In March of 1990, I had just recently turned 13 years old. I was on a family trip to Houston to visit some friends of my father, but for me, the most important thing to accomplish this trip, aside from studying for my imminent Bar Mitzvah, was finding a movie theatre that was showing Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. The film had been rated R in Canada, which meant nobody under 18 was allowed to see it (screw you, Big Brother!). On one of our final nights, Dad (ill at the time), his friend and me schlepped to some out of the way movie theatre, where the film was still playing. Walt, my Dad’s friend, hates horror movies, so he opted to see Look Who’s Talking, while we went and sat through Clive’s monster movie equivalent of Star Wars. Having read both the original novel, Cabal, and the Epic Comics adaptation, I was psyched to see the creatures of Midian come to life. And when they did, I thoroughly enjoyed. Admittedly, I was also thrilled to be seeing a film some watchdogs seemed to think I wasn’t ready for (up yours, Big Brother!). However, my enjoyment was slightly curtailed as the film’s conclusion, when I asked Dad if he liked it.
“No,” he scoffed. “It wasn’t even scary.”
Not scary! Not scary! What do you mean, not scary? It was…it was…
Look, Dad had a point, ok. Even if I loved it.
In it’s original, bastardized form, undone by studio interference and a marketing campaign that made Nightbreed out to be some sort of slasher flick, the movie is just kind of there. I’ve always enjoyed it, mainly for David Cronenberg’s awesome performance as the evil Dr. Decker and Danny Elfman’s fantastic score, but I do think it’s a fair criticism if someone feels they didn’t get their scares worth from Barker’s film.
Delve a little deeper into the mythos and you realize, though, that Nightbreed isn’t really meant to be a horror film; at least, not in the classic jump-scares or demons sort of way. As you learn in the brand new Director’s Cut of the film, released in October via Scream Factory, Nightbreed is very meant to be very much a romance between Boone (Craig Sheffer) and Lori (Anne Bobby), who have a love that even death cannot tear apart. Yes, there are countless creatures that haunt the film, and there are some pretty violent and creepy moments, but in Nightbreed, the real monsters are the humans who go after the inhabitants of Midian.
Over the years, the missing scenes of Nightbreed grew to mythic status among Barker aficionados, who lamented how the original film turned out. In the past five years, the scenes had been discovered in a variety of formats, from film to grainy VHS tapes. At one point, the entire kitchen sink was stitched together into something called Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut by Barker associates Russell Cherrington and Mark Miller. I saw this version at a screening in Toronto, and while I was happy to see some much-excised material, I also didn’t think the film flowed particularly well in this particular version. However, The Director’s Cut, which is now in our hands, is a completely different piece, clocking in at two hours but with 40 minutes of new material contained. Scenes were taken out, new ones placed, and an entirely new ending from the original film is now Barker’s final say on the matter. Happily, Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut is superior to everything that came before it.
While Dad may say it’s still not scary, that’s not really the point of Nightbreed. This is a film that celebrates the dark and what lies behind it, and it’s not always something horrific. The dark can be mysterious and beautiful, especially when it involves the Tribes of the Moon.