Friday, July 04, 2014

Night Breeders

I'm actually knee-deep in a fun, kaiju-related Blu-ray write-up... but there's a bit of news that needs covering before it's relevance has passed. We'll get this over with as quickly and painlessly as possible.

"Who's that adorable gay man? And what's he got to do with Hellraiser?"
- Mrs. Kentai, upon seeing Clive Barker for the first time

After his incredibly successful directorial debut with Hellraiser, Clive Barker's goal was to create "The Star Wars of horror films". Clive Barker's 1990 phantasmagorical NIGHTBREED, an $11 million dollar project pushing the limits of creature features, was to be the first half in this singular epic. An adaptation of his 1988 novella, Cabal, Nightbreed was - for better or worse - a one of a kind film that never quite lived up to its potential; a sweet natured horror-fantasy about a clan of sentient monsters who inhabit the dark underbelly of an abandoned cemetery, which - despite their otherworldly or animalistic natures - are ultimately innocent castaways of a cruel world, and are persecuted by "normal" society solely for existing.

Basically, it's Dances with Wolves by way of Barlowe's Guide to Extra Terrestrials, with the most impressive thing about it being not the effects work of the endlessly creative Mark Coulier, but the utterly terrifying human monster played by infamous (then) body-horror director David Cronenberg.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Clive Barker's personal life shouldn't have a lot of trouble putting the allegory back together, but that sense of sympathy and personal connection with the monsters of Midian produced an oddly touching, almost operatic experience... one which producers at Morgan Creek Productions didn't know what the hell to make of. In the end, over 40 minutes of footage was cut before the MPAA even had their say, new scenes to increase the presence Cronenberg's Midian hating psychopath were added to "ground" the film - a decision that actually didn't hurt one bit, and the whole thing was stitched together with some oddly inappropriate noodling by Danny Elfman. The finished film is a Frankenstein's Monster of big ideas that go nowhere, of musical theater intercut with gross-out gore gags, of so many of Barker's sincere affections thrown up on the screen in a menagerie of glorious sound and empty fury... I can't say Nightbreed in any cut is a boring film, but I'm tempted to say that the version that the world ultimately saw in early 1990, after months of delays, is a fundamentally broken experience.

One devoid of color as much as common sense. Apparently.

Not dark and gory enough to be a raucous creature feature in the vein of Hellraiser, and not allowed to be as nuanced and genre-inverting as it was intended, the finished 102-minute film was an almost inevitable commercial time bomb with a cult audience that would only emerge from morbid video rental curiosity. The film isn't awful, exactly, it's just... broken. Malformed beyond expectation that works as a fascinating failure rather than as a sincere work of art. The experience of watching what's clearly a very personal story get contorted into something comparatively trite was a painful process for the author-director, who would go on to direct only one more film (1995's The Lord of Illusions - a film he'd be allowed to release in his preferred version to video a year later, no less!) to focus on the comparatively unlimited world of writing and painting, where he's continued to thrive and grow as a creator, often leaving other talented film makers to try and put his own personal nightmares on-screen as unique adaptations. As I remember it Clive Barker voiced his frustrations around the time of the film's release post-release in horror rags of the period, but had kept more or less silent since about what are clearly old wounds that refuse to heal properly for nearly 20 years. It's a shame that Barker's most unusual and ambitious film project ended up being such a hot, near-glorious mess.

In 2009, Mark Miller, co-head of Seraphim Films (Barker's production company) located a 145 minute workprint, representing the initial rough cut of the film as Barker had once presented it to Morgan Creek producers. They went digging through Barker's things and continued to find longer bits and pieces as they went, eventually compiling every scrap of footage into the 159 minute version with senior film and video production lecturer Russell Cherrington, containing every frame of known footage. Realizing that some of the re-shoots made certain scenes redundant, this was later trimmed down to 155 minutes, and then shown at a handful of special venues, including at the New Beverly theater in Los Angeles - A SHOW I PERSONALLY WROTE ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO. When the show ended, Miller and Cherrington had just gotten word that they'd recieved approval to release the Cabal Cut themselves separate from the 1990 version, but they still needed a distributor. In July of 2013, Shout! Factory made the announcement that they would be releasing the "Cabal Cut" of Nightbreed on DVD and Blu-ray, though the when was still up in the air...

The "For Curious Peasants" Edition.

