Friday, June 15, 2012

Midian Occupied

Everything is true...

God's an Astronaut, Oz is Over the Rainbow,
and Midian is where the monsters live.

As you all know by now, I had a fascinating, genre-film filled weekend that culminated in what's only been the second showing of the "Cabal Cut" of Clive Barker's infamous 1990 horror film most commonly known as NIGHTBREED.The victim of it's own ambitious scale, the film was actually an adaptation of Barker's own novella, Cabal, about a world in which classic "monsters" were the secluded, and unfairly persecuted victims of the more commonly accepted human society. Less a horror film and more a grotesque, surreal fantasy that segues into a bloody class war in the final act, it was shunned by test audiences who basically wanted to see the next Hellraiser and didn't see why we should give a shit about characters with horns and tails and poisoned spines over the 'real' people who just wanted them fucking dead. Massive cuts were made, reshoots were ordered to increase the presence of David Cronenberg's (creepy as hell!) character, and new dialog was shot to dramatically simplify the character development between the film's romantic couple, and leave two of the film's more likable characters breathing by the final scene. In the end, Barker finished a project that bore less resemblance to his own novel than he'd ever hoped, and me more or less washed his hands of it upon release. Urban legend had it that the version of the film Morgan Creek initially accepted was 126 minutes, but that either they or the film's final distributor, 20th Century Fox, made roughly 25 minutes worth of cuts before releasing the film to the public. Worse yet, despite Clive Barker's next esoterically minded not-quite horror film Lord of Illusions having been given new life on home video with an expanded Director's Cut, Morgan Creek has said for years that because the film wasn't a commercial success, they don't see any reason to release whatever additional footage still exists.

For well over a decade, I assumed that whatever it was Clive Barker had wanted to put up on the screen was simply lost to the ether. Thankfully, the people behind the OCCUPY MIDIAN "movement" - particularly Mark Miller of Barker's own Seraphim Studios, and Russell Charrington, video editing professional - took that as something of a challenge. Piecing together no less than two VHS workprints and the same master used for the commercial DVD in final cut and using Barker's original treatment as their template, not to mention the extended Danny Elfman score and some long overdue ADR work from Doug Bradley, these men have finally restored Barker's original, grandiose vision to an almost shocking 153 minutes. As you can imagine the quality isn't perfect; the VHS masters are quite dark and covered in print damage, some of the restored dialog is only half-audible, and there are plenty of extended scenes that only have score where it's clear ambient sound and, at times, even dialog would have been added in post... but it doesn't matter. I saw that rough cut from a 23 year old videotape on as big a screen as you can imagine, and frankly, I was enthralled just to see what all the fuss was about!

So, what's been restored? It'd be unfair to say anything but "Everything". Despite the runtime suggesting a roughly 50 minute difference between the two versions, this isn't entirely true, as with one exception, all of the re-shoots ordered by Morgan Creek have been completely deleted. Without a copy to compare on hand I'd guess that at least an hour of new footage, some of the most notable additions being...

And just incase it wasn't totally, blatantly, 100% crystal clear, MASSIVE SPOILERS for Nightbreed follow!

Right after the opening titles we're given a completely different sequence between lovers Boone and Lori, in which he promises to see her sing at the club. Decker calls him and convinces him to meet up with him the next day, and Boone gets upset, acknowledging that he "fell apart" some time before and that people are just waiting for it to happen agaion. The scene in Decker's office unfolds in much the same way, but after he takes the "medicine" we see Boone go to the club to watch Lori sing, but see him get increasingly disoriented until he wanders out into traffic - this was supposed to be a side-effect of the drugs Decker gave him, not an a suicide attempt. (All of this except for the scene in Decker's office was replaced with a short, generic scene of Lori and Boone in bed discussing that Decker wanted to talk to him for unspecified reasons.)

Following the murder of the suburban family, we're introduced to Detective Joyce, who gives more background on the masked killer as the bodies are hauled away.

We actually see Boone jump out of the hospital window, and this leads to a scene where Joyce and Decker discuss what might have happened to the body. Later on, after meeting her new friend in the ladies room, Jodi explains her bizarre circumstances and the woman at the bar thinks the whole thing is bizarre, but offers to help her out all the same. The scene ends with a man who "embodies class" buying her a drink.

Captain Eigerman is shown attending a press conference, where it's revealed to him that Boone was already killed once in his jurisdiction. This leads to the scene where he storms in and demands answers from Decker.

Jodi is given a power to see through Babette's eyes, which leads to a scene where she watches as the police begin their march on Midian. This is dropped completely from the theatrical cut.

When Captain Eigerman gets ready to march on Midian, he goes to the police armory and we're introduced to a gun-obsessed cop who points out every piece of firepower at their disposal like an excited salesman. This is followed by several scenes of rednecks piling trucks up with firearms and riding off to Midian.

