Nightbreed is 27. A Recap of How We Got Here.
Clive Barker’s Nightbreed is a 1990 film that shows us that you can look at “monsters” as unique creatures radiating beauty, darkness and eloquence. Across history, mankind proved to be capable of love, compassion and wisdom but also ignorance, prejudice and genocide. The best of us shine brightly enough to eclipse the worst of us most of the time. Unfortunately, when the wrong people are given authority, justice and compassion are traded in for greed and cultural prejudice.
Nightbreed was described by Director Alejandro Jodorowsky after it came out as “the first truly gay horror fantasy epic.” I believe its appeal is also transcultural and not exclusive to the ‘queer normative’. A lot of people gravitate towards this movie because it tells us that yes, we may be outsiders, outcasts, damaged or introverted, but that doesn’t take away from our right to exist or our value as individuals. We are not alone and there are others like us that bring acceptance and a sense of community. A shared culture. A place where we can be honest and live in peace without wearing a mask like the killers we see on TV promising death. Whether it zips up, laces, or just smiles with cold eyes, a mask hides emptiness. We choose to live fully as we are, without judgement. Nightbreed tells us we will fight, and we will win. In 2009, Clive called Nightbreed a “Celebration of the Shamanic Outsider.“
‘Okay geez, relax. It’s only a movie.‘
Or is it?
For 25 years, Nightbreed was available to everyone in a form that, maybe unbeknownst to a lot of its fans, didn’t correspond (dramatically) with the director’s original vision. Clive Barker‘s second foray into directing is an adaptation of his novel Cabal, published in 1988. By 1989 production had started on Nightbreed, and it was released to the public exactly 27 years ago today, on February 16th 1990, opening at #6 on 1500 theaters across the United States, making $3.7 million on its opening weekend, with a total lifetime gross of $8.9 million domestic. It quickly went on to open in many other countries around the world, spawning international VHS and DVD releases in several countries with a few exceptions like my own country (Portugal just got it on rental VHS) and the United Kingdom (They had a VHS release, but never DVD or Blu-Ray) to this day.
The film broke new ground on makeup special effects, featuring almost 200 different monster makeup designs created and applied by Image Animation. It went into the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most monsters on screen at one time. Some very talented artists worked in this movie, setting shop at Pinewood Studios and often visiting the neighboring set where Tim Burton was shooting Batman at the time. Everyone working at Image under the direction of Geoff Portass and Bob Keen did an amazing job, and you can find out a lot more about the behind-the-scenes if you get the 3-Disc Deluxe set of the Director’s Cut by Shout! Factory.
The cast featured names like Craig Sheffer (Hellraiser: Inferno, A River Runs through It) playing the tormented Boone and Anne Bobby (Disposophobia, Born on the 4th of July) as his girlfriend Lori, Director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Dead Ringers) as the slasher villain Dr. Phillip Decker, and Doug Bradley, (Hellraiser, Book of Blood) as Lylesburg. It also featured Hugh Quarshie as Detective Joyce, Charles Haid (Hill Street Blues) as Police Captain Eigerman and Hugh Ross (Trainspotting) as the brilliant scene-stealing Narcisse. Barker’s longtime friends Simon Bamford and Nicholas Vince (Hellraiser’s own Butterball and Chattering Cenobite) played Ohnaka and Kinski. Julian Parry (Model Unit Director) talked to us before, sharing a page from his diaries that spawned a feature on our website called Nightbreed: God of the Miniatures. The list goes on and on.