As of July first, 2014, Shout Factory announced the very tentative details for their Blu-ray edition. Shipping in late October, NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT - a refined and re-edited version of the Cabal Cut I myself got a chance to see with Barker and company - will be getting two distinct editions. The standard release will be a Blu-ray / DVD combo set, containing only the Director's Cut. The exact length has not been announced, but as the marketing materials insist "over 40 minutes" of never before seen footage, it's safe to say the length will likely be closer to the initial 1989 workprint Miller unearthed in 2009 than anything. (How much, if any, of the Cronenberg reshoots will be included is anyone's guess.)

For those curious, they're actually distancing themselves from the "Cabal Cut" moniker specifically because the once long-thought lost 35mm camera negatives have finally been located, meaning the dodgy VHS quality prints I myself watched through a haze of analogue hell will finally be rectified and looking no less beautiful than any print of the film seen before. This is an exciting surprise I can't stress enough, as while I can understand the thought process behind including every scrap of footage... let's face it. Putting a letterboxed VHS workprint on Blu-ray was going to be akin to stuffing a filet mignon with cheese whiz... sure  you could do it, but why?!

The standard-edition combo set will have an MSRP of $29.99, and knowing Shout! Factory it'll be available from most third-party retails for about thirty percent less on release, or - if you're the impatient type - can already be had for $23.96, as a pre-order from Shout! Factory proper. It promises new bonus features, but exactly what those features will be has yet to be confirmed. Both editions are due for a wide release October 28th, but pre-ordering from Shout! Factory direct gets you the release two weeks early. Ain't that some shit!


The "Fuck You. You'll Still Pay It And We Know It" Edition.

The no-less shocking surprise of the Limited Edition, however, is the real juicy part of this whole announcement... and it's not for the feint of heart. Available at the Shout! Factory website for the low, ass-reaming price of $79.97, this three disc Blu-ray set - strictly limited to 5,000 copies - will include new, Clive Barker approved artwork, a collector's book featuring exclusive content, the 1990 Theatrical Cut in high definition on disc 2, and a third bonus disc "packed with extras"... and once again, exactly what those extras will be, Shout! Factory isn't letting on. Considering the over the top presentation comparatively less expensive titles have been given on the Scream Factory label I have little doubt this'll be some sort of obscene feature-length documentary, but for now, all we can do is wonder what grotesque surprises this insanely pricey set is going to offer.

Before anyone who hasn't seen the Cabal Cut flips their desk in a fit of joy pre-orders this, remember, the Director's Cut can be had for $26 in the combo pack - the main extra in this limited edition is, so far at any rate, the Theatrical version we've all seen before. We'll get tons of other stuff, too, apparently... but Shout! Factory isn't willing to say what we're getting. Even though this release is supposed to ship in about 10 weeks. Am I the only one who thinks that's... weird? Not skeevy, not nessicarily, but why keep your lip buttoned tight when they're clearly getting ready to replicate these fuckers?

Before anyone lubes up their favorite toy at the thought of 40+ extra minutes of Nightbreed forever changing their lives... well, keep your expectations in check. I've seen the Cabal Cut, and walked away with very mixed feelings. In short, if you liked Nightbreed and thought it never explored its themes of love and responsibility properly, you'll probably love it. If you're expecting to become a fan, or assuming this'll be fourty minutes of grotesque monster bloodpath action, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. This is very much a Clive Barker film, but it's the Clive Barker who would create Lord of Illusions and then retire from the director's chair, not the Clive Barker who blew everyone's mind with Hellraiser. That's not to insult either end of that spectrum, mind - I don't dislike Lord of Illusions. But it's very closer in tone and scope to the latter rather than the former.

There's little doubt in my mind that the Cabal Cut was closer to Clive Barker's mad vision, but the final result is on par with the never-ending Alan Smythee version of Dune, or that five and a half hour workprint of Apocalypse Now: Some of the new footage improves the film dramatically, make no mistake, but big chunks of it was honestly cut for a damn good reason. The exceedingly rough nature of what we've seen certainly didn't help matters either, and it's possible that some clever new editing and ADR could take what looked like ugly, unpolished footage and turn it back into the finished, unique feature that Clive Barker had always intended. The romantic and personal soul may be back where it belongs, but it came with a lot of fat in its arteries. Maybe Barker's all-new and thus far never before seen edit will fix these issues and turn Nightbreed into the Star Wars of Horror Films, but what I saw just wasn't quite there... in the end, all we can do now is wait and see what we get.

