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Director: Clive Barker
Writer: Clive Barker
Cast: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Doug Bradley
Length: 120 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
- Introduction by writer/director Clive Barker and restoration producer Mark Alan Miller
- Audio Commentary by writer/director Clive Barker and restoration producer Mark Alan Miller
- Tribes of the Moon: The Making of Nightbreed: behind-the-scenes featurette with actors Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley and more
- Making Monsters: featurette with makeup effects artists Bob Keen, Martin Mercer and Paul Jones
- Fire! Fights! Stunts! 2nd Unit Shooting: featurette with 2nd Unit Director and Stunt Coordinator Andy Armstrong
- Original Theatrical Trailer
While many of our most beloved horror films have experienced a similar trajectory—butchered by studios and released to negative reviews, only to fall out of the public eye and be reclaimed as a cult phenomena—, however, few films have the colorful history as Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. Adapted for the screen by Barker himself from his 1988 novella, Cabal, Nightbreed’s production history is, in short, a mess. Originally intended to be around two and a half hours, the studio strong-armed Barker into cutting the film down nearly an hour—cuts that not only muddied the plot but also altered the film’s intentionality. To make matters worse, 20th Century Fox mishandled the marketing of the film, only highlighting the slasher elements of the film. Because of this, the film grossed only 8.8 of the film’s 11 million dollar budget—ending any hope of continuing with the intended sequels. While fans eventually flocked to the film, seeing Barker’s vision even with the studio’s interference, Barker remained unhappy with the state of the film. That was until 2009, when Barker’s production company began the process of reassembling Nightbreed, the result would become what is known as Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut. The Cabal Cut reintroduced all of the cut material, returning the film to its 155-minute runtime. After touring with the print for a few years, Barker announced to the world that Scream Factory would be releasing the Cabal Cut on DVD for the first time ever, an announcement that enlivened the horror community. However, in June of 2014, it was announced that the release would now be called The Director’s Cut and would be significantly shorter than the Cabal Cut. This announcement somewhat polarized audiences, many who felt let down by the realization that they would still be unable to see Nightbreed in its full glory. While a 155-minute cut would be remarkable, it must be kept in mind that much of the Cabal Cut was sourced from VHS prints, a standard that falls significantly below Scream Factory’s output. Officially released today, what we have is a two-hour print—with over forty minutes of added and alternative footage—, in beautifully remastered HD; this is Nightbreed like it has never been seen before. It may not be the Cabal Cut, but it still makes for one hell of a release.
Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is haunted by visions of a ghastly world, a world where monsters reign supreme—a world called Midian. In order to harbor his visions, as well as his believed problems, Boone has been seeing a psychiatric named Dr. Phillip K. Decker (played in deadpan brilliance by David Cronenberg—perhaps Cronenberg was channeling Dr. Hal Raglan). When he is framed for a series of psychotic murders, Boone escapes into the underworld of Midian, a realm located below an abandoned graveyard. Accepted into the Nightbreed, Boone helps incite a rebellion against humanity, a chance for the historically victimized race to rise above their oppressors.One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the genre-hybridity it embodies. Nightbreed is a slasher-meets-fantasy-meets-horror-meets-mystery film, and to his credit Barker successfully delivers on the strengths of all the genres. It is, perhaps, because of this mess of styles that critics didn’t know what to make of the film upon its release. Nightbreed is not a pure horror film; in fact, what we may come to expect to be horrific is actually presented as anything but. The film spends an equal, if not greater, amount of time developing itself as a full-fledged fantasy film—or for the scenes where Lori is searching for Boone, a mystery film—than it does with the grotesque and dreadful. The intent is not always rooted in the scare; in many portions the film openly rejects horror conventions. Horror convention is often attributed to human acts. Where it relies on them the strongest is in the “slasher” scenes, where Barker brilliantly evokes a feeling of dread that easily stands up to any of history’s best slasher films. Thus, the success of Nightbreed, I would argue, is wrapped up in Barker’s ability to create a reality that is a living, breathing entity unto itself. Nightbreed has a logic that works on its own. In just two short hours, Barker produces, for the viewer, a world that parallels humanity; a world where monsters can reside and where they can be safe from a history of human brutality. While some have criticized Barker’s directing flair—favoring his talents as a writer—, this criticism seems unfounded. Nightbreed shows Barker’s incredible directing prowess. Perhaps, the thing that spectators are quick to point out is that Nightbreed lacks the murky veneer of Hellraiser. This is by all means true. In fact, you could argue that Nightbreed has an almost comic book aesthetic to it. The colors of vibrant, the monster design is unsystematic and arguably cartoonish. Yet, these aspects are essential for the film. Nightbreed’s motives are not to create monsters embodied with darkness, but to promote the monsters as the film’s heroes. The grotesque creature design of Hellraiser would have worked against this intention; it would have made the monsters harder to identify with.