Written and directed by Clive Barker, the film was produced by James G. Robinson, Joe Roth, and Gabriella Martinelli for Morgan Creek, featuring beautiful production design by Steve Hardie (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), cinematography by Robin Vidgeon (Hellraiser, Tales from the Crypt), concept art and the Wall of Prophecy set painted by the iconic Ralph McQuarrie (Star Wars), and was edited originally by Richard Marden, before he left over the eventual reshoots and complicated production to be replaced by Mark Goldblatt. Last but not least, it was scored by the one and only Danny Elfman. The talent gathered in this production was unbelievable. Unfortunately, as principal photography ended and post production started, there was some confusion and pressures started pushing upon the project, to influence what sort of movie genre this was going to fall into, how they thought audiences would react to it, and how they should market it. Morgan Creek had a deal with Twentieth Century Fox at the time to distribute the movie and as meetings went on, it was decided that they wanted the movie to change; reshoots were planned and a new editor brought it after Marden decided to leave the project and return to England, and Clive felt like the movie was spiraling out of his creative control. More kill scenes with Decker were shot, to give the movie more of a slasher film style and make him a more central villain; after all, Carpenter had brought a new genre to the table that seemed to work very well putting butts on theater seats with Halloween. But this wasn’t Barker’s vision: his vision had more to do with looking at the monsters through the lens of tragedy— misunderstood and marginalized, like James Whale’s Frankenstein, or Doctor Moreau’s monstrous island dwellers that were pushed, bullied and used under the threat of the whip or worse, a trip to the House of Pain. They represent the Other.
All the elements of Tragedy are present in Nightbreed:
- Tragic Heroes or Tragic Victims: our protagonists become heroes at great cost, they are tormented, they feel like don’t belong in society, and when they find their purpose, it’s through a resolution that causes great dramatic changes, full of death, pain and destruction of their home.
- Loss of identity: Boone doesn’t know who he is, where he belongs; his freedom and his innocence are taken from him when Decker gaslights him into thinking he is a horrible killer without any hope of redemption and Boone even tries to take his own life because of this manipulation.
- Resolution: like we said, it comes at a great cost, amidst a massacre in the ruins of Midian pitting Breed against Naturals, where many characters are killed. The film is open ended and survivors left unsure of the future and what will arrive on the next wind.
- Inevitability: there are dream sequences that affect characters like Boone, visions that drive him into an almost obsessive private mythology. Decker follows Boone into a place so teeming with life that he takes on the role of Death. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that Decker has taken an interest in Boone as a patient. Maybe Decker seeks out places like Midian as much as Boone but for different reasons. “I’ve cleaned up a lot of breeders.” He hates to hear the recording when Boone boasts during one of their therapy sessions that in Midian, he’ll live forever. Where life spurts with diversity and variety, Ol’Button Eyes wants to see it die, normative or queer. He is the great equalizer, he’ll kill both. Lori follows Boone into Midian and a different kind of existence because they are lovers and will inevitably stay together one way or the other, it’s their fate. They are even painted on the Wall of Prophecy, one of the great set pieces of this movie that depicts Boone as part of its record of prophetic visions. It’s meant to be, there is no escaping one’s fate. Like Baphomet tells Boone: “This was inevitable”. Right on the mark.
- Setting: Midian and the Natural world are completely opposing places and the contrast is like walking across the looking-glass from reality into fable. Shere Neck, is a small town in Canada where the Buffalo Days Rodeo is taking place, (men wearing horned hats like they’re half beast themselves) a place of small minded people, posse justice and corrupt power structures— while out there in the great wilderness, lies Shangri-la on dope. A half-hidden place of broken dreams where prospectors from all over the world came to die. Here, miraculous creatures live out their days camouflaged by what scares Naturals (a forgotten cemetery), living under the ground like the reflection on a dark lake of the world above. Of course one side will not coexist with the other. There can be no peace.
Nightbreed: The Making of The Film book was released in 1990 by Fontana, featuring dozens of photos taken on set, makeup and set designs, as well as a copy of the script. However, something was amiss; the Nightbreed film depicted in this book was not the movie that played in the theater. His Foreword, written before another two weeks of ‘enhancement’ shoots starts with the opening line: “Movies change; and change; and change.” He goes on to describe how a director’s vision can be subject to change by all sorts of forces that aren’t just limited to performance choices and on-set opportunities to get creative and go beyond the written page, but also editing that changes meaning, commerce and how it affects art, accountants, producers, compromise and “small furies” that “come and go“. The book was put together to illustrate what Clive hoped to be more than a paste-up of “sketches, scribbles, blueprints and Polaroids, hoping to offer some hint of the complexity of the process.[…] The script laid out on the following pages, albeit subject to considerable change before the film hits the screen, will do that.” Fans started asking questions. The final film was so different from what we saw in those pages. There were alternate shots, characters captured in different states, different endings, pivotal changes. What happened? To thicken the plot, almost immediately after the movie had come out, Clive Barker started to drop occasional hints at signings and interviews that there would be another version of Nightbreed in the future “and it’s going to be 25 minutes longer, and it’s going to blow your mind!”