Several extended scenes of Nightbreed being mowed down by the Police and Rednecks. We see at least two-dozen nameless "minor" characters shot in cold blood underground - men, women and children shot as they run for their lives. When Boone fights off several armed men and sees that the Nightbreed have all resigned themselves to their fate, he tells them to fight - "If not for yourselves, then for your children!" He then leaves the refugees and Jodi in Narcisse's care.

Through the film, Decker hears voices in his head from the "zipper-face" mask he wears when he kills. Through the entire Midian battle he spends most of his time chasing after Jodi above ground, and actually decapitates Narcisse when he tries to save her.

It's made clear from before the war between the police and the Nightbreed that Father Ashberry feels there's no evil within Midian, which he tells to Captain Eigerman while he's setting booby traps. This builds up to the scene where Captain Eigerman nearly shoots him, only to be knocked out by Boone. In the theatrical cut, it looks like Eitgerman runs away once the Berserkers are unleashed; in the theatrical cut, he finds the transformed priest who swears revenge against Baphomet. Eigerman drops to his knees and begs Ashberry "Take me with you!" - the priest snaps his neck in reply.

When Father Ashberry continues down towards Baphomet's chamber, he watches several Nightbreed flee, one of them being a leopard-girl riding on a giant lizard.

Babette is saved by Joyce, not Jodi, who finds her amongst the carnage and picks her up, shielding the child as best he can. Also, Babette's mother never kills a man by punching through him; she plays the role of a pacifist through the original cut, which makes much more sense considering how she acts around Jodi in general.

After Midian is destroyed, the theatrical version ends with Boone and Jodi meeting up with Narcisse. In the extended cut, Boone and Jodi wake up outside the graveyard and the scene plays out in silhouette; Jodi begs him to take her with them, and when he refuses she slits her own belly. Boone hesitates, but bites her to transform the dying girl into a Nightbreed. There's a long moment of silence, and Boone shrieks, thinking his lover dead, until she comes back and tells him she'll never leave him. They embrace, and then it cuts to the surviving Nightbreed hiding in the barn, unsure when, or even if, they'll see Boone again.

There are a number of brief additional scenes of violence, including extended takes of Narcisse peeling off his own skin, Decker slitting the throat of the chubby father early on in the film, and the fat monster with the worm-like appendages yanking the man's eyes out; in the Cabal Cut, you actually see the yanked out eyeballs in the worms claws.

Scenes NOT included in the "Cabal Cut" include when Rachel punches through one of the invading rednecks, Boone and Jodi meeting up with Narcisse after the destruction of Midian, the theatrical opening scene with Boone and Jodi in bed, and Decker's resurrection at the very end of the movie. What IS included from the reshoots is the scene where Decker interrogates his victim wrapped in Christmas lights, explaining his plans for the Nightbreed.

With at least an hour of new material I haven't quite mentioned everything, but surely you get the idea; the movie has a number of character arcs restored that were once left on the cutting room floor, there's more time spent establishing who the real monsters in the story are, and yes, there's a goddamn musical number to boot. The "Cabal Cut" fills in several gaps left by the theatrical cut, and adds in a number of ideas that were present in the original Cabal book but largely fell by the wayside during the adaptation from novella to screenplay. It's a long-lost artifact, and a testament to Clive Barker's vast and totally unique vision... but is it a revelation?

I'm inclined to think that while it's overall a notable improvement on Nightbreed as the world has known it since 1990, the so-called Cabal Cut still isn't perfect. Obviously the video quality of the VHS workprints is god-awful, and there's a number of scenes present with (essentially) music only, no voice overs or synced sound effects, but these are a minor annoyance in the face of the film's new epic length. The last thing I want to do is quash the enthusiasm we should all feel just for this footage to have appeared in the public eye after 20 years of curiosity, but the fact is the "Kitchen Sink" approach to this cut does drag and get a bit tiresome in spots, particularly the oft-repeated snarling from Dirk Lyseberg that "the laws have been broken" which he does seemingly every ten minutes here. The restored sub-plot about Jodi sharing a psychic link with Babette is a neat idea, but ultimately it does little for the story, and only serves to complicate the already surprisingly dense narrative. Similarly, while I do like the idea that Decker is getting "messages" from the mask that propel him to commit his heinous acts of violence, the realization feels a bit like it was shoehorned in because it made sense in the book, not because it would make sense in the movie based on it. This was a flaw that Barker largely avoided when he adapted Hellraiser from his own novella The Hellbound Heart, but here he has a lot of elements and not nearly enough time to focus on all of them. The producers behind Barker did Nightbreed no favors by removing an hour from its runtime, but how much better the film gets with every second of that footage restored will be a highly personal matter.

