Nightbreed a Flawed, Forgotten Cult Movie and Ode To Monsters

In the era of the Internet and social media, dissatisfied fans can lobby for re-releases and Director’s Cuts of favorite, but flawed, movies. Long before disgruntled superhero fans took to Twitter calling for studio executives to ‘Restore the Snyderverse‘, devoted audiences had to show their love for a movie by renting it over and over and waiting patiently. When Clive Barker (Hellraiser) got behind the camera and adapted his own novel Cabal into feature-length movie, Nightbreed, the results were disappointing. Audiences didn’t turn out to theaters; critics dismissed it. But like so many other flawed, but creatively distinct efforts, Nightbreed has found enough cult status to earn a recent 4K re-mastering.

Nightbreed Director’s Cut Offers More of its Monsters, and Cautions as to the Value of Alternate Versions

Contrary to fanboys’ belief, director’s or producer’s cuts don’t often make much of a difference. Look no further than The Producer’s Cut of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers for proof. In most cases, additional footage amounts to little more than an increased runtime. Sometimes 15 more minutes added to a bad movie just means a longer bad movie. But Nightbreed’s history is quite unique. Morgan Creek Productions infamously chopped and poorly marketed Barker’s movie. In 2014, Scream Factory released a Director’s Cut assembled from cut footage previously believed to be lost. Barker’s Nightbreed ‘Cut’ adds approximately 20 minutes of footage. And unlike other ‘Director’s Cuts’, Scream Factory’s release not only fleshes out much of Barker’s world, but also makes some significant alterations.

If anything, the ‘Director’s Cut’ re-affirms that Nightbreed is indeed a monster movie.

Overall, Barker’s ‘Director’s Cut’ doesn’t significantly change Nightbreed’s story. In fact, much of the early additional footage introduced doesn’t feel all together different from most alternate cuts. What you largely get are previously unseen moments that ‘flesh out’ some characters. However, the restored footage does give audiences more of Midian’s monsters. If anything, the ‘Director’s Cut’ re-affirms that Nightbreed is indeed a monster movie. Where The Director’s Cut really diverges from the theatrical version is the movie’s final act. Nightbreed’s ‘restored’ ending makes significant changes. It’s a truly different viewing experience. Not all the changes are an improvement. For example, Decker’s new character arc is disappointing. Nonetheless, ‘The Director’s Cut’ ultimately feels like a more complete movie experience.

Clive Barker Offers a Mesmerizing Mythology Set Against a Flawed Movie

Regardless of version, Nightbreed was and remains an intriguing premise brimming with monster mythology. In spite of its R-rating, it feels like what a Universal Monsters universe could be in contemporary times. Underlying the fantasy-horror is a vivid mythology that recalls a basic idea from 30s and 40s horror – the real monsters aren’t always what audiences initially identify as the monsters. Barker’s Midian is a complex, living world. Similarly the mythology – the characters, rules, and symbolism – are mesmerizing. Even if the movie’s narrative is flawed, you can’t help but be invested in Midian. Outsides of a television series, you rarely see this kind of world-building in standalone movies. It’s the kind of world that horror fans would want to spend more time. If there’s a horror movie that could sustain its own television series, it’s Nightbreed.

The movie is always more interesting when it’s in Midian, as compared to the scenes set in the more earthly realms.

Regardless of which version you watch, Nightbreed is still a flawed movie. Barker is a great writer but, as a director, he’s limited. First, Nightbreed has pacing problems, even in its theatrical version. The movie is always more interesting when it’s in Midian, as compared to the scenes set in the more earthly realms. Tonal problems abound with Hugh Ross’ “Narcisse” injecting needless humor that detracts from the gravity of the scenes in which he’s present. This isn’t to say that either the characer or performance are unnecessary. Rather the use of the character seems to undercut the intent of the movie. Moreover, even The Directors’ Cut fails to clearly establish what feel like important story points. The ‘drunk priest’s’ role, or instance, is disjointed in both versions.

Nightbreed is Filled With Colorful Monsters, But Limited By Casting Miscues

In spite of the cult following that has grown around Nightbreed, it’s not free of issues. Chief among its clunkier problems is some of the casting. In fact, much of the cast feels either underwhelming or just outright miscast. At the time of its release, Nightbreed star Craig Sheffer was an up-and-coming star known for roles in 80s teen movies like Some Kind of Wonderful and That Was Then … This Is Now. Following Nightbreed, Sheffer found roles in The Program, A River Runs Through It, and Fire in the Sky. And then good roles kind of dried up for Sheffer. Several years later, he’d appear in Hellraiser: Inferno – one of the quietly better of that franchise’s sequels. As central protagonist ‘Boone’, Sheffer is serviceable, if not a bit limited. Conversely, Anne Bobby, playing Boone’s girlfriend ‘Lori’, has limited range and little to add to the story.

…Cronenberg is limited as an actor, best served by smaller roles like his brief appearance in Jason X.

Of course, this next criticism will likely draw some backlash. As a filmmaker, David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome, The Dead Zone) is a legend without comparison. Comparatively, Cronenberg is limited as an actor, best served by smaller roles like his brief appearance in Jason X. But Nightbreed’s Dr. Philip K. Decker is a crucial role that demands a bit too much from Cronenberg. On one hand, the visual appearance of the character is disturbing and accomplishes the feat of being more frightening than the monsters themselves. Nevertheless, Cronenberg often comes off a bit stiff. Yet in fairness to Cronenberg, in a movie jam-packed with mythology, Barker somewhat limits the character.

Nightbreed Deserves a Re-Interpretation as a Prestige Television Series

Some movies become cult classics for a reason. With Nightbreed, Clive Barker crafted a fully realized world of sympathetic monsters that you’ll rarely find today on the big screen. Of course, it’s not entirely accurate to blame poor marketing or the lack of an existing intellectual property on the fantasy-horror’s failure. As a director, Barker was limited and it shows throughout the movie. Yet warts and all, Nightbreed stood as one of the 1990’s better horror movies. Barker’s ‘Director’s Cut’ just confirmed the rich story potential of Midian and its monsters. A television series, with an opportunity for an ongoing narrative, may be the best thing for Barker’s fantasy world.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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