Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut (2012) Review

Nightbreed was conceived and hyped as the horror equivalent of Star Wars, but through a typical studio executive shuffle, Barker discovered that not every suit was as open to his weird vision of monster anti-heroics. The film was subsequently shorn from nearly 3 hours to a scant 90 minutes, the ending was re-shot, as were many scenes critical to the film’s broadly scoped narrative. Then, to top it off, the film was marketed as a straight slasher film and dumped into theaters unceremoniously.

It was a process that likely broke Barker’s love of filmmaking. While the Hellraiser sequels continued to do banging box office business with his limited involvement, Nightbreed, his high concept, auteur progeny was deemed a disappointment financially and critically. That Lord of Illusions, the underrated 1995 noir-horror film, was made after such a discouraging fate is something of a miracle.

In the meantime, stories grew of an existing work print that provided a truer version of Barker’s Nightbreed tale. Petitions began to pop up on the Internet, demanding Fox/Morgan Creek fund the reassembly and re-release Clive’s original vision, preferably in a lavish DVD/Blu-ray box set. After a work print owned by Barker himself was screened at conventions like Horror Hound Weekend and Mad Monster Party, film restorers Russell Cherrington and Mark Miller decided to take matters into their own hands and spearhead a restoration themselves. Called Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut, the duo cut together the official version using two existing, Barker-owned work prints, Warner’s bare-bones DVD, and guidance from Barker’s original script and novel. I was in attendance for the Portage Theater’s very own Chicago premiere of the film (Cherrington and company touted it as a world premiere, but it has probably been around the convention circuit too many times for that label to stick). At 155 minutes, this version is about as close to a Director’s Cut as fans are likely to get. How does Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut fare in comparison to the original?

Well, let’s get it out of the way now: Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut still doesn’t make a goddamned lick of sense, even in its extended format. If anything, its expansion from a choppy action movie narrative has merely resulted in a choppier ensemble cast narrative. Characters like Decker, Lori, Captain Eigerman, Rachel, Babbette, Detective Joyce, and Lylesberg are thankfully fleshed out further.

Unfortunately, Boone (Craig Sheffer, above) is still as thin and bland a protagonist as Barker has ever concocted. He’s supposed to be an unhinged loner whose bubbling psychosis makes him unsure of his violent tendencies. He convinces himself he’s a monster, only to find out he isn’t one, and then only to be transformed into one, only to then bring destruction and rebirth to his monster kingdom.

Or something. Boone’s arc from mismatched monster to liberator of Midian has always been bland, especially in the theatrical cut, but that film moved so fast it was sort of hard to dwell on the character’s anorexic personality. Much like an Italian giallo, the grisly subject matter, Bava-esque cinematography and mind bending effects were so weird and over-the-top that style ultimately triumphed over that cut’s lack of substance.

Here, there is substance to the character, just not a lot that makes him interesting. Boone is the Clark Kent/Superman of Midian — a boring, goody-goody alienated from humanity and the monsters he wants to call his family. It is only his relationship with Lori that gives the character any chops at all — the choice between being loved and being a monster — that gives Boone enough dramatic heft to be tolerated. One of the strongest changes to Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut is the closure given to Boone and Lori’s relationship in the ending scene — without giving too much away, Bobby and Sheffer’s romance teeters on the verge of tragedy. The tension and stakes here evolve into an absorbing and emotional denouement that lends the story genuine heart, something previous iterations desperately lacked.

Continue reading the review of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut on the jump…

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