Words by Colin McCracken
Clive Barker’s Nightbreed was released in 1990, but what the viewing public didn’t know was that the theatrical version which they saw (and the one subsequently released on home video) was very far removed from the source material and even from the original film which was shot. Additional scenes and story arcs were added (unbeknownst to the majority of the cast and crew) to make the film more marketable, with the studio heads believing a story with sympathetic monsters just wasn’t commercially viable. What was once an epic and grandiose love story, with highlighted metaphors of persecution and societal acceptance became little more than a standard slasher flick. Months of hard work and creature design was scrapped, alongside vital elements of storyline and contextualisation.
Injustice, like true monsters, never rests easy, and it was through the work of Russell Cherrington and Mark Millar, with Clive Barker’s blessing, that Nightbreed has been given a second lease of life and one final chance to be seen as the movie it was meant to be. Cherrington has invested considerable amounts of his own time and money to get the project off the ground. Through Occupy Midian a community has grown, one which demands the release of their beloved feature in the manner of which it was originally intended. Screenings are now being held at various festivals across the world and the reception has been nothing short of rapturous.
Prior to a screening of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut as part of the Grimmfest Horror Festival on Friday October 5th at The Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester, England, I sat down for an interview with the restoration director Russell Cherrington, stars of the movie Nicholas Vince and Simon Bamford and members of the Image FX crew: Shaune Harrison (who was a trainee at the time), Mark Coulier, and Mark C. Jones, who all worked on Nightbreed. Spirits were high and so was anticipation. So far, there have only been a small number of screenings in Europe and this one took place on Clive Barker’s 60th birthday. Fans lined up around the block in excitement and the historic theatre provided an atmospheric and memorable setting for this outing of the project. The Cabal Cut is still very much a work in progress, but, before we analyse it any further, let’s hear what the guys had to say.
My first question is for Russell. For those who don’t know, what exactly is the Cabal cut?
RUSSELL CHERRINGTON: Well, it’s interesting; I don’t want to take over–
(The rest of the cast and crew erupt in explosive laughter.)
The Cabal Cut is Nightbreed as Clive Barker wanted you to see it. So, basically, it’s his original first two drafts of the script and it’s all the footage that he shot that he tried to construct into a film which was taken away from him. People say that, and they often misquote the film in doing so, it’s “Nightbreed with an extra 50 minutes added in.” This film is not Nightbreed at all, it’s 70% different. 70% of the film has not been seen in this way at all before as it follows the narrative of Cabal, which is why I called it The Cabal Cut. It does not have anything to do with Nightbreed.
Nightbreed is really just something that I took to pieces and used, so this is basically Clive Barker’s novel come to life as faithfully as possible with all the material that’s there. I think that’s the reason why it’s been so successful and why people want to watch it.
SIMON BAMFORD: The book Cabal is so wonderful, I don’t know if anyone here’s read it, but it’s a really moving holocaust story of persecution, and the screenplay I think was even more powerful and when we got that I was really moved by it. So, finally, when the original cut came out it just didn’t resemble either of them, it was quite a shock.
Yes, because Clive himself was very famously quite displeased with the result and almost washed his hands of the whole thing. Did you feel a similar way yourselves?
RUSSELL: Simon’s got a great story about that.
SIMON: Do I? (more laughter) Oh, yes, I remember. Well, I went to see a crew screening of it so the first time I saw it was at the Odeon in Leicester Square, London. They had a big party beforehand in Tower Records and they had cocktails with lychees painted to look like eyeballs, of which I had several and so I was kind of rat-arsed by the time I actually got to see it. Halfway through I felt so disappointed, because I had expected to see Cabal and it really wasn’t what was there, I was so pissed off that I just stormed out. I came back at the end just as Clive was coming down the main staircase surrounded by press and reporters and I came up and he asked me, “So what did you think?” and I said, “It was terrible.” It took Clive 15 years to talk to me again after that.
RUSSELL: So Nick, what’s your recollection?
