Release Date(s)1990 (October 28, 2014)
Studio(s)Morgan Creek/Seraphim Films (Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
Clive Barker is one of the giants of modern horror fiction. He’s an immensely gifted writer and artist with a deep, dark imagination. He’s also not a bad filmmaker, although he hasn’t had much luck with the medium. He made an impressive debut with Hellraiser but both of his subsequent films ended up released in severely compromised forms. After the back-to-back frustration and disappointment of Nightbreed and Lord Of Illusions, it’s little wonder that Barker decided movies weren’t worth the headache.
Of the two productions, the situation with Nightbreed was probably the most infuriating. Based on his excellent short novel Cabal, the film tells the story of Boone (Craig Sheffer), a young man troubled by dreams of a place called Midian where the monsters go. His psychiatrist, Dr. Decker (David Cronenberg), convinces him that he’s responsible for a series of grisly murders. Sure that he must be a monster himself, Boone goes to Midian only to discover that he’s been lied to. He’s not Breed. He’s Natural and, therefore, meat. Decker is the real killer and manages to get Boone gunned down by the police. But now that he’s been bitten by the Nightbreed, Boone is one of them. He returns to Midian, with both his girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) and Decker close behind.
At least, that’s what it was supposed to be about. By the time it hit theatres in 1990, the film’s studio had come down with a severe case of cold feet about a dark adult fantasy teeming with bizarre monsters who were supposed to be the good guys. They reconfigured the movie to hide the monsters in the background and highlight Cronenberg’s masked killer, slapped on a nonsensical ending and saddled it with a barely-there marketing campaign and one of the worst, most misleading posters in movie history. The theatrical cut was intensely frustrating because there was just enough of Barker’s vision left to tease but not enough to satisfy. Adding insult to injury was the release of the tie-in book The Nightbreed Chronicles, giving you a chance to see all the amazing work that ended up being gutted from the film itself.
A fully restored Nightbreed seemed like a pipe dream for many years until the discovery of lost footage on VHS. Referred to as The Cabal Cut, this version of Nightbreed was different but not better. It looked terrible and ran far too long, clearly not a finished, ready-for-release film. The Director’s Cut presented by Scream Factory, on the other hand, is. It smooths out the rough edges, restores the focus on Midian and the monsters and presents a fully-realized, thoroughly engaging and entertaining story. Almost 25 years later, Nightbreed finally reveals itself as one of the most unique and visually captivating horror films of the 1990s.
The restored HD image looks remarkable, certainly better than I expected it would. Colors are rich and saturated while fine detail is presented clearly. It’s a very satisfying picture that, happily, doesn’t reveal the seams of the makeup and other effects as badly as I’d feared (although some of that is inevitable, especially with the matte work). The 5.1 DTS-HD audio is also top-notch. Nightbreed features one of my favorite Danny Elfman scores and it sounds very grand here.
Scream Factory is treating its release of Nightbreed as an event, so it’s no surprise that they went all out with the extras, especially in the three-disc Limited Edition set. Disc one begins with an introduction by Clive Barker and restoration producer Mark Alan Miller, both of whom also contribute an audio commentary. Neither of these will do anything to alleviate recent concerns over Barker’s health (he had quite a scare back in 2012) but definitely have a great deal to offer, including Barker’s genuine surprise and appreciation for the opportunity to present his vision. The documentary Tribes Of The Moon runs over an hour and catches up with actors Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley, Hugh Ross, Simon Bamford and Christine McCorkindale. Lots of good stories here, especially from Bradley, Ross and Bamford, who were all long-time Barker colleagues. Making Monsters is, as you might expect, focused on the extensive makeup effects and features effects artists Bob Keen, Martin Mercer and Paul Jones. It runs 42 minutes. Fire! Fights! Stunts! is a 20-minute interview with second unit director Andy Armstrong. I thought this was particularly interesting since second unit work rarely gets mentioned in DVD extras. This disc also includes the original trailer.
We’re nowhere close to being done with this set. The bonus disc starts off with 23 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, some of which are seen in the theatrical version and some of which are sourced from VHS. The 11-minute Monster Prosthetic Masterclass provides a good general overview of the prosthetic process. Cutting Compromise is a candid 14-minute conversation with co-editor Mark Goldblatt. The Painted Landscape is a 5-minute look at Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art. The disc also includes matte painting tests, makeup tests, rehearsal test footage of the opening dream sequence (an interesting opportunity to see the actors performing out of makeup), an extended version of the flashback torture of the Breed scene, and a look at the film’s stop motion footage with Andy Armstrong discussing some of their unrealized goals. The disc’s still galleries provide sketches, pre-production art, on-set photos, promotional art and much more.
Finally, the Limited Edition includes a third disc (housed in its own Blu-ray case) with the theatrical cut in HD for the first time. The rights to the theatrical version are now owned by Warner Home Video and Scream Factory was only able to license it from them as a Limited Edition. It makes for an interesting comparison but I’m not likely to rewatch it very often. Both Blu-ray cases come housed in a sturdy case which also includes a lavishly illustrated booklet with liner notes by Mark Alan Miller.
I’ve been covering the Scream Factory beat since their very first release. In general, they do very good work, especially when they give a title the Collector’s Edition treatment. With Nightbreed, they really went the extra mile. Without Scream Factory’s support, I don’t believe Clive Barker would have ever been given the opportunity to restore his director’s cut of this film, certainly not with such care and attention to detail. This is an extraordinary release and one of the very best Blu-ray discs of 2014.
- Adam Jahnke
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