Nightbreed Director's Cut Review
The film is a million miles from what was originally released
Let us take a look at Nightbreed - how it was meant to be seen.
Our protagonist awakens from a dream he has had before, many times. Of creatures - otherworldly creatures - to some monsters - but Boone knows the truth. They may look like monsters, but they are benevolent, sympathetic; another civilisation on the cusp of reality in a place called Midian.
Boone is a troubled young man. He has been plagued by dreams for years. He has been in therapy for years. He dreams of Midian, of monsters and of murder. Played by a young Craig Sheffer, in the early part of the film he is energetic but confused; unsure of what is happening to him, about his dreams and where he is going. But one thing is certain: his love for Lori. It is this love that he holds on to, needs and ground him in a world he feels apart from. Played by an even younger Anne Bobby in one of her first roles, initially she is as enthusiastically in love with Boone. She is a singer and an artist but will give it all up for Boone. They plan a future together, to get away from it all and hopefully mend Boone’s troubled mind.
These opening scenes help to establish the relationship between Boone and Lori, when she comes to meet him at work, they embrace even though she is smartly dressed for work and he is filthy from welding – she is already showing that she loves ‘what’s inside’ and unconcerned with the outward appearance; something that will be tested later. Their bond is strong, and both Sheffer and Bobby share a reasonable chemistry together. Also introduced during these early scenes is our antagonist, that of Dr Philip Decker, a renowned psychiatrist and one that has been treating Boone for his dreams; though, recently he has become more enamoured with that of the Midian tales and wishes to use Boone to find this fabled place. For Decker is a true monster. A masked killer that slaughters anyone and everyone that takes his fancy, including children. And the tales of Midian have infuriated him: the sanctuary to the outcast or those on the fringe of reality he sees as aberrations and he yearns to become their scourge. Decker is brought to life by one David Cronenberg who was already by that time an accomplished film director, though only had a few acting credits to his name, and he plays the character with a cold aloof, a near detachment showing how far he believes he is above those around him. Whether it is diagnosing Boone, manipulating the police or slaughtering innocence, the same cold and calculated demeanour dominates. Thus we have our main triangle: Boone the victim, Lori the stalwart and Decker the beast.
The first act, unfortunately feels truncated somehow, as if, even with all the newly restored material, there is still something missing; the pace is very high, rushing towards the monster reveal, and without the necessary details, it’s as if Barker is now falling foul of mixing his literary story telling narrative with traditional filming techniques. The ideas are there, but their flow is being mismanaged. This becomes horribly true with the second act which concerns itself with the humans arming up to wipe out Midian. The corruption of the police, and particularly that of Captain Eigerman, is well shown with the beating of Boone, but their forming a militia/posse seems a little rushed, even with Decker behind them pulling the strings, before we rush head long into the final act, the attack on Midian, which takes up nearly half the runtime of the film. It is this mismanaged timing this is my personal beef with the film; the build-up to the climax, even in this new and ‘complete’ form seems too rushed. The majesty of Barker’s interweaving story narrative gets lost in a rush to get to the final punch up. Even during the epic battle there are still story elements that come to fruition (that of Boone’s prophecy and re-naming to Cabal, etc.) that remain pivotal to the plot but are ‘hidden’ within the blood-shed.
However, after saying all that, the film is a million miles from what was originally released – there are now far better character definitions, the motivations behind their actions are better explained and, despite my personal reservations about the weighting given to the battle, the pacing allows for a far more rounded film, with the original ending placing a much better emphasis on the transcending love aspect that Barker was keen to inject. There is also much more time spent in Midian itself, a greater array of monsters, even if they are only cameo appearances, and this helps lay the foundation that the area is a good place, one that needs to be preserved, making its destruction all the more unpalatable. The scale of the film is also increased; this is not a ‘slasher’ film, but a film with design and worlds upon worlds. And whilst I’d have preferred more in this regard (further investigation into the prophecy, the murals that adorn the walls, the mythology of the place etc.) what we do have is far better than what went before.
The pacing allows for a far more rounded film
And we should not belittle what we have here either – the culmination of years of work by a dedicated few to bring together a film, how it was meant to be released, some twenty five years after it was first shown. That is not to say we can forgive all the film’s sins just because of that, but there is some justification and vindication to be had that Nightbreed means so much to so few that it can garner such support over the years – and here we are.
It is not a lost masterpiece returned. But it is a curious piece with plenty of ideas that makes a great deal more sense and is far, far more watchable and enjoyable that it was before.
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