However, not until 2012 would audiences see anything remotely like the script in Nightbreed: The Making of The Film.
Doug Bradley: “It remains like no other movie I’ve ever seen. It is extraordinary, and I get asked all the time at conventions, ‘Is there a director’s cut of Nightbreed?’ All I can say is I don’t know, but I hope there is because I would like to see it. I saw it recently on television in the USA and it does still stand up, but only because the visuals are so extraordinary and the subject matter is so extraordinary, Unfortunately, no sooner has it stood up than it collapses.”
Pin – Points: By Nick Vince, Hellbreed No.3, July 1995.
Phil and Sarah Stokes have a magnificent historical record of everything that happened beat by beat, from early talks about existing unseen footage to 2009’s discovery and all the way up to October 2014 when the Director’s Cut was finally released, and the Saturn Award win.
Clive : “I have a friend, Mark Miller, who came to me and said, ‘I want to pursue the missing Nightbreed material. I have some time off from my work. I want to do this.’ I said, ‘Well, there’s no money, Mark. There’s nothing in it for you except a huge thanks from me and from many, many, many fans if you were to be successful…”
Midnight Writer: By Carnell, Fangoria, Issue 284, June 2009.
Present VP of Seraphim Inc, Mark Miller’s first efforts to locate the long-discussed lost footage were met by Morgan Creek with lack of interest. At one point in his phone calls with the company, after learning from a Production Executive that the footage was probably available if they wanted to bring it out of vault storage, a higher-up told him there wasn’t a big enough audience for the film and that the answer to his request must be no. “‘Not even worth the cost to upgrade to Blu-ray,’ he said. Ouch.“
Then something amazing happened. In June of 2009 it was announced by Revelations that some VHS tapes had been found in the Seraphim Films offices by Mark Miller, according to his words, “during a Spring cleaning, behind a dresser” one of them with a sticker reading “NIGHTBREED“. The tapes, in PAL format unwatchable on American VCRs were sent to England where Barker archivists Phil and Sarah Stokes digitized the tapes to DVD and enthusiasm shot through the roof as they quickly realized one of them was an early workprint cut of Nightbreed, full of alternative and unseen footage. In July they announced they had found yet another Nightbreed workprint. The tapes clocked in at 145 and 159 minutes, the latter including Lori’s entire musical act Johnny Get Angry. But they were in rough shape, missing sound effects and score, one of them containing white letters reading NIGHTBREED (COPYRIGHT) 89, the other a recording at a slight angle of what appeared to be a screen projection of the film in a dark room. But they were magical. They represented quick access to footage that illustrated what Clive had been referring to for almost 20 years. (Read our interview with Mark on episode #061)
An early movement organized by Revelations, broadcast Clive’s desire to hear what the fans thought about an extended Director’s Cut of Nightbreed, and ended up gathering over 1200 messages of support from around the world, with more continuing to flow for the next couple of years. I think I was one of the very first to pledge my desire to see this movie and pay for a restored edition— scroll down to the bottom of the list—my message is the one at the very bottom, tweeted minutes after I read Revelations’ call for messages.
@philandsarah A Nightbreed director’s cut is not only a possibility, it is a necessity! I would immediately buy it. José Leitão, Portugal.
— José Leitão (@antipax0) May 31, 2009
By February of the following year, Revelations reported that over the past several months, they had had “several cordial and constructive conversations with Morgan Creek“, initiated by the studio. There was even an authorized one-off screening of one of the unedited workprint tapes at the HorrorHound convention in Indianapolis on the evening of Saturday, March 27th, 2010. However, things slowed down after the event, Morgan Creek’s position towards working on some sort of release was “not now“, because they didn’t believe there was enough demand to spend the money to finance any restoration project. To make matters worse, in July 2010 Morgan Creek told Revelations that their search for the footage had been fruitless and that they should conclude that the VHS footage was the only material available of a “director’s cut“. Heartbreaking to say the least.
