You know what I love? Nightbreed. You know what else I love – Nightbreed news. And today, we’ve got some.
For those who might not know, Nightbreed was originally released by 20th Century Fox in 1990. Adapted by Clive Barker from his novella Cabal – the film is the story of Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), an emotionally-troubled young man working his way back to what seems to be normalcy. He’s got a girl, he’s got a job – maybe he’s got an actual real life.
But that existence is at odds with the one in his dreams…dreams of strange, magical creatures – some hideous, some beautiful – and their semi-secret world, Midian. It’s a place where sins are forgiven and outcasts find refuge – and even though things are okay for him now, Boone still feels just out-of-step enough with the world he’s in to want for another.
Boone’s therapist, Dr. Phillip Decker (David Cronenberg), tells him that he may not be out of the woods yet – that his fantasy world masks murderous tendencies that have bled into his waking life. Fearing this dangerous darkness, Boone seeks Midian and its denizens, leaving his girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) behind.
Lori, for her part, is pretty unwilling to let go, and so – after what appears to be Aaron’s violent execution at the hands of police – she begins her own journey to Midian.
Unfortunately, the lovers’ flight to the fabled city leads cruel forces from the outside world to the supernatural refuge. It then falls to Boone (whose death at the city’s gates serves as his initiation into Midian’s Tribes of the Moon) to save the inhabitants, fulfilling a prophecy – and his own destiny – in the process.
The theatrical release of Nightbreed, compromised though it may be, is a wonder of art direction, design, and cinematography (imagine the “Troll Market” from Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army was just the corner store). But it is not all that it could have been.
Barker – via the robust network of early 90’s horror genre publications – made fandom intimately aware of the trials he faced getting anything remotely resembling his vision to the screen (the subsequent presentation of the film to audiences proved equally difficult). After running the gauntlet of moneymen and the MPAA, what survived of Nightbreed did not sit well with the filmmaker. We knew immediately after its cinematic bow that there was more to this flawed but passionate attempt at crafting a new monster mythos, but as time passed it seemed less likely that Nightbreed’s rights holders were interested in rectifying the situation. The oft-discussed Extended/Director’s Cut has been at times an almost mythical genre grail…until now.
Via a press release from Clive Barker’s Seraphim Films:
In 2009 Seraphim’s Mark Miller contacted Morgan Creek and found out that there may well be more to the myth than anyone had thought. Two European encoded VHS tapes were discovered and sent to Phil and Sarah Stokes, who run Clive Barker’s website, Revelations. They viewed the tapes and saw what nobody had seen in almost two decades; additional NIGHTBREED footage. Phil and Sarah transferred the footage to DVD and, with Clive’s approval, announced to the world that missing footage for Clive’s film had been found. Thanks to their hard work and far reaching publicity, the original workprint was screened at a HorrorHound Convention in March 2010.
And I was there to see it.
When we speak of a “workprint,” we’re talking about a rough assembly of a film for purposes of figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve seen bunches of these over the years – from a particularly vicious version of Mark Goldblatt’s 1989 Punisher film (compelling because Lundgren’s Frank Castle is stunningly unsympathetic)…to a cut of Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead that ends with a documentary-style voice over explaining that the city was shelled, everyone died, and contaminated soil is now being stored all over the country (it also featured a temp soundtrack, and O’Bannon could often be heard giving direction – like “Okay, Linnea’ rub yer’ butt.”). These cuts are often very degraded, straight from an editing bay, with no effects, music pilfered from other films (if there’s music at all), and the damage that comes with repeatedly rebuilding and rerunning a print over and over again.
It’s possible that, in such a weathered state, the Nightbreed footage might not have seemed all that compelling – but to me, it was absolutely amazing. The film was originally cut by Clive’s editor on Hellraiser, Richard Marden. When the Morgan Creek and Fox entities demanded footage be arbitrarily excised, Marden left the project. Soon after, the aforementioned Mark Goldblatt was brought on board. The finished film bears the master cutter’s trademark intensity (Goldblatt cut Bad Boys II, The Last Boy Scout, Starship Troopers, The Terminator, and T2, among others), but – as is often the case when a film is cut simply to get the runtime down – there’s a lot of hastily-spewed exposition, and nothing gets to breathe when it should.
This is rectified in the extended workprint. Performances bloom, motivations emerge, and the film is imbued with a gravitas its previously accelerated length could never afford it.
