I’m a big fan of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, an underrated and misunderstood film that I discovered back in 2010. Although the film was rushed and incoherent due to all the infamous studio meddling I was stirred by the wild imagination and ambition on screen. It’s a wonderful visual fest with incredible sets, make-up and practical effects. I was also moved by what was, not just another gruesome horror flick, but a fantastical love letter to outsiders and an allegory for intolerance.
However, like everyone else I wanted to see the original cut of the film. In 2012, Russell Cherrington, a filmmaker and friend of Clive Barker’s, had made a nearly three long cut of Nightbreed called “The Cabal Cut”. This cut was a mixture of workprint footage taken from VHS tapes and the Warner Bros. DVD. They would show this cut at conventions and film festivals across the world, and I had the opportunity to see this cut at a horror convention in Germany. Before this screening I had already read Clive Barker’s novella Cabal (which the film was based on), the original script, and even the comic book adaption of the original script… so I had kind of already imagined in my own head as to what exactly an extended cut of Nightbreed would be like. The Cabal Cut kind of met my exceptions, although the VHS quality of the new scenes was pretty rough, so there were times when I couldn’t make out what exactly I was looking at. After the screening I told a friend of mine, “I wish I could edit together my own version of this film.”
In 2014, it was announced that they had finally located the original 35mm film elements and Scream Factory was going to release, not the Cabal Cut, but a brand new Director’s Cut with this footage! Hell yeah. I bought the 3-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray and I enthusiastically started watching the Director’s Cut. At the end of the viewing I said, “That’s it?” Where are all the scenes that I saw in The Cabal Cut? Sure, some of Clive Barker’s original vision has been put back into the director’s cut (like the original ending) but there were some really important scenes from the workprint that should have been in this version. It felt like I was just watching the Theatrical Cut again, but with some new scenes. The Cabal Cut, although somewhat bloated, was refreshingly different from the Theatrical Cut. Maybe I had too high expectations. I thought they were going to really reconstruct the film, create a new sound mix and bring Danny Elfman in provide a new score or some additional music. But this isn’t like Richard Donner doing his special cut of Superman 2 or Ridley Scott with Blade Runner. The studio ain’t gonna put up any money and restore a film they never cared for to begin with and that bombed when it was first released. Clive Barker has said he’s happy with this director’s cut, but I think he and his two editors (Andrew Furtado and Mark Miller) were kind of forced to edit all of this together in a hurry. I mean, they found the footage in 2014, started editing in July and Scream Factory wanted to release it the same year, in October! It was apparently 36 hours of footage! On the Blu-ray extras we can see the famous Peloquin and Shuna Sassi love scene. Two monsters making out on screen! This has to be the most Clive Barker-esque thing cut from the film. How could this not be in a director’s cut?
Once again, I said, “I wish I could edit together my own version of this film.” And this time I was going to do it. Initally I began editing with a copy of The Cabal Cut that I had obtained. But then something better came along my way. I contacted Jimmi Johnson, the editor of The Cabal Cut, and asked him if he could send me all of the workprint footage. Impressed by my project, Jimmi sent me the two workprints used for The Cabal Cut! Both over two hours long, unedited, versions of the film! This has made my editing a lot smoother. For months now I’ve been working on a massive, meticulous, Michael Mann-ish re-edit of Nightbreed. Using Sony Vegas Pro 13, I’ve gone through the entire film, frame-by-frame, and pretty much reconstructed the film using footage from the workprints, The Director’s Cut, The Theatrical Cut and other sources (like the extras on the limited edition Blu-ray). I’ve read two drafts of the script and even the 1990 comic book adaptation of the script to help me reconstruct the film. Both workprints differ from each other not only in content but also quality:
159 minute workprint
145 minute workprint
I’ve mainly been using footage from the “Copyright 89”, as it has superior image and audio to the 159 min. workprint. I have cropped the upper and bottom corners of the image so the text and the numbers you see won’t be in my cut. I’m using just about any piece of workprint footage that can help me reconstruct the film, and thankfully I’ve been able to restore nearly all of the workprint with the film footage that’s on the Blu-ray extras:
I’ve had a lot of interesting footage to go over. Like production dailies. I’ve had to choose which take of a scene I like the best. I’ve been able to piece together a good deal of deleted scenes. There are also many scenes and shots that are in the wrong order in The Theatrical cut and The Director’s Cut and I’ve now put them back together correctly, like a puzzle. Pretty cool stuff. I almost feel like a real film editor doing this.
Also most of the deleted scenes either have no sound or has on-set audio taken from the workprints. I’ve worked very hard on the sound design for my cut. I’ve downloaded professional sound effects (gunfire, explosions, etc.) to help me create a new sound design for almost the entire film. I’ve reworked the Danny Elfman score to suit my cut as well, but I’ve also had to pull some Elfman sounding music from other sources, because the Elfman tracks either don’t fit some scenes tonally or I just don’t want to recycle his music all the time. The most exciting aspect about this project is when I asked the actors if they wanted to help out. Chris McCorkindale who played the porcupine woman Shuna Sassi, is going to help me restore her deleted scene with Peloquin by recording some dialogue for me. Nicholas Vince who plays the moon-faced Kinski is also helping me restoring a deleted scene. I’m also working on the visual effects for the film. I’ve had to use rotoscoping to create glowing eyes for the Nightbreed god Baphomet. Not easy.
Now, adding a whole bunch of new scenes means of course that I have to remove other scenes. For those who are familiar with the movie I think you’ll be surprised to find out that I’m taking out these scenes:
Hear me out.