However, in 2011 Russell Cherrington, Senior Lecturer in Film & Video Production at the University of Derby and long-time friend of Clive’s, watched the DVDs of the workprint tapes and saw the potential in the material for an ambitious project. After asking for a copy, Russell decided to use that newfound video footage and a copy of the early 2nd draft of the Nightbreed script to create a composite cut of the movie, representing what might have been Clive’s original vision, assisted by Final Cut Editor Jimmi Johnson. This version eventually became known as the Cabal Cut, a constantly evolving and galvanizing project, going through as many as 8 different versions, all different as the cut was tweaked here and there for pace with some feedback from Clive Barker himself regarding where some sections should go. According to Russell, when Clive saw this cut, he teared up. This version was screened March 24, 2012 at the Mad Monster Party in Charlotte, North Carolina. Over five hundred fans flocked to this screening. Ryan Danhauser was there and covered this event for The Clive Barker Podcast. You can hear his impressions of this screening if you listen to episode #008, at around 50 minutes in. The following day, the internet started blowing up with blog posts, magazine articles, and general fan enthusiasm about the possibility of a restored Director’s Cut. This was the missing piece to mobilize the fans and press. Something they could watch. A vision of what could be. It made all the difference.
According to Michael Plumides, Executive Producer of the Nightbreed: Director’s Cut, living in Charlotte, he had been doing some consultation work for the Mad Monster Party Horror Convention arriving in Charlotte in March of 2012. In an interview for The Daily Dead alongside with Mark and Russell in 2013 Plumides said, “When I heard [Eben McGarr and Joe Moe] needed help getting permission from Morgan Creek to screen Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut at Mad Monster Party but to little avail, I stepped in and contacted now President, David Robinson and told him, ‘We need to support this. I think it’s got some legs.’ It took me one phone call to do what they were trying to get done for months.”
Nightbreed cast members Craig Sheffer and Anne Bobby were present at this Mad Monster Party screening and Q&A panel along with Mark and Russell. In a recorded conversation for The Clive Barker Podcast before the Q&A panel, Anne Bobby made a quip that fans should “Occupy Midian”, which sparked the Occupy Midian fan-based movement created that very night on Facebook by me, Ryan (texting us from his hotel room that night) and Fifth Dominion webmaster and Horror Host from Florida, Roger Boyes who took up the task to create the Facebook group we agreed upon together. Anne would repeat the call to “Occupy Midian” during the Q&A panel. Russell then bought the domain name for www.occupymidian.com at the hotel bar before anyone else could (we tried, Russell!). This movement grew quickly thanks to many sleepless nights and expanded into other social media platforms like Twitter. Meanwhile, the logical next step was to create a petition on the iPetition website, For a restored, extended cut of Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” that ended up gathering almost 14,000 petition signatures. We organized a letter campaign to Morgan Creek, asking fans to post their messages of love for the film and how they wanted to support a restored release, and the groundswell kept growing exponentially. It was the right thing happening at the right time. Nightbreed was back! But how to move forward from here?
The Cabal Cut went on to show exactly how it could mobilize the fans when a screening was set for New Beverly Cinema in LA on June 12, 2012. The demand was so great that a second screening was necessary and they both sold out. Clive was ecstatic with the news, firing off a series of tweets saying:
My friends ,Clive here,writing to share some wonderful news. Following the two Sold Out screenings of NIGHTBREED:TheCabal Cut on Sunday…
— Clive Barker (@RealCliveBarker) June 12, 2012
My friends, Clive here,writing to share some wonderful news. Following the two Sold Out screenings of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut on Sunday, Morgan Creek has given us permission to show the cut around the world and to raise money to prepare the cut for a release on Blu Ray. This could not, would not have happened without your voices. We have all been heard. The Morgan Creek team have my thanks and my respect. Very seldom does anyone in the movie business pay attention as they have, understanding perhaps that the message of the movie as I shot it is one that dramatizes a different ending to the age-old story of how a war between Humankind and something Other draws to a close. The real Nightbreed will be available for everyone to see. I hope its message of redemption and forgiveness move you.
