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Review: Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut

nightbreed 1990

Clive Barker burst onto the horror scene with his three-volume short story collection The Books of Blood. He cemented his place as a major force in the genre with his 1987 film Hellraiser, based on his novel, The Hellbound Heart. The success of Hellraiser opened many doors for Barker, particularly in terms of filmmaking. Nightbreed was hugely promising at its onset. Hellraiser had been made for around $1 million and proved to be a big success. Nightbreed was a much larger production in every way, shape and form. It awarded Barker all the opportunities he didn’t have on his previous film. Instead of shooting inside a house, Nightbreed was lensed on the enormous sound stages of Pinewood. It was a major studio production, the kind a director normally doesn’t see with his or her second film. But along with the size and budgetary freedom of the production came bigger problems.

While making Hellraiser, Barker basically had the freedom to do whatever he wanted so long as he delivered the film on time. But with Nightbreed the studio meddling became the stuff of legend. They didn’t get the story at all. They only realized that they did not want to make the movie after they had already spent too much money to stop the production. Producers were adamant that the story as it was would alienate people, and even told Barker that people would side with the monsters if he wasn’t careful. This, of course, was the entire point. The movie was marketed as a slasher film, centering around the malicious Decker, played by director David Cronenberg. Though there was still enough footage to put together a solid feature, Nightbreed died in editing. Over half an hour of footage was lost, on top of that reshoots were added to deliver more action sequences. It predictably bombed in theaters and was a disappointment not only for the studio but even more so for the director and cast who had poured their hearts and souls into it.

This background is important to know going into the director’s cut. For twenty-five years Nightbreed was assumed to be a failure. The movie has finally been restored, and Clive Barker’s vision has been realized for the first time. Like the Nighbreed themselves, the movie has returned from death for a second, better life.

Nightbreed follows a man named Aaron Boone. He has vivid dreams of a place called Midian, a place where monsters go to thrive, where all his sins will be forgiven. Taking advantage of Boone’s mental state, his psychiatrist Decker convinces Boone that he has committed terrible murders, murders that Decker himself has actually committed. With the police on his trail, Boone is shot down and killed. After death, he makes his way to Midian, a deserted cemetery with a thriving underworld beneath. He is taken in by the local creatures, the Nightbreed. Decker is still hot on Boone’s trail, as is Boone’s girlfriend, Lori. Decker convinces the local police of the strange things that happen in Midian and they take it upon themselves to cleanse the Earth of the unnatural. Thus the stage is set for the war between human and Nightbreed.

From the very beginning of this new version, I could not believe how much had been cut out. There are numerous scenes that actually take the time to establish the characters that were not present in the film’s theatrical or previous home video releases. These scenes are incredibly important. They give us time to get to know the characters before things start getting weird. In the director’s cut, Boone and Lori’s relationship is fleshed out much more which makes the entire film easier to follow as the Beauty and Beast romance between them is such an integral part of the story.

The director’s cut does a proper job of fleshing out its villains as well. Decker is given a bit more room to breathe but he wasn’t exactly absent in the theatrical cut. In fact, the murders he commits—which are to be sure the scariest moments—were plastered all over the trailers. It’s the human crusader, Lieutenant Eigerman, who is fleshed out more here.

The director’s cut of Nightbreed is a much, much more faithful adaptation of Barker’s novella, Cabal. More importantly, it’s finally a fully realized version of what Barker originally set out to make. Now it can finally be viewed as an example of what Barker is capable of when he is at his best. It’s a large-scale horror fantasy that never sacrifices fleshed-out characters or important themes. It has both in spades while still providing viewers with an entertaining, engaging thrill-ride.

IMDB Rating: IMDb
Director(s): Clive Barker
Writer(s): Clive Barker
Stars: Criag Scheffer, Abbe Bobby, David Cronenberg
Year: 1990
Studio/ Production Co: Morgan Creek, Fox
Budget: $11 Million
Language: English
Length: 120 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Fantasy, Thriller

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Written by Nat Brehmer
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Nathaniel Brehmer has also written for Horror Bid, HorrorDomain, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, We Got This Covered, and more. He has also had fiction published in Sanitarium Magazine, Hello Horror, Bloodbond and more. He currently lives in Florida with his wife and his black cat, Poe.
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