Midian. These dreams have recently become less scary and more comforting. His doctor reveals to him that their sessions have led him to believe that he is in fact a serial killer that has murdered four families. After giving him medication and 24 hours to turn himself in. The medication drugs Boone and results in him being hit by a truck. While in the hospital, he meets Narcisse who speaks of Midian and tells Boone how to get there. During a distraction of Narcisse tearing skin from his head, Boone escapes and goes to Midian to discover the Nightbreed, a group of outcasts and monsters trying to live in their own sort of peace. One named Kinski bites Boone as he escapes and winds up being gunned down by the police, betrayed by his doctor who really is the serial killer. The bite resurrects Boone from the dead and he returns to Midian to be inducted as a part of their society. Outside forces plan to find Midian and destroy it. Boone must rise above and save Midian and become their new leader.
That’s a filthy long setup, I know. But this movie is all about world building and character. Clive Barker’s film SHOULD have been a big monster franchise that dominated the 90s. We should have had at least 4 or 5 Nightbreeds and be talking about the impending reboot or how bad the reboot of it was by now. Instead we got a film that totally flopped. The theatrical cut was famous for being cut to shreds and redirected from what the film and novel Cabal were to begin with. Studio execs didn’t want to feel compassionate for monsters and wanted it to lean heavy on the Decker serial killer aspect. A severely compromised film, it still managed to attract cult attention. We can blame the suits and cuts for the failure of the film critically, but no one really knows if this film would have taken off financially in its correct form either. People can say now that it would’ve, but you don’t really know that at all. The good thing is that now we actually SEE what was intended by its creators.
Know right up front that this is not the “Cabal Cut” of the film that has been floating around and screening at conventions. There is some of that footage shown in the interviews on the bonus material. Its in ratty VHS form and there’s not way it could be fully restored. However, most of the elements were found. Plus that version was extremely long as it pretty much included every single thing shot for the film. From what I gather, the pacing on it was dreadfully slow and while there is a ton of depth in the movie, its not as fun a film to sit through as one might think. This Director’s Cut is actually a marriage of that Cabal Cut and the original Theatrical Cut of the film. What it does is actually tightens up that Cabal Cut, but also adds much more character work, depth and story to what was severely lacking in the Theatrical Cut. This is now pretty much definitive and what Clive Barker and company were intending the whole time. He even shows up before the film plays to let you know that “this is me and this is REALLY the version I wanted”. Barker feels he was able to fix a failure in his life and correct it right here.
While this is a much better film, please note it still contains some weird edits just like the original Theatrical Version had. This time its surely for understandable reasons and not because a studio executive is having the film chopped up into something its not. Its nothing that will ruin the film, but it still makes it feel a tad bit rough. There are a few holes left in the plot with wondering how a certain person got here or there, and there’s moments where things just sort of cut to happening much quicker than expecting. I imagine some of this is due to there possibly not being coverage or footage available to fill in the gaps. None of it is truly awkward and as someone who is more attentive to these details, it might be something that a lot of people aren’t going to spot or notice. And frankly I’m not really even that bothered by it, I just felt it my duty to report what I saw. There are also scenes from the Theatrical in here that are technically new because they used alternate takes as well as angles and have reedited them into this Director’s Cut. The film is actually pretty seamless and impressive in that you can’t tell what’s new and what’s from the theatrical version just by the look of the footage. Its’ really one cohesive unit.
Nightbreed in its Director’s Cut form is a breath of fresh air for those of us used to the Theatrical Cut for so many years. The film is allowed to take its time and fully form its characters. Benefiting a lot is our central character of Boone. We are given much more on him, Lori and their relationship before he gets hit by the truck. You get a real sense of his paranoia and the fact that he’s seriously been drugged by Decker leading to that event. There’s also just much more throughout the film that lends to strengthen his rise to a leader of the Nightbreed. You see how he is the cause of Midian’s downfall but also where he picks up the pieces and becomes the savior of it all. This cut also gives us much more of the monsters (and Doug Bradley’s actual voice!), some you didn’t even get to see in the original. The film is also allowed to have its intended vision of the monsters as the good guys and humanity the true evil. There’s now a sense of compassion and sadness to watching the finale as you feel bad for what is happening to this harmless group of outcasts that dwell in Midian. Cronenberg’s Dr. Decker is still a presence in the film (LOVE that damn mask), but he’s much less of a focus for it.
