Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut (1990/2012)

JUNE 10, 2012


I remember it like it was yesterday… sneaking downstairs to watch Clive Barker’s Nightbreed on HBO (or Cinemax) during its premiere showing. The thing was, I was grounded at the time, and thus watched it on mute so I wouldn’t get caught. I assumed it would be easy enough to follow without sound, being a horror movie and all – only to discover that it barely made sense WITH sound, thanks to studio interference and re-editing/reshooting that mangled the film. And thus for years I and millions of other horror fans have been hoping to see the longer cut of the film, with seemingly no happy ending in sight.

But that finally changed thanks to the discovery of VHS workprints of the pre-fucked versions, and tonight the “Cabal Cut” of the film was screened to a sold out crowd at the New Beverly, courtesy of Days Of The Dead. And in a “Holy shit I wish I could talk to my younger self” moment (I’ve had a bunch of those thanks to all this horror stuff I do, I must say), I not only got to be in the first audience to see this version, but I introduced Clive to the crowd before the screening, and moderated the Q&A with the guys responsible for putting it together, as well as lead actor Craig Sheffer. Two points for BC.

Of course, it started late thanks to the special guests and sold out crowd, which was starting to make me wish I hadn’t made it my movie for the day. It was 8:30 by the time it started, and I had gotten up early (for a second viewing of Prometheus, which I quite liked) plus had done similar “hosting” duties for They Live earlier in the afternoon – I was pretty damn tired. If I fell asleep, there wouldn’t be any way for me to go home and watch the DVD to see what I missed!

Because let me tell you, this was one mangled flick. I don’t think a full five minutes ever goes by without the addition of a new scene (or part of one); it seems Morgan Creek had second thoughts regarding just about every moment of the film. It’s amazing to see how much later in the runtime things occur; in the theatrical cut, Boone (Sheffer) goes to Midian at the 15 minute mark – now it’s somewhere near 40. And the police siege on Midian (aka Act III, basically) now starts around the time where the theatrical cut ended! This isn’t like Aliens where there’s a few scenes added back in and an extra line of dialogue here and there, it’s a completely new beast from start to finish. If the theatrical cut was the greatest hits, this is the full discography.

And to extend that metaphor, it even has all those demos and b-sides that you’ll listen to once out of curiosity. While it’s great to have the film re-edited back to its original form (per Clive’s script and the original novel), some of this stuff just drags the movie out, and you will really start to feel its 155 minute length, particularly in the Midian attack. Not since the climax of Transformers 2 has such a sequence felt so endless, where I was actually growing numb to the sight of presumably awesome things like monsters killing asshole cops while destruction rained down around them. I also started losing track of the characters - at one point I assumed Anne Bobby’s character had been killed off in this version and I just didn’t notice, because it had been so long since they had gotten back to her attempts to escape the place before it collapsed around her.

But otherwise, there’s no denying that this is the version of the film you want to see. It’s better to be a bit bored than confused, and it even improves the things that worked fine the first time. I always enjoyed the strange friendship between Boone and Narcisse, and now there’s even more of it – their first encounter is longer, Narcisse giving him a tour of Midian is extended… it all just plays so much better. There’s also a lot more of Anne Bobby, who I previously just enjoyed as the “cute girlfriend” but actually becomes a real character here, and is given a much stronger relationship with Boone. She also sings about cavemen at one point – always a plus.

Oh, and it’s still a good movie. Even with the obvious tinkering (the first reel of the theatrical cut is one of the most rushed, nearly incoherent things I’ve ever seen), the tale of a secret city of monsters who just want to be left alone always fascinated me, particularly when it’s revealed that they’re the good guys and it’s the humans we really need to look out for (particularly Decker and that one asshole sheriff). And as a fan of makeup FX, it’s a treasure trove – no two monsters look alike, and there isn’t any goddamn CGI. I don’t know how long some of these poor actors had to sit in makeup chairs to only be seen for a few seconds in the abridged cut, but they should be happy to get more of a showcase here. There’s even a stop motion (?) beast that we see briefly; hard to judge its quality since the image (sourced from duped VHS tapes) was so poor in the new scenes, but it’s a lot better than anything you’d see in a Stephen Sommers movie, that’s for sure.

However it still suffers from a problem I always had with the other cut, which is that the Decker story never fully gels with the Midian stuff. Decker is interesting, and having David Cronenberg play him is just pure awesome, but the narrative often just has him hanging around for no reason. At one point he seemingly just hangs out in the sheriff’s office for like an hour while he and the other cop go off and do stuff, and even in this version no one ever seems to question why he’s always around accusing Boone of stuff (or why he's so shady). And I still can’t tell if we’re supposed to realize he’s the killer in the button mask earlier than the moment it’s actually revealed on-screen, because there’s no other option and it’s pretty obvious that the killer is NOT our hero Boone. Perhaps if it was a rogue Midian resident committing the killings, this serial killer plot would work better; as it is, it seems like two stories grafted together. Indeed, the “shrink frames his patient for his own crimes” story was clearly interesting enough for Sheffer – he played a similar role in the far less complicated Hellraiser: Inferno.

But I actually kind of liked that, in a way – this long cut doesn’t necessarily solve every problem that was present in the theatrical version (which, again, is still quite enjoyable). It’d be easy to say “Morgan Creek destroyed a perfect film!” but the reality is that they just exacerbated some of its issues while adding others. So if those original elements cannot be found and this is the best we can get, then perhaps the solution is to (don’t kill me) remake the film, rethinking certain plot elements and making it with a studio that understands challenging horror (or just making it independently and hoping for a decent release). Maybe then we can get the “Star Wars Of Horror” we were promised.

Until then, keep signing those petitions and checking with Occupy Midian website for screenings, as even in its clunky state, it’s a true gift to the fans to be able to see this version, and kudos to Russell Cherrington and Mark Miller for doing the heavy lifting to getting it out there. This "Frankenstein-ed" version will continue to play at horror cons and places like the New Bev, and I encourage you to see it if it comes near you. Every sell-out crowd will send a message to Morgan Creek that it’s worth revisiting this movie properly, and that is the ultimate goal. I’d love to have a definitive, cleaned up version of the movie to watch on Blu-ray, and with so few horror films that even attempt to be “epic”, I think it deserves the lavish treatment on ambition alone.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. That's so cool. I honestly wish they'd do the same thing with the extended cut of Needful Things.


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