Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut (2012)
I originally saw Nightbreed upon its UK cinema release in 1990 and like so many others, was disappointed by the inconsistencies of the theatrical version. Over the next twenty-two years, the movie evolved its own mythos regarding the infamous studio interference that left Clive Barker's original vision undermined and neutered. However, in early 2012, Russell Cherrington, a senior lecturer in film and video production at the University of Derby, created a composite cut of the film using two workprints of the original movie that were sourced from VHS tapes, as well the DVD of the standard theatrical release. This version offered the most complete version of Barker's film available. It ran for 155 minutes and was been dubbed Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut. It was never intended as the director’s definitive version of the film and was primarily created to “encourage” the rights holders to allow Clive Barker to produce a director’s cut of his magnum opus.
Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut was subsequently shown at various film festival around the world in 2012 and I saw it at a screening at FrightFest in August 2012. Despite issues with the picture quality of most of the new material, horror fans were more than happy to view this new version of the movie. There were high expectations that this cut would be a major milestone in horror cinema and that Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut would finally present Clive Barkers vision as he intended. However, that was not the case. Upon viewing the expanded version of Nightbreed, it became very clear that a lot of the flaws of the theatrical version were still present because they were inherent to performances and the screenplay. Although it was clearly a superior cut of the film, Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut was not the Citizen Kane of horror that so many fans had dreamed of.
The additional footage featured in Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut expands upon the relationship between Boone (Craig Scheffer) and his girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby). There is more footage off Midian and a wider exploration of its various inhabitants. Then there is the extended finale and the original ending as opposed to the resurrection of “Buttonface”. These extra scenes are interesting and really helps clarify the story and further develop the characters. It certainly feels far more like a literal adaptation of Clive Barker's original novella Cabal. Some scenes in particular standout such as "Buttonface" calling to Dr Decker (David Cronenberg) to be "let out". Another change is that Detective Joyce (Hugh Quarshie) survives in this version, receiving only an injury rather than dying. His character shows a little more depth, as he objects to the Midian genocide. Overall Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut has more substance and there is a specific tonal shift that makes for a more thoughtful movie, whereas the theatrical print is mainly weighted toward spectacle.
Expanding the running time from 109 minutes to 155 minutes for Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut results in a movie that is too long. The expanded action driven third act seems to be the main culprit. It actually drags after a while. Also, despite more content, the central character of Boone is still somewhat thin. His initial dreams of Midian are somewhat glossed over and there is still a lack of gravitas in Craig Scheffer’s performance. The black humour and quips of Narcisse (Hugh Ross) are still divisive, either delighting or annoying the audience. However, the character does dies in this cut of the film. The rather poor song and the nightclub scene at the start of the movie really don’t help much either. Film makers seldom seem to be able to successfully capture the atmosphere of music venues or portray their audiences credibly.
It should also be noted that the Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut is certainly not a gorefest and does not appear to include any major increase in violence. The film is relatively understated in that respect, electing to focus on the grotesque rather than explicit. The most notable change in terms of violent material occurs during the flashback montage depicting the persecution of the “Nightbreed”. It is longer in this edit of the film and slightly more graphic in nature. There are more decapitations and a greater focus on trial by ordeal. The most unsettling scene in the movie still remains the forcible removal of a nipple ring, but that was also present in the theatrical cut. It can be argued that irrespective of depictions of physical violence, Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut is darker in tone and more unsettling, due to the expanded narrative.
Overall Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut is an interesting curio, but it is not the horror masterpiece that it could have been, because there are still fundamental problems with both the old and new material. However, it still has much to recommend it. The creature designs are outstanding and there is a sense of history and community among the denizens of Midian. The story does not quite have the same impact as it did two decades ago, because society has become more familiar with the notion of tolerance, which is one of the core themes. However, with its religious imagery, sexual undertones and inversion of good and evil, you can understand why this film bothered the conservative studio executives at the time of release. Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut puts meat on the bones of narrative and removes some of its major shortcomings. Although the shamelessly commercial original ending with the resurrection of Decker remains, it has been tempered with a message of hope as Boone seeks a new home for the “Nightbreed”.
Due to the success of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut in 2012 as it was showcased around the world, a deal was struck between the rights holders Morgan Creek and Clive Barker. After finally gaining access to all material that was originally shot, Barker subsequently produced Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut in 2014. This is a third iteration of the film. This includes some additional expositionary scenes at the beginning of the movie, which have never featured in any other version. Barker’s aim was to further focus more on the occupants of Midian and reduce the slasher element involving Dr Decker as well as the action driven finale. Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut is the Barker’s preferred version of the movie and nearest to his original vision. It should be noted that in this 120-minute edit, Narcisse lives and Detective Joyce dies. It certainly removes some of the narrative bloat found in the third act of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut.
Although much is further put right in Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut, the movie remains a flawed but intelligent experiment in cross genre film making. Ultimately the only real way for Clive Barker to overcome the shortcoming of the original troubled production would be to effectively remake the entire movie from scratch, but of course that will not happen. As a matter of personal choice, I prefer Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut out of all three versions of the movie. Mainly because I prefer the way the story pans out in this edit and the more substantial role played by Detective Joyce. All versions remain an interesting case study in the perils of studio-based film making. The only similar case of a movie that has been retooled to such an extent, is the Paul Schrader movie Dominion. Curiously enough this was yet another troubled Morgan Creek production. Need I say more?
Director Clive Barker has always been appreciative of the support that fans have shown over the years for this movie. Although Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut is his preferred version of the movie, he was aware that some fans had a fondness for Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut, with its everything but the kitchen sink, approach. After some negotiations with Morgan Creek, he was able to recreate Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut after producing Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut. This time round, it has less material sourced from VHS tape but still has some scenes of low visual and audio quality. So, there are at present, effectively three version of the film in circulation, although some are limited editions. The theatrical release of Nightbreed is still available on DVD and is shown on such platforms as Netflix. Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut and Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut have both been released on Blu-ray in the US. The former is an extremely limited pressing purely because Morgan Creek did not wish this version to impact upon sales of the director's cut. For those seeking a far more comprehensive breakdown of the difference between all versions of Nightbreed, there’s an exhaustive analysis over at Movie-Censorship.com