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“NIGHTBREED: The Director’s Cut” (Blu-ray Review)

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Finally, the monsters of NIGHTBREED have been set free from the underworld where they were forced to dwell. Scream Factory’s Director’s Cut of Clive Barker’s sophomore feature gives the creatures the free rein they were always intended to have until the studio meddling began.

To the many fans who have been eagerly awaiting this restoration, the history is familiar: Barker made a movie in which his unearthly beasts were the heroes, but the money men didn’t understand this not-really-radical viewpoint and ordered reshoots and editing to turn NIGHTBREED into what they saw as a commercially viable slasher film. Though the movie was a box-office flop in 1990, it clearly contained the seeds of a more ambitious, coherent and satisfying film, one available this month in a three-Blu-ray Limited Edition and a Blu-ray/DVD combo.

The new NIGHTBREED is indeed a testament to how the same basic story can be told in very right and very wrong ways. The general narrative arc is the same, but over 20 minutes of the theatrical edition (including the ending) have been removed and nearly 45 minutes of new material reinstated, for a total running time of just over two hours. I’ll leave it to others to catalog and quantify what’s fresh here; most important is how the movie now feels, and that is much more complete. Although certain scenes and transitions feel abrupt, no doubt due to footage that couldn’t be restored, NIGHTBREED now truly plays as the celebration of the fantastical and “different” that Barker always intended. The sub-cemetery world of Midian and the many and varied beings who dwell there is now fully fleshed out, and its many strange and wonderful visages receive the face time they deserve.

NIGHTBREEDBLURAYREVWhich is not to say that the humans receive short shrift. Other added scenes strengthen the bond between tortured hero Boone (Craig Sheffer) and his courageous girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby), and each receive new moments to shine (particularly when Lori performs a k.d. lang song with very appropriate lyrics in a nightclub). Boone’s devious psychiatrist, Dr. Decker (David Cronenberg), gets more screen space too, including an early bit that more immediately establishes him as sinster. Nonetheless, there’s still an oddly spare feeling to the sequences set in the human world; even in crowded milieux like that nightclub or a bar the characters visit, the environment somehow doesn’t seem fully lived in. Only when we go to visit Midian and its creatures do we have the sense of a fully engaged community, and that sense was no doubt intentional.

Considering that some NIGHTBREED devotees have already experienced the new stuff only via the rough-looking VHS footage seen in THE CABAL CUT at conventions and other events, witnessing its full visual restoration in the Blu-ray’s 1.78:1 transfer is a revelation. Certain segments appear crisper than others, and the picture is sharper overall in its daytime/well-lit scenes than in the night/darker ones, but overall this is a very fine-looking presentation with excellent colors and plenty of mood. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is equally strong (and sports Doug Bradley finally speaking for the Lylesburg character he portrays, who was dubbed by another actor—for what Bradley opines were economical reasons—in the theatrical version).

On the audio commentary they share, Barker and restoration producer Mark A. Miller (who also contribute an on-camera introduction) note early on that NIGHTBREED looks better here than it could have back when it was first produced, and spend the next two hours reveling in the opportunity to finally show audiences the movie that was intended. Their talk stops being scene-specific fairly quickly, becoming a more general chronicle of the film’s alteration and rescue, with ruminations on the importance of proper editing and praise for the many on- and offscreen contributors. The now husky-voiced Barker still can’t seem to believe he has a chance to share his true vision with the world, and also shows off his ribald side with occasional off-color jokes (responded to with laughter by the commentary techies). His joy and impish sense of humor are contagious, and the track is a must-listen.

The 72-minute “Tribes of the Moon” gathers pretty much the entire key cast of NIGHTBREED for a very detailed reminiscence of their collaboration with Barker—which, in the case of Bradley and others, stretches all the way back to their early theater days. There’s plenty of detail about how all those who played non-humans dealt with their makeup, and revealing moments such as Bradley admitting that the structure of his shooting days was so similar to those on HELLRAISER, he found it hard to get into Lylesburg’s headspace instead of Pinhead’s. We also learn about all the Barker collaborators and other genre greats who turned up to be extras in Bobby’s nightclub scene.

Taking the reverse point of view, “Making Monsters” gives makeup FX supervisor Bob Keen and his Image Animation team (whose average age at the time, Keen surprisingly reveals, was only 19!) 42 minutes to go into great depth about their individual achievements. There was so much to do on NIGHTBREED that each artist was given full responsibility for creating their creatures start-to-finish, and we get to see and hear about the entire process of how rough ideas and sketches became fully realized characters. And in the 20-minute “Fire! Fights! Stunts!”, 2nd-unit director Andy Armstrong (who also doubled for Cronenberg during Decker’s action beats) goes into an equal level of detail about the filming of the stuntwork and other assorted mayhem. All three documentaries offer revealing behind-the-scenes video; the clip that ends “Tribes of the Moon” may have some fans getting a little misty-eyed.

A second Blu-ray unique to the Limited Edition offers lots more making-of goodness, including a comparison of Ralph McQuarrie’s beautiful concept art to the final film images, matte painting and makeup tests, details on NIGHTBREED’s stop-motion (and why so much less appears in the film than was planned), a “Monster Prosthetics Masterclass” in which Keen takes viewers through the basic process of creating and applying a makeup and a large gallery of photos, posters, preproduction art and sketches. An assortment of deleted and alternate scenes (some incorporating that VHS material) are largely incidental, though there are a couple of interesting/odd moments of Decker and his buttonfaced mask engaging in “conversation.” An “Extended Torture Scene” is actually a lengthier flashback to the persecution of the Breed, and in the “Rehearsal Test,” it’s fun to watch the actors cavorting through their opening bacchanal at Midian’s gates while out of costume and makeup (albeit with no sound). The highlight on this disc is “Cutting Compromise,” in which veteran genre editor Mark Goldblatt, who was brought in brought in to “fix” NIGHTBREED, brings an equivocal point of view to the changes wrought on the film.

The Limited Edition also comes with a 40-page booklet containing a detailed history of NIGHTBREED by Miller and a gorgeous assortment of photos and promo art, but perhaps the greatest advantage it has over the Blu-ray/DVD combo is the inclusion of the theatrical cut in hi-def for the first time. It allows for a side-by-side comparison of the two visions, reinforcing just how much got lost from NIGHTBREED at the producers’ hands, and what a meaningful restoration The Director’s Cut is.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5_skull

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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