NICHOLAS VINCE: It’s more or less the same, although I sat and watched the entire movie, sensibly. When I read the script I read the story as a beautiful European, very dark, fantasy fairy tale. In the tradition of the very best Grimm fairy tales, that’s what I read in the script and, as Simon said, it was a completely different movie. There were new characters that actually weren’t there when we did the original shooting and they took it in a completely different direction, so yes, I was very disappointed when I saw it.
RUSSELL: I always say that now it’s more of a Jean Cocteau or a Federico Fellini movie than it is anything else. A very beautiful thing that’s very far away from a slasher horror.
So we’re looking at something that’s closer to Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, or Orpheus?
RUSSELL: Yes, It follows that kind of thing. My tagline for it now is that it’s Gone with the Wind with monsters, because it’s got this beautiful love story threading through it.
A quick question for the FX crew. I was very young when I saw Nightbreed for the first time. I remember walking into a video store and seeing a huge cardboard cut-out of one of the monsters and that’s what drew me into it. It’s also a fantastic example of old school SFX and construction and I’d love to know; will we get to see some new monsters in this version?
SHAUNE HARRISON: It’s actually the first time we’ll see the film tonight! So we’re quite excited about it.
MARK COULIER: We made so many creatures for that movie and in the original version, 60-70% of them were gone. We worked for 8 or 9 months on that project, making creatures all the time and I think it’s still one of the biggest creature movies that’s ever been done.
SIMON: It’s in the Guinness book of records isn’t it? For having the most creatures at the time in the UK?
SHAUNE: It was insane the amount of stuff we did, so that when we saw the film we said “Where’s that?” or “Where’s this?” It was quite weird not to see the stuff that you had been working on for 9 months and most of the time we were pulling all-nighters. It wasn’t uncommon for us to stay overnight at Image.
MARK C. JONES: Clive would ask for specific creatures sometimes as well.
I wanted to ask about that, because, as we all know, Clive’s a painter and a visual artist as well, so he must be quite aesthetically driven. That was actually going to be my next question; how involved was Clive in the construction and design of the monsters?
MARK COULIER: Clive was very involved, he drew pretty much all the basic designs to start with and they extrapolated from his drawings and turned them into three dimensional sculptures and maquettes and test makeups.
SHAUNE: He did full size drawings of some of them on the floor, it was amazing.
RUSSELL: What Clive does with that kind of stuff is really important. That’s what separates him from other filmmakers. His ability to come in and draw and give you a clear understanding. For me doing this, it was really important for these guys that all those creatures were in there. If you turned up on the set of Nightbreed as a visitor, you’d have been a Nightbreed within half an hour. There could be four or five new people a day becoming creatures. Didn’t you all play Berserkers as well?
SFX crew: (Laughter) Yes, we all did.
My next question is for Simon and Nicholas: You were famously cast as Cenobites back in the days of Hellraiser and I was just wondering, how did your experiences differ on the shoot of Hellraiser to when you were making Nightbreed?
SIMON & NICHOLAS: We could see!
SIMON: Yes, we were both blind in Hellraiser.
That must have been incredibly uncomfortable.
SIMON: Yes, it was pretty gruesome.
NICHOLAS: No. (To Simon) No it wasn’t fun was it?
SIMON: Pretty much blind, deaf and dumb, so you could say it was the early days of prosthetics.
(The rest of the crew now descend into what can only be described as sadistic cackling.)
So we’re basically talking candle wax and melted latex then?
NICHOLAS: Yes, superglue on your eyeball. I remember that on Hellraiser. The main difference between Simon and I on Nightbreed, however, was that I had five hours of makeup to become Kinski and Simon had about 10 minutes. Oh and Bob Keen (SFX) insisted on gluing on your nipples as far as I remember, didn’t he?
SIMON: Nothing to do with the film, he just enjoyed it.
Okay. So, what exactly was wrong with your nipples? Were they getting in the way of shots or something?
SIMON: He had a nipple fetish at the time, although I think he’s gone to therapy for it now.