Is Nightbreed – The Director’s Cut a better film than the original? Yes. Is it exponentially better than the theatrical release? Very much so. While the basis of the story sort of remains the same, its the feel and details that improve significantly with this new cut. There is far more characterization and focus where the film was supposed to be spending its time; Midian and the monsters who occupy it. I even thought that Craig Scheffer and his character of Aaron Boone was much better both in character development and performance-wise in this cut of the film. This is a guy I was really understanding his dilemma and also rooting for to rise above in the end. Would this movie have rocked audiences and given us the franchise it was supposed to deliver back in 1990 had this been the final version of the film? I really don’t know. At least we have the cut we always wanted to see now, and the film is once again back in conversation in good light. Maybe success with this will have the Nightbreed brand resurfacing in some shape or form in the next few years. Who knows. Nightbreed is what it was intended to be though, and that’s the most important thing.
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Clarity/Detail: For using multiple sources, you have to credit this thing for being pretty flawless. There’s no noticeable difference in the theatrical footage and the new footage that I was able to spot. It turned out pretty seamless. Detail is higher than ever and its the best Nightbreed has ever looked.
Depth: Depth is above average. Inside Midian there are some great instances of clear background and foreground characters sharing space.
Black Levels: Blacks are rich and here and there can, possibly intentionally, hide some detail. However, it does not keep anything from fabric texture to patterns from being unnoticeable.
Color Reproduction: While there is a lot of imagination on display in Nightbreed, its not some vibrantly colored film. However, colors are accurate and very solid. Very much lifelike. A deep red does pop really good.
Flesh Tones: Flesh tones are consistent and wonderfully detailed. The faces of all the monsters are pristine in detail with every close up shot. Markings on faces, gashes, wrinkles, they all show up quite wonderfully.
Noise/Artifacts: There is a light layer of grain and some lines in the film print show sporadically, but not distracting at all.
Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Dynamics: Know firsthand that the audio comes from multiple sources and some of it may not have been in ideal condition. The score stands out in the track as it sounds freshly restored and new. Its loud and sometimes it a little bit overbearing on the onscreen events. The dialogue has a range of sounding perfectly clear but sometimes a little muffled. The effects are more than solid for the most part and impactful.
Low Frequency Extension: The score is richly displayed. Explosions and gunshots are for the most part given an ‘oompf’ from the subwoofer.
Surround Sound Presentation: Mostly some ambiance and score throughout the early moments. During the finale, there are some great moments in the rear that feature some background fighting and action.
Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is clear and audible at all times. Some volumes range and quality can be of different value at times, but that’s due to the source not anything with this Blu-ray release.
Nightbreed – The Director’s Cut comes with a DVD copy of the film as well as reversible artwork featuring original poster artwork. Its hard to judge the extras accurately knowing there’s another edition complete with another disc full of extras and the theatrical cut available. The three interview sections they have included on here are over two hours in length, and that’s absolutely fantastic. But since this release is only a piece of a bigger one I have to temper the score a bit.
- With Writer/Director Clive Barker and Restoration Producer Alan Miller
Introduction (HD, 5:30) – Clive Barker and Alan Miller talk about the original vision and the hunt to find the right elements and restore the film to what Clive originally wanted it to be.
Tribes Of The Moon: The Making Of Nightbreed (HD, 1:12:17) – The film’s cast (including Craig Scheffer, Doug Bradley, Anne Bobby, Hugh Ross, Simon Bamford and Christine McCorkindale) retell the story of how Nightbreed came to be. From the set of Hellraiser all the way through the production and the amazing script they thought they were making. All of them also offer tid bits about this new version and what they hope fans will get out if it. This documentary also includes clips of rough cuts and takes, featuring plenty of clapboards. Also, don’t miss Craig Scheffer’s sweet bandanna that matches his shirt.
Making Monsters: Interviews With Makeup Effects Artists (HD, 42:11) – The film’s visual effects artists run through their account of the film, sharing sketches and the like while intercut with onset footage and dailies. They too give their take on what work of theirs they hope shines through in this new cut of the film.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:06)
Fire! Fights! Stunts! 2nd Unit Shooting (HD, 20:20) – The second unit director discusses all the work in filming the end fighting sequences and how it was much more than normal on a film.
If you’re a person that doesn’t like shelling out $70 some dollars on one single movie, a casual fan of Nightbreed, or are confident enough to leave the theatrical cut in the dust for this preferred version or you just aren’t that big into collecting things…then this is easily the version for you. Nightbreed – The Director’s Cut is indeed a big step above its predecessor in pretty much every way possible. Plus, while you’re not getting all the extras, it appears you’re getting the essential ones that you’d want. My scoring feels a bit low, but knowing there is a more comprehensive and definite release available, I can’t score it perfect. You may be missing out on some better packaging and two discs with this release, but it in itself is no slouch, considering this release is what many pretty much thought the entire release might be in the first place.