The long-fabled director’s cut of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed finally saw release this past week via Scream Factory’s beautiful new Blu-ray, and those of us who’ve been eagerly awaiting it since 1990 have one person to thank for it. That one person is Barker, obviously, as he not only wrote the short novel “Cabal” but also adapted it into a flawed but fun film filled with untapped promise.
There are others beyond Barker, though, who deserve our gratitude as well. I’m talking about the fans. In the two plus decades since Nightbreed’s release, rumors of additional footage fueled our imagination, and the more optimistic among you ‐ because no, I did not believe this day would ever come ‐ kept the hope alive online and at genre conventions. As more and more of that footage was rediscovered, and as “the Cabal Cut” made its way around the country, the clamor for a properly restored, director approved cut of the film grew.
But after Barker and the fans? There are people behind the scenes who had their hands in this endeavor from the very beginning, people whose efforts and own appreciation of the world Barker created helped lead to this release ‐ people like Mark Miller (Vice President of Seraphim) and Michael Plumides (Nightbreed: Director’s Cut producer).
Mark Alan Miller touched the project first as he began the search for the missing footage six years ago with Barker’s blessings (and probably doubts). “I cold called, beat down doors and talked to anyone that was willing to listen,” says Miller. “Finally, an interview with Mark Goldblatt [editor on Nightbreed] led us to some VHS tapes that we actually found in our own backyard.”
After an extensive search elsewhere across the country a box of PAL VHS tapes were discovered in a storage closet in the Seraphim offices. It seems funny from the outside ‐ they were even labeled “Nightbreed” ‐ but I imagine the sheer joy of their discovery outweighed the frustration. Russell Cherrington and an editor friend spliced this new footage into WB’s existing DVD of the film resulting in “the Cabal Cut [that] was screened around the world at festivals and conventions and proved that Nightbreed was a viable property.”
This is where Michael Plumides entered the picture. “In late 2011, I was approached by Eben McGarr, one of the promoters from Mad Monster Party horror convention, about getting them permission to screen the Cabal Cut.” Plumides is good friends with Morgan Creek president David Robinson, and after doing some research he called Robinson with a proposal.
“There was a petition with ten thousand or so signatures for a restored version of the film,” says Plumides. “I told Dave, ‘this thing’s got some legs, we need to keep an eye on it.’ Dave was glad to help.” Morgan Creek gave permission to screen the Cabal Cut as a way of promoting and gauging interest in a distribution deal for a properly reconstructed director’s cut.
Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg, Clive Barker on set of NIGHTBREED ‐ Fangoria Magazine
Morgan Creek actually had interest in a Nightbreed TV series, but Plumides saw it as putting “the cart before the horse. Even though there was a great internet buzz for the screenings, we hadn’t had the new cut picked for distribution.” Plumides made that his priority and set about finding “a distributor who understood the significance of the project. And since it was geek fandom fare, I suggested one of the hipper, younger companies as opposed to the Hollywood route ‐ this thing needed kid gloves, as they say.”
The biggest hurdle in his endeavor though was the poor visual quality of the Cabal Cut. Anyone who’s seen it can attest to how degraded the various VHS segments looked, and while the prospect of seeing a proper cut of the film was thrilling, everyone knew it would be a daunting experience. “I first approached Magnet, then Drafthouse Films,” says Plumides. It was actually Jim Shapiro, Drafthouse Films’ head of acquisitions (“and a big Decker fan”) who suggested that Shout! Factory (and its genre label Scream Factory) would be the best home for the release.
Miller adds that “the plan was originally to release the film with the much degraded footage attached to it. But then, after striking a deal, [better quality] footage was found in some 500 boxes of trims in a storage facility in the Midwest.” He and Scream Factory’s Cliff MacMillan evaluated the material at hand and immediately set to work. “Clive and I, along with Andrew Furtado, our editor, oversaw the entire re-cutting of the film from editing to color correction,” says Miller. The Cabal Cut caught everyone’s attention, but “Clive’s ultimate vision was to be something else entirely. He was merciless and we ended up cutting 20 minutes of footage from the original theatrical version and adding over 40 minutes of the footage we found. So what we have is a film that’s only 20 minutes longer, but features 40 minutes of new footage.”