(NB: Simon’s character Ohnaka has a nipple torn off in a scene.)
Do you all feel slightly vindicated now that this is all coming out and that it’s getting so much attention? Obviously, the reviews so far have been staggeringly positive so far.
NICHOLAS: Yes, absolutely, it’s just very exciting for us. I think you mentioned earlier on that we kind of put it to one side and felt, “That was it. Shame. Let’s move on.” To have it come back again thanks to Russell is amazing.
SIMON: I’d say even more so for these guys (SFX) and Clive and the people who were there every day on the shoot, because they put so much work into it.
MARK C. JONES: I think very much so for the cast and crew because we were there and we saw it every day and when we saw it for the first time and it was completely different to we imagined, was awful.
So you had really put it to bed, as it were? Written it off and said, “Well, that was unfortunate, but…onwards and upwards?”
MARK C. JONES: Yes, very much so.
RUSSELL: They keep sending me really nice messages about it, which I really appreciate. I think for me the best thing about tonight will be when we get to the end and you guys all tell me what you think. To see the stop motion creature that’s in there, the one which is very Ray Harryhausen; that was very, very exciting for me to find and put in. It’s fantastic.
It is brilliant. Especially with such a CGI rich horror environment, it’s quite a delight for a lot of fans to go back to see tangible makeup and special effects with their monsters.
RUSSELL: Yes, the practical ones are great.
Is it true that it all came about from a stack of VHS tapes that were discovered somewhere?
RUSSELL: Mark (Millar) was moving some things in Clive’s office and found two tapes that said “Nightbreed” on them and that’s how the whole journey started for me.
That’s brilliant, and how is the logistical process working out in reconstructing things like the sound, because you have that very rich Danny Elfman score.
RUSSELL: We’ve done tons of work on the sound so far, but once Morgan Creek give me $100,000 I’ll do a full sound mix, I’ll re-voice. We are going to talk to Danny Elfman about the music.
What can people do to get behind the project?
NICHOLAS: Occupy Midian www.occupymidian.com
RUSSELL: Just get on there or on Facebook and basically say that you want it. If you say you want to buy this, own this and the more of these figures that add up, the quicker, and more likely it will come out.
We were then ushered into the theatre and, for the next two and a half hours, we watched Cabal. Nightbreed is no more. The story is now as rich and dense as Russell had promised. Even scenes which one may partially recognise from Nightbreed have been re-contextualised, making sense of elements which caused confusion in the original cut.
The relationship between Anne Bobby’s Lori and Craig Sheffer’s Aaron Boone now resonates on a much deeper level, becoming far more intricate and significant than it was portrayed as in the edited original. Midian becomes less the stuff of nightmares and more a refuge for the outsider. The final corner in which the different and the damned can take solace from the cruel and sadistic nature of man.
Whilst the carefully inserted elements are, understandably, of a variant quality to the previously existing footage, this in no way inhibits the appreciation of the care and attention that has gone into this work. The additional monsters are spectacular, in particular the Ray Harryhausen style beast, of which I will say no more. The silly accents are gone as well. It’s a delight to hear Doug Bradley voice his own character once again, with his character Dirk Lylesberg having been dubbed by a German actor in post-production for some bizarre and inexplicable reason.
Cherrington is adamant that the studios are not the villains in this piece, he appreciates that they are merely a business and, as such, need to be approached with a potentially worthwhile business deal. If enough momentum can be generated behind the project, the plan is to ‘bake’ the new footage, which will bring it up to DVD level. Then, as mentioned in the interview, they can focus on sound and mixing.
Having seen The Cabal Cut, it is now clear why this is so important. Barker’s original vision is a lost classic, one which we have the possibility of resurrecting. This is one of the rare opportunities in which horror fans can actually make something happen. To be given the opportunity to take dissatisfaction away from the message boards and blogs and to actually achieve something tangible is a rare occurrence in the movie world and one which we cannot let slip through or fingers.