Under the Occupy Midian campaign banner, the Cabal Cut traveled with Russell, occasional cast members and FX artists and Mark Miller when the events could afford the travel arrangements, playing over 40 screenings not just in the US or England but around the world, going to places like Paris, London, Mexico, Sitges, Cardiff, Dublin, Bottrop (Germany), Vienna, Torino (Italy), Kluuvikatu (Netherlands), Helsinki and Melbourne. A London screening at the Empire Cinema on August 24, 2012 gathered over 1000 Nightbreed fans. You can listen our Occupy Midian on Location post about it here, (with thanks to Phil and Peter from the Hellraiser Podcast for the audio). The petition and social media campaign spreading along with the word of mouth from these screenings got a lot of attention and coverage all over numerous pop culture and horror genre websites: Entertainment Weekly did a great article where they interviewed Ryan. Nightbreed was getting in-depth articles and taking over magazine covers in publications like Empire #279 (Sept 2012), Rue Morgue #129 (Dec 2012) and Fangoria #330 (Jan 2014).
Thanks to podcast contributor and Occupy Midian member Crystal Raen‘s efforts, we still have an enormous collection of online available coverage right here, on a curated collection from scoop.it: Bring Back Nightbreed!
The Clive Barker Podcast interviewed a lot of interesting people during this period, we created the Occupy Midian Report feature when Crystal joined us for a while. We had Russell on the show on episodes #014, #032 (with Jimmi Johnson), #041 and #056 (with Anne Bobby), every time gaining a bit more insight about the development on the Cabal Cut, the numbers of fans that had seen it, (an estimated 20,000 fans saw it around the world), Clive’s involvement with it and the status of the restoration. We also found and interviewed cast members like Catherine Chevalier (Rachel in Nightbreed, Tiffany’s mom in Hellbound) on episode #037 and Christine McCorkindale (Shuna Sassi) along with Michael Plumides on episode #086.
Eventually, the last screenings were announced. Now it was time to see what companies were interested in working to make the Director’s Cut of Nightbreed a reality. Would there be a restoration of the VHS footage? Could Morgan Creek and Mark Miller locate the celluloid elements? Were the tapes going to be “baked” in case no film elements were made available?
From a Daily Dead interview, here’s how the behind the scenes happened for the deal that gave us the Shout! Factory Director’s Cut: “[Michael Plumides]: So, I hit Tim League up from Fantasticfest and Drafthouse Films on Facebook about a Nightbreed screening and incidentally asked if he might be interested in distribution for the Cabal Cut. I needed people that would understand it. Drafthouse Films – COO, Jim Shapiro is a huge fan – he sent me a pic of his life-size “Decker” head. Although they were fans, to do what we needed to do wasn’t really within their wheelhouse. So, on the eve we were supposed to close, they suggested we go to Shout!Factory, introducing me to Cliff MacMillan, who I in turn introduced to Morgan Creek – we got the deal done minutes before the announcement, literally minutes. And, now here we are.”
He contacted Mark Miller while at the San Diego Comic Con promoting the Next Testament comic book, on July 19th of 2013 to inform him that Morgan Creek and Shout! had signed a distribution deal just minutes before the Shout! Factory panel. Cliff MacMillan said at the panel: “This is a sort of Holy Grail, at least it is for me and I think for Mark as well. We are going to release Clive Barker’s Nightbreed the Cabal Cut… It’ll probably take a while to put out because we do need to restore all the footage that was, that really only exists in one format at the moment. So we’re going to have to completely restore it, try to get it to look as close as it can to… We’re going to do it.“
“On Friday, July 19th, I received an email from Morgan Creek informing me that they had struck a deal with Shout Factory and that the Cabal Cut was, at long last, to receive an official dvd release. Thanks to everyone who helped make this a reality. Phil and Sarah Stokes. Morgan Creek. Russell Cherrington. Occupy Midian. Rue Morgue. There were so many people that were instrumental in this undertaking that it’s impossible to list them all. But you know who you are. You signed petitions. You stood in lines at screenings. You made your voices known. Our journey is nowhere near a close; we’re only just getting started. Keep watching.”
Mark Miller, email to Revelations, 23 July 2013.