I can’t even begin to imagine the painstaking process that went into reassembling the film. What is even more surprising is how balanced the overall transfer feels. Unlike some other releases where the inserted, rediscovered footage stand out, The Director’s Cut is a seamless reconstruction of Barker’s vision. The 1.78 transfer features a marvelous respect paid towards maintaining an adequate level of naturalistic film grain. As would be expected, given the track record of Scream Factory, the release doesn’t exhibit any overt signs of digital restoration, leaving a clean and faithful print. Finally, colors are vibrant and naturalistic, and contrast is appropriate, leaving a rich and bold black level without any semblance of crushing.
Following suit with the video track, The Director’s Cut features a nearly flawless audio track. Available in both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes, The Director’s Cut shows no signs of splicing, inserting, distortion, pops, or hisses. Always impressive, Danny Elfman’s score really breathes life to the film, and this restoration gives it the headroom it needs to shine. With a proper balance paid towards the often-dynamic score, sound effects, and dialogue, it is hard to find anything of note to criticize.
For those looking for a definitive assortment of extra features, the two-disc collection may be somewhat of a letdown. That is, however, far from saying that the two-disc release is lacking in any way. Tribes of the Moon: The Making of Nightbreed, first up, is a behind-the-scenes look at the production of the film; although, it is fair to say that the documentary is more from the perspective of the actors than anything else. One miss is that it lacks Barker’s presence, which considering the history of the film would have been a welcomed addition. Even without Barker’s presence, Tribes of the Moon never fails to entertain; featuring humorous and informative stories from some of Barker’s brightest starts like, pinhead himself, Doug Bradley. In addition, two other featurettes/interviews are included in this package: Making Monsters, a forty-two minute interview with make-up effects artists Bob Keen, Martin Mercer and Paul Jones; and Fire! Fights! Stunts! 2nd Unit Shooting, a twenty-minute interview with 2nd Unit Director/Uncredited Stunt Coordinator Andy Armstrong. Both of these shorter featurettes help fans understand and develop an appreciation for the meticulous—and very time consuming—work that went into creating Nigthbreed’s look and feel. What may be lacking in Tribes of the Moon, is certainly made up for in two of the discs other supplementary features. First, a heartwarming introduction by Barker and restoration producer Mark Alan Miller really solidifies the importance of this release. Scream Factory and Miller didn’t just present the world with a new way of seeing Nightbreed, they gave Barker his film back. Finally, there is an audio commentary with both Barker and Miller that ranks among some of the best out there. What marks this track is a sense of enthusiasm; and as we’ve seen with other releases, enthusiasm can be a rare aspect for director commentaries. Both Barker and Miller take joy in seeing this restoration, assemblage play out on screen. Even those who never listen to—or don’t usually care for—audio commentaries should take note.
While unfortunately the release seemed to be plagued from the onset with bad luck, Scream Factory has done their absolute best to maintain quality at every step of the turn. For those who prefer the Theatrical Release—and there are some out there—there is the unfortunate reality that you are forced to purchase the (already sold out) limited edition, which comes at a significantly higher price. The limited edition also features a beautifully commissioned artwork, and plenty of extra features, so many will find the price upcharge a mere accepted formality. For the rest of us, The Director’s Cut Blu-Ray offers everything we need. There is a great deal of extra features, the longer and more faithful cut, and—most importantly—an extraordinary HD transfer. This has been a year of growth for Scream Factory, and while there have been some bumps along the way, this release of Nightbreed helps to solidify an already trusted brand. While 2014 has certainly seen some impressive Blu-Ray releases, without a doubt Nightbreed ranks high among the list.