Friday, November 9, 2012

Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut

Clive Barker is awesome. That’s all I have to say. Not only is he a fantastically talented writer, but he’s also a phenomenal artist and filmmaker. Unfortunately I have only had the opportunity to read a handful of his novels and short story compilations, but from what I have read I have loved. “The Hellbound Heart” is probably my all time favorite book, and we all know that it was the basis for Hellraiser, which he also directed and is one of my all time favorite movies. I also have had the pleasure of reading “Cabal”, which Barker’s follow-up Nightbreed is taken from.

In my humble opinion Nightbreed is a mediocre film. It speeds by with reckless abandon, character development and coherent plot be damned. I like it, but I do realize that it is not all that good. It always felt like there was information that wasn’t being explained properly, that it was somehow missing something. Then I read that 20th Century Fox/Morgan Creek wasn’t thrilled with Barker’s original 2 ½ hour cut of the film and demanded he trim it down to a more manageable 108 minutes. That version is what we all received back in 1990 and it was a financial failure.
There has been a fan outcry over the past few years for Fox/Morgan Creek to release the uncut version of Nightbreed, but they are uninterested since no one outside the fan base would fork up money to buy a DVD (from what it sounds like we were lucky to even get the theatrical cut on disc). That’s where Russell Cherrington comes in. A fan of the movie and a filmmaker himself, he asked Barker to give him all the material he had on hand so he could piece together an extended cut on his own. Barker agreed and for the past couple of years he has been working to make a coherent film out of the mess of footage he received. Within the past few months Cherrington has been touring with his “Cabal Cut” to hopefully convince the production comany that there is an audience for this project, and I was lucky enough to see it at the Portage Theater in Chicago over the summer. Running just around 2 ½ hours, I have to say that this new cut not only expands the characters and their relationships, it broadens the scope of the film as well.

The story follows Boone (Craig Sheffer), a rebellious sort of fellow, and his fantastically loyal girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby). Due to some vivid nightmares Boone is being drawn to a mythical place called Midian that his therapist, Decker (David Cronenberg?!), is interested in finding as well. Boone discovers Midian, a haven for the freakishly deformed outcasts of society, but dies in the process. However, he returns from the grave to join the ranks of Midian and is told by the residents that he is the one prophesied to lead them to a new home. Lori begins to investigate the death of her lover, and finds her way to Midian not realizing that Decker is not far behind... and he’s planning on raining hell down upon them.
Now instead of the Lori character disappearing for 20 minutes after her opening scene, we get a whole segment about Lori being a singer and how she wants Boone to see her perform on stage. Once Decker gives Boone the LSD he doesn’t immediately walk in front of a truck, he actually goes to see her sing regardless that he’s tripping balls. Then he gets hit by a truck. This whole bit works wonders to help the audience understand the relationship between these two characters before the shit hits the fan.

There are lots of little moments that are extremely welcome due to not just new material being added, but by Cherrington’s use of alternate takes for certain scenes. The hospital scene with Narcisse is basically the same, but some different takes are utilized that feature better performances or slightly altered dialogue. The entire film is peppered with these moments and I loved every second of them.

The massive changes are mostly centered around the epic finale where the local police, and Decker, assault Midian in an attempt to wipe out its entire population. There are more brutal killings, more scenes of action and mayhem (although I did notice several times that footage was repeated over and over again to pad the length) and a completely different ending. Not all of it works, but it does help to explain why certain things occur.
I always had a problem with the ending in the theatrical version. Everything burns to the ground, then we just get a shot of all the remaining Breed hiding in a barn followed by Decker being resurrected by the priest. The barn scene felt rushed and the Decker bit felt tacked on to me. Then I saw the original ending where Lori kills herself in order to force Boone to resurrect her so she can accompany him on his quest to find the new Midian, and the priest kills Captain Eigerman so he can be the one to hunt down and eradicate the Breed himself. It all makes sense now!

All the performers are now able to get their moment in the spotlight instead of being heavily edited. I was especially happy to hear the actors’ original voices being used instead of the hokey dubbed ones. I found that Catherine Chevalier, who plays Rachel, to have a beautiful voice that was originally replaced with a deep mannish one that didn’t seem to fit the character at all. Doug Bradley re-dubbed all his lines to replace the bad voice-over his character received as well.

While I was and still am not a big fan of Craig Sheffer, he does seem to be trying his damnedest to make his performance believable. Sometimes he pulls it off and other times he fails completely. I just wish he had more physical stuff to do during the finale since all he does is run around looking confused. Anne Bobby, who in the original cut I found annoying and whiny, does a complete 180˚ in this version thanks to some alternate takes and retooled editing. I found her performance to be strong and vulnerable at the same time. I actually enjoyed her character more than Sheffer’s this time around. All the supporting cast does the best they can with their limited screen time, even in this cut of the film. David Cronenberg, who I always felt was an odd bit of casting, still comes off as creepy. The small bits that were mixed back in help to fill out his character are great, and I was happy to see that in The Cabal Cut his character stays dead. Bringing him back to life in the theatrical cut was cheap and clichéd.
Danny Elfman’s score is awesome as always. This was composed a few years before I started to tire of his overly familiar sounding scores, but he pulled yet another winner out of his hat for Nightbreed. Its interesting fusion of action cues, fantasy elements and flat out horror themes still gets play on my iPod.

While not a masterpiece by any stretch of the word, Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut is head and shoulders above the theatrical version that was plopped down back in the day for mass consumption. I hope that Cherrington and company manage to raise enough money to get that Blu Ray release they’re aiming for. I’d buy it in a heartbeat in order to watch this again, and again, and again and again.

4 out of 5

Theatrical Version: 2 out of 5

Here's a pic of actress Anne Bobby, my girlfriend and I at the Chicago screening of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut.

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