Sunday Matinee: Nightbreed

NightbreedFollowing the success of Clive Barker’s 1987 horror film Hellraiser he adapted another of his novels into a movie. The result was 1990’s Nightbreed based on the novel Cabal. The film was heavily edited by the studio (Fox) and when it was released it was panned and it bombed. Barker blamed the cuts and the movie went on to slowly gain a cut following and the rumours of an original cut surfaced for years.

Eventually some of the missing footage had been found here and there and was eventually assembled into what became known as the “Cabal” cut. This cut contained poor VHS quality footage blended with the theatrical cut of the movie and was screened at several film festivals over the last few years. The success of these screenings lead to Shout Factory announcing that they were going to release it on DVD in 2013. It was then revealed that Shout had found the original film elements and with Barker restored the film to a new Director’s Cut that they released last fall on Blu-ray.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Nightbreed. It really didn’t make much of an impression on me at the time, I remember thinking that the film missed the point of the book and that David Cronenberg’s psychiatrist character seemed to be the focus point of the film but other than that I really don’t remember the film which is unusual for me. Watching the new director’s cut was an interesting experience. I really don’t know what was new, what was old and what’s been changed but the new cut has over 40 minutes of new footage in it.

The film is set in Alberta, Canada. It’s starts in Calgary where young Boone (Craig Sheffer) has been having weird nightmares about monsters and a weird hidden city called Midian. He’s been telling these dreams to his psychiatrist Decker (Cronenberg). Decker is actually a serial killer who has been going around murdering families in the same manner that some of Boone’s dreams were. Decker then frames Boone for the killings and convinces Boone that Boone was the killer. Boone flees and tries to find the city of Midian which is underneath a graveyard in what I believe is northwest Alberta, it look liked it was starting to get mountainous anyway.

Midian is a haven for monsters, Boone thinking he’s a monster tries to get in but is rejected. He is bitten by one of the monsters and leaves where he is discovered by the police and shot and killed. The bite has turned Boone into one of the Nightbreed so he escapes the morgue and returns. Meanwhile Boone’s girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) is trying to figure out what happened to Boone and starts looking for Midian herself. Decker in the meantime has convinced the police that there’s a hidden city of monsters that are hiding Boone and they need to go in guns blazing. Boone ends up leading the Nightbreed into a conflict with Decker and the cops.

This is a strange film, it starts off kind of like a thriller with a hint of a mystery then it delves into a fantasy world that kind of reminds me of a cross between Legend, Labyrinth and Jabba’s palace. When we reach the finally act the movie takes another shift in tone with Alberta police force becoming a gun toting red neck hillbilly army. They are the best armed police force in Canada with machine guns, specialized shotguns, flame throwers, trip mines and of course bazookas.

I’m not sure what to make of Nightbreed. I think this new cut is closer to the novel but the film itself is pretty strange. It’s not a horror movie and the evil redneck Albertan police seem a little out of place to me. Cronenberg is entertaining and film is certainly enjoyable and it’s awesome that what was essential a lost cut of a movie has been found and restored to pristine condition. Not every lost movie is as lucky.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.