Saturday, November 22, 2014

NIGHTBREED (1990) Director's Cut Blu-Ray Review

Nightbreed (1990) d. Barker, Clive (USA)

Based on his novel Cabal, Clive Barker’s follow-up to Hellraiser exhibits as many of that film’s strengths (vivid, original storyline, exemplary makeup effects) as its weaknesses (uneven performances, gore without scares, jarring jokes). Craig Sheffer stars as Boone, a troubled mental patient whose implication in a series of violent murders leads him to Midian, an underground “other-world.” Within this subterranean city, we encounter the “Nightbreed,” a wonderfully grotesque collection of freaks and mutants (wonderfully realized by makeup designer Paul L. Jones) that populate the shadows of the human world, unable to venture into the light.

Legendary Canadian director David Cronenberg also makes a rare appearance in front of the camera, lending a spooky aloofness to the role of Boone’s psychiatrist, Dr. Decker.

Painting his monsters as the sympathetic characters, Barker attempts some fine points about the human tendency to hate (and consequently destroy) anything we find foreign and/or ugly. Unfortunately, even in the restored and long-awaited “Director’s Cut” (now available from Shout! Factory in a DVD/BR combo, or a sold-out Limited Edition that includes the original theatrical release), his message is often drowned out by effects-for-effects’-sake and smart-alecky dialogue, diminishing the emotional resonance.

With two-dimensional characters (whiny heroes, growling Nightbreed, bullish cops, redneck good-ol-boys), viewers might struggle for anyone to identify with, forced to content themselves with the noisy, cartoonish mayhem, extraordinary art direction, and latex creations by a venerable team of makeup technicians, including Bob Keen, Geoffrey Portass, and Kate Murray.

Shout! Factory’s October release of Barker’s much tampered-with passion project restores 40 minutes of never-before-seen footage while excising scenes included in the theatrical release, bringing the runtime to a healthy 121 minutes. (This is nearly 20 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, 20 minutes shy of the “Cabal Cut” that made the rounds a few years back at various fan conventions and events.)

It’s also fair to say that the makeup has never been shown off to greater effect, with this “print” mastered from the original camera negative. The fact that all of the latex trickery holds up nearly 25 years later is a testament to the craftsmanship on display. Whether or not the story satisfies, there is no denying the artistry of these creatives at the heights of their abilities.

The supplements, as to be expected, are rich and bountiful, beginning with an audio commentary track by Barker and restoration producer Mark Alan Miller. The two have quite the job on their hands, pointing out the various changes and alterations, while also explaining the original genesis of the project and its subsequent pummeling at the hands of the studio, but they manage somehow.

Next up is the grand buffet known as "Making Monsters,” a 42-minute collection of interviews and behind-the-scene footage from makeup artists Jones, Keen, and Martin Mercer. Since the monsters are where the real attraction lies for, this will likely be the first stop for most geeks o’ the ’breed and they will not be disappointed. There’s also an interesting featurette called “Fire! Fights! Stunts!,” which is truth in advertising as it covers the 2nd Unit chores handled by Andy Armstrong in all its inflammatory glory.

The crown jewel, however, is Greg Carson’s Tribes of the Moon: Making Nightbreed. This feature-length (72 min.) doc excels in behind-the-scenes footage and 35-years-later talking-head segments with cast members Sheffer, Doug Bradley, Anne Bobby, Simon Bamford, Hugh Ross, and Christine McCorkindale. One might have wished, however, that Carson would have sought out a few genre scholars to discuss the film’s lasting legacy and how its studio-mangled failure essentially ended – with the exception of 1995’s Lord of Illusions – Barker’s reign behind the camera. Considering the passionate fanbase, deeper exploration of the subject would have been appreciated, but paired with the other featurettes, one gets a fairly comprehensive notion of what it was like to be there in Midian during those heady days and nights of 1989.

Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut DVD/BR combo is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE. (The 3-disc Limited Edition has sold out at this time. That’s why they call it “limited,” folks.)

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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