That very day Clive Barker announced on his official page: “I want to officially announce that the Cabal Cut of Nightbreed is going on to DVD. I have no details as yet of the timing of this release, or of the status of extras on the DVD. The company that will be releasing Nightbreed is Scream Factory. What I can tell you is that we at Seraphim have been invited to work with Scream Factory to make this release the best possible event. It’s been a long journey to bring Nightbreed to this moment, and I want to make sure that the release is the best document of the movie and its adventures. I will obviously be updating you through facebook on all the developments as they come through to me from Scream Factory, but as it stands I think the Tribes of the Moon should rejoice. This is a triumph for all of your voices, your support and your love. Clive.“
On a July 1st 2014 Shout Factory press release, they broke the news that “Scream Factory, in conjunction with Warner Bros., was able to find the long-thought-missing original film elements and combed through over 600 boxes to locate not only the lost scenes but a treasure trove of never-before-seen footage as well.” Work could finally begin constructing the Nightbreed Director’s Cut.
By August 1st, the editing was complete. Mark Miller posted on Instagram:
The Clive Barker Podcast had a chance to talk to Cliff MacMillan, Shout! Factory Co-Creator and Head of Acquisitions and Production on episode #075 (2014), about how this whole thing happened, and what was being done to the recently discovered movie elements, and I really recommend you listen to it. We also had a chance to talk to Andrew Furtado, who edited the Director’s Cut along with Mark Miller and Clive, on episode #081. You can read his “Editing Journal” here, where he goes beat by beat on the work that was done and Clive’s close feedback and instructions.
The Shout! Factory release was originally going to be limited to 5000 copies, but it was quickly upgraded to 10,000 because of high demand: the first 1000 copies were sold in less than 2 days and in less than a week 2000 copies had already been pre-ordered. By November of 2014, Nightbreed: Director’s Cut was hitting Amazon Instant Video and iTunes, and in December it appeared on popular streaming services like Netflix (where it quickly rose to #1 in Horror), as well as AMC’s Shudder. Fans were ecstatic, and Clive Barker was thrilled; his Director’s Cut was a hit.
Ryan Danhauser and myself had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles for the screening of the Director’s Cut on October 27, 2014 at the Crest Westwood Cinema. Just before the screening, we also visited Clive Barker’s studio and Seraphim office joined by our friend Maureen Mavar and the artist Vance Kelly and his wife Cynthia. You can see my recording of Clive attending the Q&A panel on our @Barkercast YouTube channel:
It was a day I’ll never forget, thanks to Mark and Ben Meares, who gave us a very informative tour throughout the studio and offices. I got to hold some manuscripts from Clive’s books, and at one point Ryan told me “Here, hold this.” I was holding a binder with a part of the IMAJICA manuscript. My heart skipped a beat. Listen to our recollections on episode #083: Nightbreed Live With Clive Barker. And on November 9th, I joined Furtado and Miller on an episode of Chattering with Nicholas Vince, streamed live. That’s another episode where we recap a lot that happened throughout this whole process. A great listen.
As a crowning achievement for this release, on June 25, 2015 the Nightbreed: Director’s Cut won a Saturn Award for “Best DVD or Blu-ray Special Edition Release” received by Mark Miller and Michael Plumides. The Deluxe 3-disc version is now out of print, but the normal edition is still available and you should definitely get a copy of that. It is loaded with extra material.
Have we seen the last of the Nightbreed? BOOM! Studios relaunched them in comic format for 12 issues in 2014, the old Marvel comics were recently reprinted as the “Nightbreed Archive” last year. Meanwhile, Michael Plumides has been trying hard to get a TV show of Nightbreed produced. I hope to see more Nightbreed on TV soon, I’ve read some scripts and it definitely could work on the right network. Fingers crossed.
Today, is the 27th Birthday of Nightbreed’s US premiere. Happy Birthday Nightbreed! It’s been a long journey, and every single person who supported this movement and paid for a ticket and bought a copy or discussed it on Facebook, gave their friends a recommendation to watch it, keeping the ball rolling and people interested, were pivotal to arrive at where we are now. Ideally, I would like to see this movie get a wider release, unconstrained by region blocking which I personally think is a mistake that doesn’t prevent piracy. But all good things take time and I hope in the near future, the Director’s cut will finally be available on ALL Regions. Fingers crossed, and thanks for joining me on this journey.