Director: Clive Barker
Cast: Craig Schaffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Doug Bradley
First time I saw Nightbreed was in theaters, way back in 1990. Back then I must’ve been thirteen or fourteen years old and while the film made a definitive impact on me, I also got the feeling that it was missing something. I mean, even the title sequence lets us know there were creatures that were filmed that never made it to the finished film, you got the feeling that more was filmed than what we ended up watching. Nightbreed had an epic feel to it, for a horror film anyways. Years later I would learn that Nightbreed was in fact a troubled production. Not from the creative side, because creatively it had energy and ideas to spare, but from the producing side. You see, the producers behind this film thought the film was ‘too weird’ and that it didn't play by the rules. Which of course was entirely true, Clive Barker meant to make a film that would turn the conventions of the traditional monster movie upside down! Sadly when a filmmaker wants to try something new, studios usually look down upon it, especially if it’s within the realm of horror and fantasy, two genres that are generally treated with disdain by producers and studios. In spite of its troubled post-production, plagued with creative differences, the studio still released the film. How did it fare at the box office?
You might be asking yourself how can a producer read the script, greenlight the film and then not like the film that ends up getting made? My take on it is that producers probably said yes to Nightbreed because of the box office success of Barker’s previous film: Hellraiser (1987). They wanted Barker to produce another hit, they didn’t care what it was. But still, why greenlight a film only to give the filmmaker hell when they shoot the script that was approved? I mean, it was right there in black and white. Monsters, Midian, gore…why after its being filmed do they suddenly get cold feet? Did they even bother reading the script? Maybe once the shooting commenced they realized just what a strange and unorthodox film this was. Maybe then they realized that there’s no target audience to sell this movie to, it’s a blending of genres, its horror, it’s a love story, it’s a film in which the monsters are the heroes! And that last point is the one that irked producers the most; they didn’t know how to market a film in which the monsters are the “good guys”.
Another possible reason why this film was treated with such disdain by the studio had something to do with the films subversive message, the clear hatred towards authority and religious figures. I mean, this is a film in which a faithless priest ends up killing a cop! As you can see, many things lined up against Nightbreed which resulted in a shitty trailer that gave audiences the impression that this was a slasher film, even going as far as re-shooting some sequences to give it a slasher feel. And Nightbreed wasn't a slasher, it was a dark fantasy. And if there’s one thing audiences hate its being lied to. And so, the film tanked at the box office, this even though it was made with a mere 11 million dollar budget! In my opinion, a decent trailer and some faith in the filmmakers original vision would have increased Nightbreed’s chances of making a bit more money upon its release. I mean, sure it’s not a mainstream film, but it could have made more than 8 million, which is what it ended up making at the box office.
But as if often happens, audiences discovered Nightbreed on home video and turned it into a cult classic. People love this movie so much that someone did their own cut of the film called “The Cabal Cut” which included deleted scenes never seen on the theatrical cut! They even made special screenings to show this cut of the film. Fans have always wanted a director’s cut of this film, and well, their screams were heard because the fine gals and ghouls at Shout Factory made it possible. They gathered all the deleted scenes which were in a vault somewhere, they got the original cast to dub some new dialog and they re-edited the film which is now twenty whole minutes longer! And they got Clive Barker to oversee the whole process! How cool is all that!? Freaking sweet is what it is. But the question remained: which cut of the film is better? What are the differences between theatrical and directors cut?
The main thing with this new cut is: we get more monsters! I can’t believe they cut some of this stuff out, I guess they cut out the weirder looking monsters for whatever the reason, but there’s a ton of new monsters you never got to see before, even if just for a second, but they are finally here, which is of course cool because that’s what this whole film was always about, the monsters! This cut of the film is a bit gorier, but not by a whole lot. We get to see that Boone was a mechanic, and that Lori was a lounge singer, which is completely unnecessary for the film if you ask me. I mean, with regards to these two scenes where we see Lori and Boone during their day jobs, well, I can see why the studio thought that they could be cut out. We really didn't need to see Lori singing a whole song. But anyways, getting back to the good stuff, the biggest changes come during the ending of the film, which is all different. Scenes are switched around, and happen at an entirely different pace and order than in the original theatrical cut. We get to see extended scenes involving Baphomet, which I always wanted more of. I mean, Baphomet is the weirdest thing about the movie. What the hell is he exactly? I still don’t fully understand, but I wanted more and I got it. On this new cut certain characters have a different demise, and so we get to see them die in entirely different and violent ways. Priests turn evil (as they often do in Clive Barker films) and evil cops get their due, which is probably why these scenes were cut out, cops are depicted as evil, racist, violent bigots. There’s a lot of hatred on this film for intolerant bigots in general.
The director's cut is a bit more violent!
And finally, the very ending of the film was changed drastically; Lori and Boone have more moments together and their relationship takes a very interesting twist that I loved. Basically, the film ends on an entirely different note, with the doors left open for a whole series of films to continue. I would have loved to see this series take off the way Barker had intended. After all, Barker wanted to make the “Star Wars of Monster Movies” and if that isn’t an enticing enough remark about Nightbreed, I don’t know what is. My only gripe with this cut is that they deleted the ending we saw in the theatrical release, the one in which Ashberry (the evil priest) puts his hands inside Decker’s chest and brings him back to life as Decker screams! When I originally saw the film, that ending had such an impact on me! I still love it, I wish it hadn’t been taken out, so you might want to hang on to your theatrical cut, because it still has that original ending which is pretty cool. But whatever, watching this directors cut is a real treat. And it’s a reason of celebration for Clive Barker fans and fans of the horror genre in general. While the film still retains its flaws, like for example it’s often times cheesy situations and dialog, Nightbreed still has a lot of heart, for underneath its monstrous exterior, this is a film about learning to accept each other for who we are. There is space in this world for all of us, isn’t there?
Rating: 4 out of 5