Should you, dear friends, purchase the Limited Edition? Probably not, to be perfectly honest. I mean I ordered the fucking thing, and being a Californian these days I had to eat another eight bucks in taxes, but the appeal of the Theatrical Cut - even if it'll likely include some footage missing from the Director's Cut entirely - is kind of in how quaint and bizarre the whole thing is. The TC is a mess that this new DC is seeking to correct, and while I absolutely applaud its inclusion, it ain't worth an extra fitty bones. The bonus features might be worth something, but with Shout! Factory being mum about what the hell we're actually getting, it gets harder and harder to justify the price tag. I mean for fuck's sake, the least Cliff could have done was toss us a fuck'n steelbook...

So why am I doing it? In part because I've bought dumber things. (Like Demons 2 for $45, and R.O.D ~ Read or Die, upscaled, for $120.) But it's really two ultimate factors that are driving me to this madness, one external and one internal. The external factor is that despite this costing as much as three or four other Shout! Factory titles, this thing is selling - and fast! Shout initially said they were selling 1,000 copies themselves at their store front, but those thousand copies sold in about 24 hours. They then bumped the total up to 2,500 for now, but they've already offered a handful to independent distributor Diabolik DVD - a particularly noteworthy addition, as they'll be one of the few retailers sending copies outside of the US. Diabolik's humble store front actually crashed all goddamn day due to the massive volume of traffic they were getting from fans trying to order the set, which is the sort of nonsense you only expect from a Twilight Time release - some of which have sold out of similar numbers in less than two hours. The fans of Nightbreed - indeed, fans of Clive Barker in general - are not balking too hard at the price. Diabolik DVD was offering the set for notably less than Shout Factory, but at least the higher price tag at Shout's own store front offers an exclusive, limited edition print of the new cover art. Not sure if that's worth the $10+ difference, but it's certainly a factor to consider. At worst, this will sell out long before October rolls around, and if I decide I've wasted my money I'm sure I can sell the damnable thing on eBay for at least what I paid for it... probably more, if I were the type to plan ahead.

The internal factor is a much simpler one. Just so we're clear, I neither trust nor respect Shout! Factory, as a general rule; they have a general lack of quality control that consistently produces sub-par transfers, and they've released some really poor product from time to time. Shout! Factory has a lot of great titles and they're not the worst label out there, but they're far from the best, and the love they continue to get - largely for nifty new cover art and interviews I could, personally, care less about - frustrates me on a regular basis. They're no Criterion Collection, and even those assholes are capable of an ugly or an incomplete disc*, so... yeah. Shout! Factory, for all the money I've given them in the last several years, are kinda' on my shit list. Not to the same degree as Media Blasters, god forbid, but they're too close in many ways for me to expect this release to go off without a hitch or two.

* Not sure if it'll get a full post or not, but... short version is Criterion's new SCANNERS BD looks like dingy blue ass on the new Criterion BD. Do yourself a favor and buy the GERMAN IMPORT for the same price.

And yet, Shout! Factory or not... someone fucking did it. After five years of the guys behind Barker's cinematic ends being convinced that the film no longer existed, Shout! Factory were the guys who teamed up to find the footage. They were the guys who had the connections to let Clive Barker finally deliver his magnum opus - warts and all, I'm sure - to the people as he had always intended. Shout! Factory may generally suck, but what they've done here is such an incredible, unexpected, once-in-a-decade thing that I think they should be compensated for it. Hell yes, this is a bullshit cash-grab... and so what? They transferred 140-plus minutes of raw 35mm camera negatives. They're editing the negative from scratch, to say nothing of the musings Barker has made about the possibility of Doug Bradley and Danny Elfman finishing their tasks on the audio end. This is as close to the realization of the version of the film that Clive Barker and his legion of fans have always wanted as humanly possible, and while I may have a laundry list of shitty things Shout! Factory has done... this is one of the things they're doing absolutely right. Clive Barker should be rewarded for this, as should every fucking person who'd profit from this project having come to fruition. I'm buying this set not because the extras or that important, or because the Theatrical Cut is important - because this release IN GENERAL is the kind of thing I want to see more of. So much more. I have little doubt that these sets will disappear before July is through, so arguably my personal contribution means little in the end... but it means something to me. Dumb as that sentiment may be.

