Director: Clive Barker/Russell Cherrington
Starring: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charles Haid, Doug Bradley, Hugh Ross, Malcolm Smith.
Running Time: 144 Minutes
Synopsis: Aaron Boone is a young man plagued by the dreams of a city named Midian and the grostesque creatures that inhabit it. When wrongly accused as a serial-murderer, he seeks out the place that he has always felt connected to and in turn, fulfilling his destiny in this otherworldly realm…
Looking back at Clive Barker’s NIGHTBREED, a film I first caught at the age of 11 (shhh), I remember it being strikingly weird and more that a little head-scratching. It’s now known that the film we saw, was not the version Barker envisaged for his novel ‘Cabal‘. Morgan Creek, the studio behind NIGHTBREED were notoriously unhappy with his finished film and subsequently went on to butcher his take, which is perhaps why the film has always been a puzzler in terms of plot. Apparently Morgan Creek were unaware that the hideous ‘monsters’ were going be the good guys.
The film has been in the process of being roughly restored using a workprint from a long lost VHS tape and we were able to attend a very special screening of the closest you’ll get to see Barker’s original take, so far. It has been well documented after dire attempts with the likes of RAWHEAD REX (1987) and TRANSMUTATIONS (1985), that the best-selling author wanted to bring his own work to the screen himself and in doing so, Barker had scored a major horror hit with HELLRAISER (1987), a film based on his own novel The Hellbound Heart.
His follow-up was shot three years later and has since gone on to be a cult, underground film but the struggles with bringing his dark, controversial visions to the mainstream and setting the bar so high with his opening feature, he’s since become disillusioned, his last effort behind the camera being LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995), another film known for studio interference. The NIGHTBREED experience obviously had an effect, but was Barker ever really cut out to direct? As much as I like HELLRAISER, it was far from perfect. Over the last year, close friend Russell Cherrington has painstakingly breathed new life into a rather drab film originally shot way back in 1989, but does it hold up in this rough, restored version and does it do Barker’s original tale justice?
In terms of plot, the new footage certainly adds depth and fills a lot of the cracks that now formulate the film to make on the whole, a lot more sense (although still not totally in terms of Cronenberg’s characters motivations). The structure of the film also feels as a narrative, fulfilling, easier to follow and in keeping with Barker’s source novel. However, just like the problems with the studio cut, for all the added footage (and there is almost an hour’s worth) there is no hiding such poor (and often laughable) acting. The substance of the film is still one of an ‘amateur’ in charge with many scenes being just plain bad. The visuals are very much the product of their time which is understandable, with much of the make-up work and prosthetics still holding up, even by today’s standards (very vivid imagery being genuinely disturbing). Directing icon David Cronenberg, whose Dr. Phillip Decker is pivotal to the story, always looked uncomfortable in front of a camera (and still does so here) with a coldness that should work in favour for his character, yet his delivery of lines feel lazy, casual and not at all convincing. Lead lovers Craig Sheffer and Anne Bobby also give performances not even worthy of a US soap opera and many of the ‘non-breed’ acting from the likes of Malcolm Smith’s Sheriff Ashberry along with his deputies and ‘redneck’ extras is cringeworthy.
Yes, for those NIGHTBREED fans amongst us, you’ll certainly enjoy seeing the jigsaw pieced back together and effectively giving you a totally brand new and at times, unique film experience. For myself, I was never impressed with the film released back in 1990 and those flaws appear to be magnified even more so here. It’s still a mess and there is no disguising the shoddy acting and directing work on display.