Studio: Morgan Creek
Director: Clive Barker
Writer: Clive Barker
Producer: Mark Miller, Russell Cherrington
Stars: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charles Haid, Hugh Quarshie, Hugh Ross, Doug Bradley, Catherine Chevalier, Bob Sessions, Malcolm Smith
Manipulated by a serial killer, a troubled man discovers a lair hidden beneath a cemetery that provides refuge for monsters.
For only the eighth time since falling into a toxic shock coma following a visit to the dentist in February 2012, Clive Barker left his Los Angeles home in October 2013 to appear at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre after a screening of “Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut.” Over the course of the evening’s Q&A, Barker referred to the theatrical cut as “a f*cked up version” and added that it was “doubly embarrassing to deliver a movie to the world that (he) wasn’t proud of.” Barker even half-joked that during the original press junkets, he wished to sympathize with the interviewing critics and admit, “yeah it sucks, doesn’t it?”
Writer/director Clive Barker wanted “Nightbreed” to be one thing. Studio Morgan Creek wanted it to be something else. That is the Reader’s Digest summary of a much longer and more sordid story almost as layered as “Cabal” itself. Suffice it to say, “Nightbreed” released in 1990 to unmet expectations in a creatively compromised format.
Still, fans refused to let the troubled film choke to death on disappointment and poor box office returns. Like the secretive creatures dwelling below the Midian cemetery, there was a sense that something darkly magical might be lurking beneath a discarded and forgotten surface. It was just that no one was quite sure of exactly how to go about finding it.
Enter Mark Miller, who learned through an Internet message board that a fabled workprint of “Nightbreed” existed somewhere that more closely represented Clive’s original vision with some sixty minutes or so of additional footage. Once established as Barker’s production partner at Seraphim Films, Miller set about on an exhaustive quest to uncover the rumored footage by cold calling executives, studios, filmmakers, and anyone who offered even the remotest chance of sourcing what would become known as “The Cabal Cut.” In a bit of anticlimactic irony, the director’s cut workprint was eventually found sitting in Clive’s closet all along, supposedly behind a box of porn, if the director’s maybe-not-a-joke is to be believed.
Russell Cherrington then cobbled together the unearthed footage with the theatrical cut to create what Mark Miller dubbed as a “kitchen sink” version of “Nightbreed.” The resulting question on the minds of diehard devotees then became, does this finally make “Nightbreed” into the movie I always hoped/believed it could be?
The answer is yes and no. “Kitchen sink” is truly the most appropriate way to describe “The Cabal Cut” as the real interest lies in putting every available minute of “Nightbreed” onto the screen, whether it makes for a better movie or not. Actually paring down “The Cabal Cut” into a true director’s cut is a task reserved for a later endeavor. So while “Nightbreed” is definitely a more cohesive and sensible narrative in its “Cabal” incarnation, it more or less trades one set of pacing issues for another. What was originally a problem of not enough plot and character development is now the reverse problem of having too much extraneous fat to keep the movie from an unbridled sprint.
Those plentiful “huh?” moments when it felt like “Nightbreed” had completely skipped a scene? That feeling was likely justified as a number of reinstated backstory embellishments finally add real meaning to various interpersonal relationships. Boone and Lori now have more than just a single paltry scene together before Boone retires to Midian. They are depicted as a passionate and playful couple, and their romance blooms even more during an extended jail breakout where Lori proves how comfortable she really is with Boone’s monstrous transformation. A completely different ending, and we are talking several scenes here, not just one, satisfyingly resolves Boone and Lori’s arc as the love story that Barker wanted to be at the film’s core.
Boone spends more time with Decker, as well. And Decker spends more time with his mask. Not wearing it, but talking to it. “The Cabal Cut” injects a touch more motivation into the murderous doctor with additional snippets of psychotic behavior, and his blade also takes on an elevated role during the third act’s climax. Meanwhile, dive bar mistress Sheryl Ann has a scene that makes her occupation of Lori’s passenger seat on the drive to Midian less of a jarring jump in sequencing.
The greatest benefit that “Nightbreed” sees with “The Cabal Cut” is in its handful of complete character changes. Captain Eigerman and Detective Joyce are less redundant as prejudiced lawmen now that Detective Joyce survives Decker’s attack in order to have a change of heart over committing genocide. Also gone is Ashberry’s jailhouse dialogue condemning Boone as an abomination and the reverend is granted a more purposeful arc as the story’s conflicted spiritual center.
Strangely, some scenes seem like they are still missing. Boone’s guided tour of Midian still ends with Lylesberg initiating Boone into the Nightbreed. When Kinski actually found the time to tutor his apprentice in Midian’s laws is anyone’s guess. In another instance, Boone makes his first appearance attempting to save Lori from Decker in the cemetery while already being restrained by two Nightbreed as he argues with Lylesberg. Maybe there is a second box of porn in another closet hiding a tape that fills in the remainder of these gaps.
What was good about “Nightbreed” before is still good, and in most cases, at least marginally improved. The final battle is impressively explosive to the point of overindulgence. The heartless extermination of Nightbreed carries more emotional impact, but the themes of prejudice, acceptance of altered natures, and the need to belong wade deeply in the extended action of shotgun blasts and crumbling rock. It is this kind of excess that prevents “The Cabal Cut” from making “Nightbreed” much better instead of just better.
“Nightbreed” is very much a product of its times with the jittering halo rings of old school matte paintings and the production value expected of a modestly budgeted movie filmed in the twilight of the 1980’s. “The Cabal Cut” is not the definitive version of the material, although it is evidence that fans were right in suspecting that “Nightbreed” had more to offer than it originally appeared. Somewhere between “The Cabal Cut” and the theatrical version exists an edition of the film that excels even further. The filmmakers just need their Narcisse to provide final directions on how to get there.
Review Score: 65