Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Film Review Nightbreed: cabal cut

Nightbreed: Cabal cut

One of the highlights of the HP Lovecraft film fest was a screening of a film I hoped I would see but assumed that I never would. Coming off the success of his first horror film Clive Barker set out to make a film based on his novel Cabal. It is a story about monsters coming from Clive Barker it seemed like a no brainer for the studio Morgan Creek. Pretty much the only thing I know about Morgan Creek is that they have a troubled history with horror films. Exorcist III was also produced by the same studio and that film’s director novelist William Peter Blatty had many battles with the studio who forced him to tack on a cheesy ending (that was not in his novel) to an otherwise amazing horror film. I still enjoy Exorcist III myself but it is sad this studio could trust the directors they hired because Barker had a similar battle over Nightbreed.

I am not sure if anyone at Morgan Creek the novel or cared about what Barker was trying say but Cabal is not about monsters being evil. It is about a place called Midian a home for monsters shunned and hidden from the world. The film has been out for a long time so I don’t think I need to too much into the plot except to describe the differences between the two versions.

After Barker finished the first work print the studio test screened the unfinished film to their target audience and the film tested poorly. The studio wanted Barker to cut more than half an hour of material, film six weeks of re-shoots and punch the horror aspects mostly centered around the serial killer character of Decker played by Horror director David Cronenberg.

I always enjoyed Nightbreed as a movie but when I read about the amounts of re-shoots and lost footage I always wondered what could have been. This was before the age of deleted scenes, if Nightbreed were made more recently then perhaps Barker could have done a director’s cut. At least a DVD would have deleted scenes. As that trend started Barker tried several times over the years to get the footage back from the studio, either it was lost or they would not give it up.

So it seemed that it would never happen – enter Clive’s friend Russell Cherrington . He found an old PAL video of a Nightbreed work print that matched the film test screened before the re-shoots. A lot of footage is super crappy quality. I mean it looks like cam-corder footage shot on beta-max and stored under a couch for a couple decades. So the cabal cut uses this footage unrestored and is cut together using as much of DVD footage as possible. So the quality goes up and down.

I enjoyed seeing this strange cut which really does change the film. It is a much richer story that plays up the romance of the main characters and follows the novel more closely. In this reguard the hicks getting all worked up to fight the monsters receives more time including the asshole sheriff. The priest who joins them is kind of a throw away character in the theatrical cut, in the cabal cut that character has a real arc. That was cool for those of us at the screening because the Actor Malcolm Smith was there for the post film Q and A. (I asked three questions before I had to just stop myself)

As a fan of Cronenberg’s performance which I always thought was strong it was hit and miss to see some aspects of his story not really cut back but diminished by the added story lines. That said Decker has a cool scene where he talks to his mask that was only in the Cabal cut.

The only thing that confused me was scenes that I remember clearly from the theatrical release that surfaced in the shitty grainy footage. Often I could not tell what the difference was between the scenes and often the restoration said it was minor things. All that could be smoothed out with a proper restoration.

Look I think both versions should exist. Morgan Creek owns the rights, and if they would kick in 50,000 bucks (nothing in movie terms) the shitty looking footage could be restored to Blu-ray quality. The DVD’s would sell. They would make that back. As a huge Clive Barker fan I am bummed about the battles he had with the studios over Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions. It seemed to kill his desire to direct and understand. I am glad over the last few years he returned at least to producing. It is a must see for Nightbreed fans, but Morgan creek needs to get either step up and pay for it, or give Clive the freedom to do it on his own.

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