NIGHTBREED: The Cabal Cut Film Review

NIGHTBREED: The Cabal Cut Film Review
Directed by Clive Barker. Starring Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg.
Updated: 06-14-2012
The Set-Up:
"From the mind of Clive Barker…" is really all most horror fans have to know, and they're there. Unless it's for the box-office flop, Nightbreed (1990). Based on the novella Cabal (1988), Nightbreed is an epic and highly original story of mythical monsters; their covert interactions with we mere mortals; and what happens when a crazed killer tries to straddle both species' spheres.
Combining elements of fantasy, romance, apocalyptic science fiction, suspense, and definitely lots of horror, this tangled tale subverts the serial slayer genre in making it the story of a human on the rampage, threatening the existence of monsters.
The Story:
Troubled but harmless young Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is convinced by his psychologist Dr Philip Decker (David Cronenberg) that although he cannot remember anything of the kind, he is responsible for a series of sadistic serial slayings. Following a suicide attempt, Boone ends up in the hospital where learns of the mythical city of Midian — a private utopia where the monsters go to be forgiven of sins. Boone decides to give salvation a try, but he's not alone. Following him are his worried girlfriend; his demented doctor, and a posse of policemen. Reluctantly embraced by the cabal of creatures, Aaron becomes one of them but still cannot shake his mortal trappings.
The Backstory:
Nightbreed was one of those "troubled productions" which suffered from much studio interference, resulting in a theatrical cut not approved by its director. For years, Barker has been wanting to re-tell his tale.
My Take:
I like Clive Barker's movies and all, but for three hours squinting at dark, grainy VHS-source images and listening to cut-n-paste reconstituted score…? Not so much.
While I do appreciate the fervor of the man and his fans in wanting to restore the vision in this Cabal Cut (1990/2011), and although I was pleased to see Fangoria and Days of the Dead sell out our local revival grind-house theater on Sunday, I personally felt the presentation was poor and possibly ill-timed.
My understanding is, the reason for the screenings and showing of the restored but unfinished cut was to find financing to bring it back in HD.
It worked, according to a recent news release posted by the fansite OCCUPY MIDIAN: "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."
Kudos to Clive for getting his wish. But at any rate, I can only review what I saw. First, I should state that while I did read the book CABAL many years ago, I remember almost nothing of it. Secondly, I have never seen NIGHTBREED. (Like, ever.) So, the only thing I have to go on in writing this review is The Cabal Cut.
How does NIGHTBREED: The Cabal Cut stack up as a "new movie" rather than a fan fulfillment or an 80s curio? Not very well. (Please don't hate me, fan-boys!)
While Clive Barker and his fans may be upset that the theatrical cut was dictated by a studio that wanted to make it into a slasher film, the fact remains: A movie is not a book. A movie has got to be able to stand alone as its own entity, and there are certain pacing issues and cinematic mores which should be respected. I found the film preachy, overwrought, and at times tedious. There were many simply extraneous scenes which didn't add anything to the characters (does it matter that Lori is a nightclub singer? Nope… and her number  is pretty awful, to boot). The final battle scene isn't worthy of epic-length lingering ala a Lord of the Rings film, so it should be pared down.
I believe this story can be told succinctly, yet retain the integrity Barker & Co. demand. (I am told the endings are markedly different and that was one of the major issues between the studio and the purists.) Another edit is definitely in order. Not to say all the extras should be slashed, but that's what they are and where they belong: as additional release materials on a Blu-ray.
Now that all the unpleasantness is out of the way, I am relieved that I can dispense a few compliments. It may not be trimmed to my faster-paced tastes, but the movie is well-directed, and although the print I saw was horrid it would appear that it's well-shot.
Sheffer embodies the look and acting style of popular stars of the day (reminiscent of the Rob Lowes, Matthew Modines, Jason Patrics, etc.) and his performance holds up. Casting Cronenberg as the villain was inspired — though his acting isn't always aces, he's got passion to spare. What's more, the design of his mask — which I do believe may have inspired the "sack mask" in The Orphanage (2007) — is one of the most chilling creations I've seen. Doug Bradley, a Barker staple, is fantastic as always (his voice was dubbed for the theatrical cut, which, remember, I have never seen, so I can't compare), as is Oliver Parker, who plays the iconic Peloquin (note: Parker is another director cast as an actor; I rather liked his most recent horror film, Dorian Gray). Hugh Ross as Narcisse is incredibly good. In fact, the so-called monsters are all embodied by actors who allow personality and pathos to shine through even the most heavy of makeup and prosthetics.
The Bottom Line:
I'd like to give The Cabal Cut another chance once it's all prettied up, but I am afraid the whole numbing experience of watching it run on for what seemed like forever has soured me on wanting to revisit any version (even the novella!) at all.
= = =
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
Related Stories:
Latest User Comments: