[Ron McKenzie, frequent Rue Morgue contributor and our tireless office manager, took a break from tossing raw meat to the editorial staff to get the low-down on the new, extended cut of Nightbreed.]
The challenge of bringing together the definitive “director’s cut” of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed has been a long and frustrating experience for fans. Reports of fabled “missing footage,” hidden deep in the film vaults of Morgan Creek, were proven to be inaccurate, leaving many fans to mourn the death of a “lost classic.” Now, many years since this quest began, fans of Barker’s monster opus will finally have the chance to see the closest thing to a definitive cut. The Mad Monster Party Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina will be screening a very extended cut of the film (dubbed The Cabal Cut), assembled by Barker’s Seraphim Films from various sources. It’s been a long, hard road, and I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to one of the most influential players involved – Serpahim Films’ Mark Miller.
Mark, tell us about how you became involved in the Nightbreed restoration process, as well as a little bit of the history behind the movement (finding the missing footage, etc).
This all started with a text message. I had been friends with Clive for only a short time when I found out that there was footage missing from Nightbreed. I had been a fan of the film for years, and never even realized there was all this extra stuff out there. I started trolling through IMDB forums and saw that there were all these posts from people talking and asking about its potential release. I decided to get a definitive answer. I went straight to the source. I sent Clive a text and asked him about it. He told me the whole story, adding that there were no current plans to release a director’s cut of the film. That’s when I asked him if I could try my hand at tracking down the lost film footage. Much to my excitement, he took me upon my offer, gave me his blessing, and sent me on my way.
I had no idea what I was doing, and I just started cold calling people. The best thing that happened was I had a conversation with editor Mark Goldblatt, who was a very cool guy and he told me that the original film footage could very well be gone for good, but somewhere there existed VHS copies of his rough cuts. I relayed this information to Clive and he passed it along to the people that were working at Seraphim at the time. They conducted a search and, lo and behold, way in the back of a storage closet, a few VHS tapes were found. But they were PAL. So we sent them to Phil and Sarah Stokes, the lovely folks who run Clive’s website. They live in London, and were able to transfer the tapes for us, and wouldn’t you know, they were indeed Mark Goldblatt’s VHS roughs. It was one of those roughs that we screened at Horrorhound in 2010. And that was amazing. I got to share the stage with Ashley Laurence, Simon Bamford, Doug Bradley and Clive. Well, I must not have made a total fool out of myself that weekend, because Clive kept me around, and now I work for the company, and even get to write the Hellraiser comic.
So, I suppose the shorter answer to your question is the Nightbreed movement found me. I found out the footage was out there and I got the go-ahead from Clive himself, so I wasn’t going to rest until I found it. Since then, the restoration process has really been the brainchild of Russell Cherrington. He’s a dear friend of the company with tremendous resources. He volunteered his services and, using the two rough cuts (each one had different footage) and Morgan Creek’s official DVD, he created this really badass composite cut of the film.
As it stands now, there’s been some vocal re-dubbing (notably Doug Bradley, whose voice was dubbed over in the theatrical cut). What are some of the other challenges in putting the assembled footage together as a finished “final cut”?
Traditionally, getting the studio time to do things like color timing and voice recording is the most difficult thing to do. Especially when working out of pocket. But thanks to Russell and his team, there weren’t any major difficulties. The biggest hurdle was finding the footage. The rest was just a matter of digitizing it and throwing it into the editing software. Everybody can do that nowadays. Just not with scenes that have been missing from a much-loved film for over twenty years. That’s the exciting part.
Now, there was a screening last year at HorrorHound Weekend – a 145-minute cut on VHS, without all the studio-demanded reshoots, assembled from different sources. And now you have this three-hour “definitive cut” being screened at Mad Monster Party this weekend. Without too many spoilers, what can fans of the film expect to see?
First, I should set the record straight. There was a three hour version but that was what we got when we put the two rough cuts together. And during the editing process we realized that what we were seeing were some of the reshoots. For example, in one of the first versions of the composite, Captain Eigerman died twice. We watched it all the way through and realized that probably shouldn’t happen, so we went back and fixed that. Eventually we ended up with the version we have now, which is two hours 35 minutes long. Still a considerably longer film, but it doesn’t feel that way at all. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that you can expect to see a lot more of everything – more monsters, more action, more story. And believe it or not, there’s even a musical number.
As someone so involved in this process, as well as a bona fide Nightbreed fan, what do you think is the film’s draw for so many horror fans?
I can’t think of anything that isn’t a draw for a fan. With that in mind, though, I don’t think it should matter if you’re a fan or not. Don’t get me wrong, the fans will love every second of it. But this is footage that hasn’t seen the light of day in twenty years. This is something that should cause film historians to sit up and take notice.
Let’s be honest, it’s been going on much longer than that. From what I can tell, people have been waiting to see the proper release of this since the film first came out. I was speaking with a friend of mine just the other night. He told me he visited Clive at a convention in 1996 and Clive was talking about trying to get the director’s cut released on Laserdisc. Having said that, I think we are closer than we’ve ever been to getting this cut into peoples’ homes. It’s really a matter of how loud the fans are willing to get. So far, I say they’ve done a damn fine job. We get requests to screen this new cut at least once a week. And if we want to go to worst case scenario, which is that the film footage really is gone forever, someone could take the cut we have, give it a pass on a mixing board, and do what Anchor Bay did with Army of Darkness and The Wicker Man, to name a few. You know, they had those alternate composite cuts sourced from VHS tapes and corroded film stock. They worked gangbusters. I love those versions. And I know I’m not alone.
What can fans of the film, the ones who want this most of all, do to convince the powers that be that this is worth putting out?
Just keep it up. Come to the conventions. Sign the petitions. Create new ones. Create posts on sites and message boards. Hell, make your own fan art and post it on DeviantART or something, you know? There is no such thing as white noise when it comes to this project. It sounds redundant, but the more vocal people are about this, the more obvious it becomes that this is something to be vocal about. As they say, things are tough all over, so we really have to show the powers that be that it will be worth their time and money to take this journey with us.
Clive has mentioned online that there is studio interest in revisiting the Nightbreed universe, with his creative involvement. I know it’s very early in the game, but is there anything you can tell us about the possible return of the franchise?
Oh boy. That’s a big question. I’ll have to defer to the Maestro himself. As he said on his Twitter, “I promise you that as soon as I know more I’ll tell you. There’ll always be a more thorough and detailed account on Phil and Sarah’s site.”
Thanks to Mark Miller for taking the time to chat with us. Mad Monster Party’s screening of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut takes place on Saturday, March 24 at 4 pm and will be introduced by Mr. Miller himself. As an extra bonus, the film’s stars, Craig Sheffer (Boone/Cabal) and Anne Bobby (Lori) will be present for a post-film Q&A, as well as an autograph session. More info can be found on the official Mad Monster Party website, as well as on the Facebook page.