That having been said: I'm no fool. Last time Shout! Factory got me excited for some insanely expensive box set, it was that Bruce Lee: Legacy Collection that ultimately had so many layers of problems that the Three Stooges would have been proud - even the corrected had to be traded in! I also have zero doubt that "someone" created a sock-puppet account on the Blu-ray.com forums to defend its sorry state, too, though with no official word I suppose that's all irrelevant. With that cluster of a fuck in mind I'm keeping my pre-order... but I'm not actually opening it until I see some reviews I can trust. If the release stacks up to be what it promises, fantastic! Money well spent, far as I'm concerned. If it's a steaming pile, fuck it, to eBay it goes where I'll probably make twice what I put into it.

As ever, Cliff MacMillan, it's your move. Don't forget, Arrow Video managed to go from one of the worst cult labels on the planet to one of the absolute best. Tides can change, for good or for ill, and while the titles you purchase are often great, your presentation of the films themselves is all over the map. Stick to Apple ProRes 422, minimum (lossless is better, but a pain on MAC workflows). Use a proper x264 encoder, and for fuck's sake hire someone who knows how to actually use it. Send screeners to A/V junkies who actually care about this movie before you replicate it - hell, I'd happily QC the product for free, if you're willing to take any advice I can offer. If not myself, give it to someone who's criticized you in the past; those are the guys you actually have to convince, not the people who bought Phantasm II and went "Looks great, I dunno' what you assholes expected".

You have every opportunity to forever raise the bar, and finally erase from my mind being that one company that crapped out an upscale of It's Good To See You Again, Alice Cooper. You've bought the golden goose, and you're about to parade it around town. Don't. Fuck. This. Up. Because if you do, at prices like this I'm not the only one who will be there to point and do my best Nelson Muntz cackle... because the only thing people love more than a ridiculously expensive Limited Edition is the schadenfreude that comes from watching one of those very same ridiculously expensive Limited Editions fail.

9 comments:

Ignatius said...

I'm kind of willing to forgive the price tag on the limited edition set considering the investment Shout! must have plowed into the project. Once they located the original film elements (which I am fucking stoked beyond belief about), the cost of getting it all scanned and then creating a brand new fine cut from the raw deleted material can't have been cheap.

Given that everyone assumed the elements were lost and this would just be Barker's edit of the Cabal Cut I have to applaud them for taking the hard road and actually putting this whole thing together. There's still a myriad of ways they can fuck up the landing on this one, most of which you've mentioned, but I'd say creating a long-sought director's cut of a cult film from the raw materials justifies an $80 price tag on principle.

Again, on principle. Here's hoping they hire a new compressionist and QA department.

Adam G said...

Yeah, I'd have preferred Synapse or Arrow were at the helm on this one, but having not actually seen the 'Cabal Cut', I'm excited enough I'm not sure I care who's releasing it.

Fingers crossed nothing goes horrendously wrong, and they follow through with a good edition of Lord of Illusions to boot.

Anonymous said...

The bottom line for me is that it better be a decent transfer. I'm sick of seeing compression artifacts plastered on most of their blu ray releases. I shelled out $80. They better not fuck up. There is no excuse. Smaller companies like Synapse, Vinegar Syndrome, and Arrow( at least the current regime) always seem to deliver quality releases. It's time for SF to do the same.

THEGODDAMNZOLLMAN said...

I of course got the 80 dollar one because I love me that 1990 Theatrical cut.
Of course Shout could encode it shitty like the US cut of Lifeforce...

Ignatius said...

Hold up a minute, they've said that despite having all the elements it'll be too expensive and time-consuming for them to sync all the raw production audio back up to the negative trims and create a new mix - so the new footage will be using cleaned-up audio from the Cabal Cut.

So the new footage will be sourced directly from the negative, and will probably look better than the interpositive sourced stuff around it, but it'll have VHS quality audio.

I get the budget limitations they must be up against but that's really half-arseing it. That price tag is starting to look a bit steep to me now.

Benjamin said...

The audio would be unpolished, live recordings from the set. Unfinished, no looping, no dubbing, no foley, no soundtrack. Would that make much of a difference is it comes from video compared to what's there?

THEGODDAMNZOLLMAN said...

No. The Audio (ADR, Foley and Soundtrack) was newly created from scratch independent of the final source for the new scenes.

So in short: it's not the audio from the VHS tape, and it's not on-set audio from the 35mm trims.

Barker and his team had that done before Shout got in on it.

Ignatius said...

You're absolutely right, I'd forgotten about the extra work (looping etc.) that had already been done for the Cabal Cut.

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