The long road to this week’s release found traction then, but both Plumides and Miller had personal history with Nightbreed as fans of Barker ‐ even if they weren’t exactly fans of the film. “I actually saw Nightbreed in the theater,” recalls Plumides. “The theater was packed so, I’m still a little confused regarding how ‘bad’ the initial outing went for the film. I also know it was a wildly popular VHS rental back in the 1990’s. But as far as whether or not I liked it ‐ honestly, I didn’t understand it.” His only experience with Barker to that point was the more direct, cohesive and effective Hellraiser. “I also remember hating Craig Sheffer’s [Boone’s] make-up. I’m more partial to the traditional monsters ‐ the symbols on his face did not a monster make ‐ but that’s me.” A veteran of numerous conventions, Plumides acknowledges that Boone is the most popular character in the film ‐ “It’s evident at the conventions.”
Nicholas Burman-Vince, Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Simon Bamford ‐ Michael Plumides
Miller’s first viewing was a short time later as a boy of thirteen. “I rode my bike to my local video store to rent it,” he says. “I was not a fan. Even at such an early age, the film, to me, felt weird, incoherent and disjointed.” Years later when he became Barker’s friend and associate that truth “was something I was afraid to tell Clive, until I learned that he felt the same way.” Knowing Barker was as disappointed in the existing cut as he was Miller found himself even more motivated to find the footage. “I was familiar with Clive’s oeuvre, and this film did not match up with the rest. Now, having seen the director’s cut, understanding Clive’s struggles on set, and seeing his reaction upon witnessing the final cut of the film (two words; many tears), the only thoughts I can have at this point are gratitude and disbelief.”
Knowing that the film as released was riddled with issues it’s a legitimate question to wonder where the long-lasting love for Nightbreed comes from exactly. With little to no marketing the film died a quick death in theaters, but its subsequent home video releases revealed an affection for the world Barker had created. Asked where they think that affection comes from, both Plumides and Miller go immediately and understandably to Barker himself.
“People love Clive,” says Miller. “And for good reason! The images he creates are iconic and strange and beautiful. There’s no movie like Nightbreed. It’s unique. It’s powerful. And the book upon which it was based, Cabal, is incredible. People wanted to see that. And, of course, there were more monsters to see. If we’ve learned anything along the way, it’s that people love monsters.” Plumides adds that Nightbreed was essentially unfinished business. “It’s a horror property that wasn’t utilized to its fullest potential, and it certainly hasn’t been played to death either like so many of the ’70s and ’80s iconic horror staples like Friday the 13th. The characters are rich and multifaceted, and it was open-ended. Plumides also notes that Barker’s popularity continues to grow thanks to his books, comics, artwork and upcoming films including the long-rumored Hellraiser reboot and adaptations of Jacqueline Ess and Pig Blood Blues.
That renaissance also includes two possible TV series. The first, Incarnate, is an original idea that Barker is producing alongside Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Judith Reeves-Stevens, but the other is the aforementioned Nightbreed series. Plumides says they’re still shopping the series, but it’s something he’s already very excited about. “My suggestion is to approach a company who can appreciate the material in a boutique sense,” he says, “similar to what Shout Factory has done [with the new Nightbreed release].” Barker is fully supportive and loves the idea of returning to and expanding the world of Midian, but he’s not working directly on the project at this point. “We definitely want to stay true to Clive’s source material,” says Plumides. Their vision for the show includes “great action, sex, the fantastic, old characters redesigned, as well as some new ones ‐ it’s definitely a menagerie of the senses.”
We’ll have to wait and see what happens with the series, but for now we should all be grateful for the effort that went into crafting and creating this Blu-ray release. My full review of Scream Factory’s limited edition can be found here. And now I can start counting down the days until May 15, 2015 when Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels is published and I finally get to read what happens when Pinhead goes head to head with Harry D’Amour.
Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut is now available on Blu-ray.