Director: Clive Barker
Writer: Clive Barker
Cinematographer: Robin Vidgeon
by Jon Cvack
It took four separate viewings to finally get through the director’s cut of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed; a film that plays as though it’s the sequel to a movie you’ve never seen, with some of the most extraordinary set pieces and monster make ups you’ll find from the period, all taking place within a obfuscated plot. While watching, you want to like the film; you can see how it could have all worked; and, in the end, you can’t help but blame Barker, who should have stuck with writing and picked any of the great 90s horror directors to put together this thing (Romero, Carpenter, Craven, or, maybe one real obvious choice, Cronenberg. You’ll understand in a minute).
I don’t even feel like describing the plot, because I’m not really confident I understand it, other than to say it involves a modern greaser, Boone (Craif Schaffer), who’s convinced by his doctor, Decker (David Cronenberg), that he’s a serial killer. There’s also something with LSD that leads him to a mental institution. Eventually he ends up in a cemetery called Midian in the middle of nowhere, killed, and becomes a monster. He then returns, the police take him into custody, escapes, goes back to Midian where the police then attack in a ridiculously large and bloody battle.
At its most superficial, Decker is killing people with a really awesome mask and there are cool monsters with really cool makeups, and beyond that I don’t really understand anything that happened. Keep in mind, I watched The Director’s Cut; that is, what Clive Barker thought would best serve the viewer. Or so I assume. For an idea of how convoluted and confusing the plot is, I invite you to check out the Wikipedia page, which is like something you’d find out of bad Thomas Pynchon novel.
The thing is, it could have worked. The story didn’t have to start in such a way that I felt like I missed the first half hour. Don’t feel like watching it? Go check out Beetlejuice and save yourself a lot of time, as it seems to have all of the style of Nightbreed with a comprehensive plot.
Nevertheless, the history of this film is far more interesting than what the final product became, or at least, what the studios forced the project to become. Allegedly, there was a 159 or 155 minute cut discovered (yes, over 2.5 hours) that’s been dubbed “The Cabal Cut.” As much as I want to shirk any chance of having to sit through this thing again, I am interested in the possibility of this film actually making sense. Given the power house and marketing angle behind this production, there has to be more than we’re provided. For example, they had Ralphy McQuarrie of Star Wars fame do the matte paints; Danny Elfman of Tim Burton fame compose the score; they had a three title video game and extended comic book series deal, of which the latter went into twenty five issues, though both were discontinued prior to finishing the film. So perhaps that film would make sense of all of this, and repair the rushed job of poor character development, unclear motivations and/or pretty much unclear everything. 155 minutes, though? That’s a lot of time to take a chance on.*
*Getting deeper into my research (which means finishing the wikipedia page) I see that back at Comic Con in 2014, the production team announced that they would release "The Cabal Cut". Sure enough, that’s what I watched on Netflix; aka The Director’s Cut. So now I’m really confused. What I saw was only a few minutes over two hours and still wildly confusing. I can’t even beginning to imagine how the original cut must have played.
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