Clive Barker had finished filming Nightbreed at Pinewood Studios in mid 1989, either May or June (and the film was scheduled to be released in August the same year.) The finished film was reportedly a page-by-page adaptation of Cabal; not a standard horror film, but a dark romantic fairytale about a girl in love with a dead guy. A sensual and magical film more in common with Federico Fellini’s Satyricon and Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete than anything in mainstream horror.
The Powers That Be, expecting another Hellraiser, were baffled by what they saw. “The monsters are the good guys and the humans are the bad guys? How the hell are we going to market this?!” The film went through a series of bad test screenings, which resulted in extensive reshoots that were done in September of '89. These reshoots were mainly intended to make the monsters more vicious and nastier and also bulk up the character of Dr. Decker played by David Cronenberg. The studio also wanted the film to be trimmed down and more action packed. The original editor Richard Marden quit, and Mark Goldblatt took over. Goldblatt, best known for editing big action films like the Terminator and Rambo, brought a fast style of cutting to Nightbreed, which Richard Marden amusingly and accurately referred to as “frame fucking.” Heavily truncated, the theatrical cut of Nightbreed plays out like a bad action movie released by Cannon Films. Now I think that version of the film (at least the climax) is just unwatchable. The narrative was also reworked to be more centered around Dr. Decker, because the studio thought the only way to sell the film would be if it was a slasher flick. Decker was now the major villain of the film, when initially the real villains of the story were the “Sons of the Free”, a gang of gun loving, Neo-Nazi-esque rednecks that invade Midian at the end.
The true freaks
Much of Clive’s original vision got lost in the editing and the film now had a cheap and nonsensical cliffhanger ending where Decker is brought back to life for future sequels. This went against everything Clive Barker had set out to do with Nightbreed:
“One of the things I wanted to do with the book was to set up a classic stalk-and-slash psycho, the 20th century monster on the loose - Decker - against the historical, mythological and fairy tale version of ‘the monster’ which is what Boone and the Nightbreed are. I have not moral but aesthetic problems with Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees and so on, and the notion that these characters are the stuff of which anti-heroes can be made strikes me as both morally dubious and also not very interesting. I wanted to say, look, this isn’t really very attractive. Do we actually like these people - not only Decker, but the ‘normal’ human beings who make up the lynch-mob - do we really prefer these machismo-spouting bastards to the strange and the mysterious and the extraordinary? It’s very convenient that, in ‘Aliens’, the strange and the mysterious and the extraordinary just happen to be all-devouring and actually very ugly…”
“And I happen to hate slasher movies,” Barker says. “Nightbreed was a cri de coeur against slasher movies.”
Decker is suppose to represent the slasher genre that had run its course by the late 80s. But he is also the complete antithesis to such slasher icons like the tragic and sympathetic Jason and the darkly comical Freddy. Horror fans root for these characters. However, you cannot root for Decker; he is a vile, manipulative and horrible human being. The character enjoys slaughtering children, not horny teenagers. You don’t cheer for him when he’s killing people in the film. I have never understood why people prefer the ending to the Theatrical Cut where Decker is resurrected. You want the CHILD MURDERER to live??? Clive Barker had no intentions of creating the next slasher icon. He wanted to say “Fuck off slasher movies. Let’s make monster movies!” Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and instead the slasher genre was revived in the 90s following the success of Scream.
In the original cut (and the novella) Decker is a psychiatrist suffering from schizophrenia. He has a mask which embodies his murderous alter ego and he would hear the mask compel him to kill. There’s an extended scene in the workprint where Decker tells Boone that “it’s not my fault. It’s the mask!”, explaining the police would have found him and he choose Boone to be his scapegoat. The entire first act of the film makes so much more sense now. In the Theatrical Cut and Director’s Cut it’s never explained why Decker is manipulating Boone into thinking he’s a serial killer. This was all left on the cutting room floor…
When Barker went back for reshoots he added new scenes that expanded and clarified Decker’s motivations, because preview audiences didn’t understand why the character wanted to destroy the Nightbreed. Now, Decker wants to kill the Breed because he’s been killing “Breeders”, or something. This would set him up as the major villain in the sequel. These Decker reshoots (except the resurrection sequence) were kept for the Director’s Cut (and the Cabal Cut), but I don’t think they gel with Clive Barker’s original narrative of the film. In the original cut the story was focused on Boone and Lori. These scenes disrupt the narrative and puts too much empathy on Decker. Also, in the novella Decker feels like a real psychopath. But in the film, because of the reshoots, Decker is some sort of comic book supervillain; he now has a supervillain lair and he even has an evil laugh! There’s also a sense of playfulness to these added slasher sequences (the old man at the gas station and the lady at the motel) that are out of touch with the rest of the film. They are also kinda redundant without the resurrection sequence. Decker is not gonna reappear in any future Nightbreed stories, so what’s the point? Decker is now a very different character in my cut, much closer to the novella. Why does he want to kill everybody? Because he’s crazy! That’s all we need to know. I think Decker is much more frightening when he doesn’t have a sensible/understandable motive or excuse for what he is doing.
My fan-edit is a reconstruction of Clive Barker’s early 1989 cut (before all the studio interference.) The film now will hopefully have a much stronger narrative drive and pacing than the previous cuts. Character motivations and aspects of the first act make more sense now. The tone of my cut is quite different as well; the third act of the film is now much more dramatic, epic and scarier when the humans attack Midian. It’s a massacre instead of an overlong action sequence like in the Theatrical Cut. More like Schindler’s List than Rambo. It’s a horror movie now… but a horror film where we are scared of the humans and we fear for the monsters.
My fan-edit is titled “Cabal”, as it’s also a faithful adaptation of the novella
I’m planning to upload my cut on Vimeo so people can watch it.