Nightbreed: Director’s Cut (1990) – Clive Barker

I’ve always enjoyed Clive Barker’s stories, and I remember being so excited, during my freshman year at university, I was reading anything I could get my hands on by him from my local library. So I was very excited to see that he had directed his own adaptation of his novel Cabal in the form of Nightbreed.

On a trip home (it must have been spring break, though I remember lots of cold and snow for March) I convinced my mom to go see it with me. I enjoyed large portions of it, I can’t speak for her, and it’s always been a bit of a fun film for me.

I’d never seen the director’s cut, which restores about twenty minutes to the film, and watching it I realised one thing about both versions. No matter how much I like Barker, it’s a very uneven film. Nowadays, this would be made as a limited series, and it would be fantastic, no doubt, but compressing everything into a two hour film robs the story of its magic and its mythology, leaving it barely glimpsed.

The other thing it lacks (despite very much looking like a production – a number of supposedly outdoor locations are very recognisable as sets) is a sense of geography, not only in the major location of the film, Midian, but also in terms of storytelling, especially during the action sequences.

Everything feels rushed, and abrupt.

Craig Sheffer stars as Aaron Boone, a young man troubled by nightmares filled with monsters, and whose psychiatrist, Decker (David Cronenberg!) is working to convince him that he’s a horrible murderer, while the doctor hides a darker secret. Boone has heard stories of a place called Midian (where the monsters go) somewhere in north Alberta (I loved the fact that the story was set in Canada), and he is intent on getting there, even if he has to die first.

He’s pursued by Decker, and the law (portrayed by Charles Haid and Hugh Quarshie), and girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) who refuses to let him go…

… arriving in Midian he discovers that monsters are real (amongst them Doug Bradley better known for his appearance in another Barker project, Hellraiser), both natural and otherwise, but villains are something else, as a long foretold prophecy comes into play and brings Boone into a bigger world, which we are only offered frustrating glimpses of.

Watching it now, I was frustrated, disappointed, and bothered by seeing the possibility contained in the film and the story, and then being denied a more complete experience. Barker should push to revisit the film as a limited series that takes its time with its storytelling, builds its mythology, and delivers us some monstrous beings, natural and otherwise.

I should have left this one well enough alone, and perhaps revisited the text version instead.

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