- by Jeff Beck
Nightbreed: Impressive Makeup, but Little Else (Blu-ray)
Clive Barker’s most notable contribution to the realm of cinema has always been his 1987 debut feature “Hellraiser,” a gruesome tale that was a little light on story, but was saved by the inclusion of some incredible special effects. His next feature, “Nightbreed,” didn’t fare quite as well, but to hear him tell it, it’s because of the poor treatment it received from the studio at the time. The original theatrical cut runs only about 100 minutes and apparently lost a lot of what Barker had in his original vision for the film. Now, 24 years later, the film has been restored to what he originally intended, adding in about 20 minutes of never-before-seen footage that supposedly helps tell the story a little better. The original cut took quite a thrashing upon its release, so can it be that this new footage makes enough difference to change a few minds all these years later, or is this just another case of a film that was beyond saving in the first place?
The story concerns a young man, Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), who is getting over a recent psychotic episode. He tries to get on with his normal life with his girlfriend, Lori (Anne Bobby), but an urgent call from his psychiatrist, Dr. Decker (David Cronenberg), prompts a visit that shows his troubles aren’t quite over yet. During this visit, Dr. Decker convinces Aaron that he just might be responsible for a series of recent murders and that he should take medication, which turns out to be a hallucinogen disguised as Lithium. After nearly being run down by a truck, he overhears a man ranting in the hospital about a place called Midian, a land of monsters that Aaron has been having dreams about. The man gives him directions for how to get there, but upon arrival, all he finds is a graveyard, a graveyard that just happens to be inhabited by a variety of strange creatures. It’s not long before the police, aided by Dr. Decker, find Aaron, a confrontation that ends in him being gunned down. However, having been bitten by one of the creatures just minutes before, Aaron isn’t quite as dead as he may seem, leading to a new life amongst his monster brethren.
Having never seen the original cut of Barker’s film, I can’t say whether it worked or not without the additional footage, but having seen this new Director’s Cut, I can say that I don’t see how removing 20 minutes would have been nearly enough to help it. “Nightbreed” is a film that was made simply as a platform for the makeup and special effects, which, to be honest, are very impressive, but are not enough to carry the film for its two-hour runtime. In a similar fashion to “Hellraiser,” the story here is very light, so light in fact that at times it feels as though there isn’t one going on at all.
Barker tries to cover this up with the multitude of creatures that he throws in front of the camera, particularly in a long sequence that has Lori exploring the never-ending cave of monsters as she searches for Aaron, but all the makeup in the world can’t conceal the fact that there just isn’t much going on throughout this entire feature. To make matters worse, the climax is a 30-minute battle between the police and the creatures that doesn’t take long at all to become monotonous. There are a couple of things to like about it though. As I said, the makeup is very skillfully done, giving us some very bizarre creatures to look at, and you also get a very interesting performance from David Cronenberg (director of such classics as “The Fly,” “Naked Lunch,” and “A History of Violence”), but unfortunately Barker is working with a very weak premise, leaving him with a film that is not likely to work no matter how he cuts it.
“Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut” come to Blu-ray in a stunning 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that seamlessly integrates the new footage with the old. The crisp, sharp image guarantees that you get to see all of the elaborate makeup for the creatures in the best quality possible. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all elements of the soundtrack in perfect quality. Overall, Shout! Factory has once again done an incredible job making a little old horror flick look new again.
Commentary with Writer/Director Clive Barker and Restoration Producer Mark Miller
Tribes of the Moon: The Making of Nightbreed
Making Monsters: Interviews with Makeup Effects Artists
Fire! Fights! Stunts!: 2nd Unit Shooting
Like many of Shout! Factory’s releases, it may seem like there isn’t a lot here, but a lot of the time they choose to go for quality over quantity, which is exactly what happened here. This is an outstanding and informative group of extras that gives you a look at the making of the film from several different viewpoints, including the writer/director (the commentary), the actors (the “making of”), the makeup artists, and the 2nd unit. You really couldn’t ask for better extras than these.
Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” suffers from a very flawed and weak premise, one that doesn’t even come close to supporting the two-hour runtime. It certainly doesn’t help that the film is nothing but a platform for the makeup effects team to display their dazzling skills in creating various kinds of disturbing creatures. Barker may have felt that this new cut of his film completed what he set out to do 24 years ago, but for everyone else, it’s unlikely to change their minds about what a disaster it is.
Available on Special Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
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