The legacy of Clive Barker’s ambitious dark-fantasy-horror film Nightbreed
Debuting in 1990, the theatrical release of Clive Barker’s second feature film Nightbreed gained unfavorable response from critics. Based on Barker’s novel “Cabal”, the film was released at a time when slasher films and sequels were prominent in the horror genre, making Nightbreed remarkable in that it was a film not only about monsters, but monsters who were also heroes. Although it was not a huge success, it has since reached cult-classic status and acquired an incredibly devoted following that were able to help make history.
The synopsis: Hellraiser creator Clive Barker writes (adapting his novel Cabal) and directs this vivid leap into horror that asks: in the battle of man vs. monster, who’s really the monster? The answer supplies flesh-crawling suspense, sudden fear, a colorful Danny Elfman score and a creepy array of shape-shifting beings. They are the Nightbreed, denizens of a world beyond death, beyond the imagination, perhaps beyond anything you’ve seen.
The theatrical release of the film suffered extensive editing from the studio during post production, during which reshoots were ordered, crucial scenes were eliminated, and others were rearranged to their liking, modifying the content in a manner that hindered Barker’s story and vision. Furthermore, the studio failed at properly promoting the film, and what little they did misrepresented the content. The result was a version of the film which they thought would play better to the masses.
Since then a fan-driven movement was created, dubbed Occupy Midian, to see the full version of the film restored and re-released. Their dedication gained so much attention that eventually, after years of diligence, enthusiasts got their wish. In 2009, Mark Miller, co-head of Barker’s production company, Seraphim Films, helped track down the lost footage. The film found a distributor in Scream Factory, in conjunction with Warner Bros., who were able to recover and restore the long lost missing film elements. Not only were they able to locate the unused scenes, but also uncovered never before seen footage. The result was nearly an hours worth of meticulously restored footage delivering a more faithful adaptation of Barker’s source material and what he originally intended for Nightbreed.
“This is film history and beyond my wildest dreams of realization. When Scream Factory told me that they found the Nightbreed film footage I was gob-smacked! This is the ultimate validation of choices made by myself and Mark Miller all the way back in 2008. As we embarked down the road of attempting to track down the lost footage, we looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe one day they’ll find it.’ It’s my pleasure to announce that the day has come. Speaking personally, I didn’t allow myself to believe that it would. Even if we did find some footage (which we did in 2009 in the form of heavily degraded VHS tapes) and even if we did find a company willing to release the film (which we did in 2013 with Scream Factory, God bless them) the prospect of finding the actual lost film materials was remoter than I’d wanted to admit out loud. If the footage could not be found by those who had worked closest on it the same year it had been released, then what were the odds we’d be able to find anything 20 years on? But Scream Factory, in their commendable determination, kept up the search and thanks to them total reconstruction has been made a possibility. There’s never been a reconstruction that’s had as little chance of succeeding and yet has succeeded on as many fronts as this film has. It’s unprecedented. To now have a movie that we can put together in the way that I fully intended it to be seen when I first set out to make this film in 1989 is extraordinary. The project has moved inexorably to this conclusion. Fate and the hard work of individuals such as Mark Miller, Russell Cherrington, Phil and Sarah Stokes, Occupy Midian, Morgan Creek, and ultimately, Scream Factory have made this a possibility and I could not be happier.” said Clive Barker in an official statement for the announcement of the director’s cut.
The following was declared by Scream Factory: “The Nightbreed Director’s Cut is an entirely different film than the one which was released in theaters. It’s 20 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, but it contains over 40 minutes of new and altered footage. Clive oversaw the reconstruction and edit himself, personally ensuring that, at long last, he was able to tell the story he always wanted to tell, but until now, had never been given the chance. Once the scenes were reordered, and the original film footage restored, the entire film received a brand new sound mix and color pass. It is, in every way, a different movie. It contains more story, more monsters, and there’s even a musical number. Ultimately, what we’ve delivered is a love story 25 years in the making”
In the long run, avid fans of Nightbreed helped to achieve their ultimate goal…to see the film realized as Clive Barker envisioned. However, the film’s legacy would not end there and it’s impact goes beyond the screen. A 12 issue comic mini-series was published by BOOM! Studios in 2014-2015 following the storyline of the Director’s Cut of the film. Additionally, Clive Barker’s ’90s cult-classic Nightbreed comic series was recently made available in a comprehensive archive collection, which features the adaptation of his original screenplay; the original ’90s Nightbreed Epic comic run; and the Hellraiser/Nightbreed crossover, all remastered and collected for the first time.
In 2014, it was announced that Morgan Creek was developing a television series based on the original film. In September 2015 Morgan Creek announced the sale of the domestic rights to its library of 78 films. However, the production company plans to retain the TV rights to Nightbreed. No further news is available at this time. Nevertheless, fans remain hopeful that this project is still in development.
Most recently, a Nightbreed sequel anthology titled Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed was released by Tor Books in 2016. The all original stories are set in the world of Clive Barker’s cult film masterpiece, and include stories by Seanan McGuire, Amber Benson, Karl Alexander, Nancy Holder, and more! Midian Unmade tells the stories of the Nightbreed after the fall of their city, Midian. Driven from their homes, their friends and family members slain before their eyes, the monsters become a mostly-hidden diaspora. Some are hunted; others, hunters. Some seek refuge. Others want revenge. With an introduction by Clive Barker, this is an exceptional collection of original short horror stories in a diversity of styles.
Although Nightbreed is not a traditional horror film and certainly not for everyone, fans of the genre who enjoy the imagination of Clive Barker, fascinating characters, a compelling story, and spectacular special effects…I encourage you to journey into Midian where you’ll meet a community of fearsome yet loveable monsters hiding from the beast that is mankind. Nightbreed is a truly visceral and enjoyable viewing experience and also features an impressive score by none other than Danny Elfman and concept art by the legendary Ralph McQuarrie (Star Wars). Nightbreed the Director’s Cut is currently available for streaming on Netflix U.S.
Image credits: 20th Century Fox, Scream Factory, BOOM! Studios,