What I will give Barker and everyone behind this unique project is that the film has had two of its more important talking points restored: Boone and Jodi's love story, and the now-indisputable core that Man is the real monster, not the maligned and largely ambivalent Nightbreed. These are the two things that the leaner, meaner cut of Nightbreed lacked, and as Barker - himself an "outsider" in the eyes of the typical scope of heterosexuality, or even those who lack an affection for the sadomasochistic and the just plain moribund - seemed to want to impress those two messages through the film more than any other, restoring every scrap of footage, whether it worked as intended or not, to get them back is a small price to pay...

Well, I suppose not EVERY single scrap of footage ever made for the was present; it's mentioned on the Clive Barker website that on the first draft of the Cabal Cut, Captain Eigerman dies twice: First was his original fate from the original script, and the second death was from the reshoots. This footage doesn't appear in the Theatrical or Cabal cut of Nightbreed, and that leaves me to wonder what else might have been included on that 126 minute cut Clive Barker submitted to Morgan Creek that was removed between his involvement and the producers re-cutting the film however they saw fit. The Cabal Cut is absolutely the director's original vision, but can we call it "Ultimate" if there's footage on those workprints that we still haven't seen after over two and a half hours?

The film has always had some flaws that cut far too close to the bone, and I can't say all of them are improved upon here. The film's acting has always been a little confused, with Cronenberg's turn being deliciously layered and the two leads being... attractive. They're not terrible, mind you, but the over the top shtick of the Nightbreed and the hard-nosed world of the cops trying to piece it all together walks a fine line between clever and absurd. I also don't think that Danny Elfman's score - used in its entirety for the first time here - was ever what Barker wanted to accompany what's, by far, the closest thing to a world-spanning epic his small stint as a genre director allowed. It's not that the score is bad, it just seems to belong to a considerably schlockier, sillier film than it's playing on top of. I wouldn't say that this soundtrack being someone else's idea is an unfair guess, either; let's not forget that he wanted the industrial band Coil to do the original soundtrack for Hellraiser, only to be vetoed by producers and get a "classical" score by Christopher Young further into production.

The whole reason they're showing this analog Frankenstein is to raise awareness - and money, but more on that in a minute - that this footage still exist, and that with the right level of incentive (ie: an audience willing to put their money where their mouth is), Morgan Creek might be willing to dig through the vaults and see what they can find for a new, extended Blu-ray release. According to the producers they sounded interested as of last week; this is a big shift in tone from 2010 when their only reply was "Not now, maybe down the road." Unfortunately, nobody at this point in time is certain how MUCH of the film still exists on archival 35mm elements; is there still a master print for the 126 minute print featuring all of the reshoots? Could 35mm dailies still exist for every scrap of footage used to create the Cabal Cut? Nobody's really sure at this point.

As I've already said, the Cabal Cut is not perfect... it is, however, the film that Clive Barker actually set out to make, and while I think the world can agree that Hellraiser is his most satisfying work, it absolutely deserves a second chance to anyone who wanted to know what the full story was. Honestly, if we could even get the 126 minute version in High Definition and had the rest of the deleted scenes as an extra, or the full 153 minute VHS workprint as a bonus DVD, I'd still be pretty damn excited.

You may all get your chance to judge for yourselves soon enough; as of TODAY, the producers at Morgan Creek have officially given Clive Barker the go-ahead to raise the funds for a new Blu-ray release. I don't regret having spent just shy of $20 getting myself and the missus in to see this new cut, and if that small fee helps get the Blu-ray rolling, all's the better!

And so, what is below will no longer stay below...


Anonymous said...

I'm curious to see this. I actually thought the book was much better than the movie( theatrical version). So it will be interesting to see if the additional bits help. I have to admit I wish the video sourced parts were film sourced. I wished that Barker had a full 35mm version of the extended version...oh well.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Therein lies the real question; how much of the "Lost" footage still has 35mm elements tucked away in the Morgan Creek vaults? I asked at the end of the screening, and while Seraphim Films isn't as hopeful as I'd have liked, the fact is nobody really knows what they still have at this point.

Russell seemed more hopeful than Mark, but as they were still in the process of communicating with Morgan Creek on different levels it's hard to say who knew more at the time.

Let's not forget that we've gotten complete and restored versions of FROM BEYOND, THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, and EBOLA SYNDROME under somewhat similar circumstances in the last few years, or that we're set to get LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS with its original 20 minute kaiju-inspired ending restored, 25 years after the fact.

Nothing is impossible until proven otherwise, so for now, all we can do is keep our fingers crossed and wait to hear what they actually find.

Pearce said...

Hey just wondering - why does Lori turn into Jodi part-way through your post?