Barker, in speaking to the lucky fans allowed to see the workprint (there were hoops to be jumped through to be in that screening room), mentioned that he felt as though Sheffer – as a very intense, almost “Method” performer – had some difficulty embracing the fantastical nature of the material ; that he couldn’t immerse himself in the magic of the world. While that may have been true, I don’t believe the material truly requires him to do so. I’ve always found it interesting that Sheffer’s Boone sees himself detached from conventional reality/society – but he finds that he is almost equally at odds with the inhabitants of the strange place he escapes to. He is, like many heroes of film and literature, reluctant to embrace his true nature/power – and while that has always existed in his performance – it is more fascinatingly present in the rough-cut version. Here, in this extended version, Boone is actually urged on in many ways by Lori. In the aftermath of his bloodlust, it‘s Lori that grounds him, and – even though she sees his transformation into a blood-drinking monster – it‘s Lori that loves him. As a longtime fan of the film, I’ve always felt actress Anne Bobby was Nightbreed’s weak link, but it turns out that studio meddling completely eviscerated her character. Here, she has loads of compassion and strength – as she willingly embarks on an odyssey into Midian’s terrifying underworld, her only motivation is her love for her guy. By the end of the film, she actually kills herself – forcing Boone to bite her and make her one of Midian’s own. It’s an ending that really plays – and it’s almost entirely because of the cumulative effect of Bobby’s performance.
And when Midian is invaded, things really change – the war on the ’Breed feels epic instead of perfunctory now – and there’s a sense of geography to the underworld that it could be argued was missing from the original film. There’s more Berserker activity, more violence (which is often quite effecting when it happens to the creatures, who are infinitely more sympathetic here), more of creepy, corrupted priest Father Ashberry (Malcolm Smith) – and there’s a great deal of socio-political-cultural commentary in play – delivered with such hammer-down fury that George Romero himself might be inclined to tone that shit down – but it works.
Nightbreed was burdened with its share of reshoots, so there is some stuff that’s in the theatrical release that didn’t make it into the 150-minute presentation screened for us by the Horrorhound crew. As such, I remember remarking to friends that the best version of the film could be achieved by crafting a hybrid of the theatrical and the workprint – which was something I was so interested in doing that I wanted to swipe the screening’s DVD and RUN. Turns out I had the right idea…if not the nimble fingers or the testicular fortitude.
Inspired to see Clive’s original vision come to light, filmmaker Russell Cherrington, longtime friend of Clive Barker and Seraphim, took the DVD back to England and, working with editor Jimmi Johnson and Clive Barker’s original script, created the new cut of NIGHTBREED, composited from the two VHS sources and the original Warner Brothers DVD. The original cinema release of NIGHTBREED was fused with the workprint to create THE CABAL CUT.
THE CABAL CUT was screened at The Mad Monster Party in Charlotte NC where a Q&A with took place that featured Anne Bobby (Lori), Craig Sheffer (Boone), Mark Miller (Producer for Seraphim), and Russell Cherrington (Restoration Director). During this panel discussion, Anne called out for the fans to make their voices heard.
And now, due to popular demand, Clive Barker and Seraphim are proud to announce the launch of Occupy Midian. This is the definitive site for people to visit pertaining to all things NIGHTBREED. The official Teaser Trailer for this epic cut of NIGHTBREED is available for viewing exclusively on the site.
So…this project seems to get more real by the moment. This issue here is Morgan Creek – who simply don’t believe there’s enough interest to warrant hunting for reels and doing a restoration (Morgan Creek’s peeps don’t even think there’s enough interest in doing a Blu Ray version of the original release). Occupy Midian – and the petition begun by fans – hopes to change that perception. And they need help from all of us.
I believe that if this film were to be presented to audiences today – in a climate that sees the entire world waiting with baited breath for Peter Jackson’s continuation of the beloved Lord of the Rings franchise…where films based on Neil Gaiman properties find success…where the highest grossing film in the history of humanity sees the male lead decide to wage war on humanity because life as a twelve foot tall blue beastie living on a weird planet where everything has teeth is still much better than his old human one – where the real monsters are “straight” society – it would find true success. There would be T-shirts with an angry Peloquin screaming “MEAT FOR THE BEAST” in the window of every Hot Topic…NECA would be working up the incredibly-detailed action figures (they should do that anyway)…there would be (more) comics and (awesome) video games and an animated series…
In the years since Nightbreed was tossed out the Fox lot back door with a shitty ad campaign and no television ad buys, fantasy and horror have become big business – and audiences seem far more willing to embrace the idea that the monster can be the hero, the savior, or the lover. Visit OCCUPY MIDIAN, follow their efforts on FACEBOOK, and sign the PETITION – so that the beasts of Barker’s vision might resurface in this beautiful new world.
There’s a screening coming to the venerable New Beverly Cinema on June 12th, but there are no on-sale details as yet. We’ll keep you posted.
On July 13th, though – you can bear witness to the Cabal Cut in Chicago, when the Portage Theater screens it as part of Terror in the Aisles 10! I’ll be there. You need to be there, too.