Nightbreed – Clive Barker’s Director’s Cut

Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut is currently available on instant Netflix

Nightbreed

 

Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut (1990) – Unrated

Believing that he’s a serial killer, a troubled young man is drawn to an old cemetery where a variety of monsters are hiding from humanity.”

I loved Clive Barker’s short story anthologies, The Books of Blood. They were a breath of fresh, if nasty, air when they came out. Many authors, including Stephen King, had done horror short stories but Barker’s were quite different. They had an edge to them. He also had an idea that the humans were monsters and the monsters, human. This idea is pretty commonplace today but was not back in the 80s.

In 1987, Barker was able to parlay his success as an author into directing an adaptation of his work, The Hellbound Heart, into the movie Hellraiser. This was a wonderful work of sexual horror and appetite. Unfortunately it succeeded too well and people don’t remember the creepy sexual horror so much as the wonderful cenobite supporting characters. This led to a decent but inferior sequel and a vast number of really bad sequels.

In 1990, Barker gave us Nightbreed from his story Cabal. Unfortunately the studio severely compromised his vision, trying to make Nightbreed fit into a standard horror mold, stripping away the complex mythology Barker had built. Barker had filmed his vision but the parts had been lost for decades.

Finally, some incredible fans of Barker’s work were able to recover the missing elements and restore them so that now Barker’s original vision can be seen. Unfortunately for Barker, the times have moved on and what was once novel about Nightbreed is now fairly commonplace. His idea of a community of monsters has been filmed ad nauseum in the intervening decades, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to the Twilight series to Interview with a Vampire to the Underworld series and on and on.

All of this makes the director’s cut of Nightbreed more of a historical oddity than the classic it deserved to be. Still the director’s cut is significantly different from the studio version and is well worth watching. Some of the elements are a bit rough due to budgetary constraints and the condition of the missing footage. Today, Nightbreed would have been adapted as a series and it does beg for more.

This was such a specialty item that I didn’t think that Netflix would get it so I had it on pre-order from Amazon and received it only a week or two before it showed up on Netflix. Barker was so disgusted with the Hollywood system that he only attempted one more movie, Lord of Illusions (1995) before giving up entirely. His story, The Forbidden, was adapted by Bernard Rose into the move, Candyman (1992) and, of course, both Candyman and Hellraiser became cash cows, churning out sequels.

Candyman and Hellraiser are Barker’s two best films (skip the sequels) but the director’s cut of Nightbreed is a close third and well worth a watch on several levels. Yes, that is horror director David Cronenberg as Dr. Decker.

Hellraiser

Hellraiser is currently available on instant Netflix.

Hellraiser (1987) – Rated R

“Clive Barker’s directing debut follows the tale of a couple (Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins) who move into an old house and discovers a hideous creature (Oliver Smith) — the man’s half-brother (and his wife’s former lover) — hiding upstairs. Having lost his earthly body to three demons, the man’s been brought back to life by a drop of blood on the floor. Soon, he’s forcing his former mistress to bring him human sacrifices to complete his body.”

“What’s your pleasure?” – “The Box” – “Take it. It’s yours. It always was.”

Clive Barker does a fabulous job of adapting his novel, The Hellbound Heart to the screen. This is also Clive Barker’s feature film debut as a director. As with many of Barker’s books, Hellraiser is a wonderful story of sexual discovery, power, and horror.

Ashley Laurence makes her feature film debut as well, playing our young heroine. She is charming as the vulnerable, inexperienced Kirsty. Clare Higgins is appropriately icy as Kirsty’s stepmother Julia, a woman regretting her choices. Sean Chapman is rascally as adventurous Uncle Frank. Doug Bradley is quite unnerving in his feature film debut as Lead Cenobite, though you probably know his character better as Pinhead.

Andrew Robinson does a great job of playing Kirsty’s father, Larry. Robinson has a good range and an uncanny ability to lose himself in his roles. Watching him here, you wouldn’t realize that he was the punk killer in Dirty Harry. Seeing Hellraiser and Dirty Harry, you wouldn’t recognize him as Garak in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Special effects run a gamut here from simple to complex as well as from well-done to quite dated. The imagery is fascinatingly horrific. Obviously the Cenobites are a highlight. Hellraiser is quite gory and filled with sexual situations.

The Cenobites and the box are fantastic and iconic. Unfortunately the sequels thought the Cenobites and box were the reason for the film. They didn’t understand that they needed to be in a supporting role – much like how Hannibal Lecter works perfectly in The Silence of the Lambs but less so when his role expands in Hannibal.

Hellraiser is the best sexual horror movie available – unfortunately, the sequels almost entirely jettison the sexual aspect. Barker once joked abut calling the film Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave. The Cenobites and the puzzle box are just icing on the cake.

People Watch: I have to assume that actor Simon Bamford is Clive Barker’s friend. He plays the Butterball Cenobite in Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II. The only two other films he has been in are Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (1990, Bamford plays Ohnaka) and Clive Barker’s Book of Blood (2009, Bamford plays Derek)

Sequel-itis: Wowzers! Hellraiser spawned Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), Hellraiser: Inferno (2000), Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002), Hellraiser: Deader (2005), Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005), and Hellraiser: Revelations (2011). They just kept getting better and better. I kid of course. The second movie was tolerable – after that the only thing to recommend them was Doug Bradley as Pinhead and they even replaced him in the last one. Hellraiser is currently awaiting the reboot treatment.