Clive Barker’s beautiful nightmare of monsters Nightbreed rises from the depths of Midian for a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. The bizarre theatrical cut has never looked better with a new Dolby Vision transfer, but the lack of upgrade for the Director’s Cut or the inclusion of the fabled full Cabal Cut may stretch the mileage for some fans. It’s a great disc but certainly not everything fans ever dreamed of for this release. Worth A Look
For me, Clive Barker has always been a rather mysterious filmmaker. Knowing well his books and stories, his films are visually arresting works of art. The gore and viscera may not always be easy to ingest and stomach but these horror and terrors are just as difficult to look away from. It’s because of this attraction to his imagery and themes that I’ve always been confounded by the reality that he’s only directed three feature films. 1987’s iconic Hellraiser, 1990’s Nightbreed, and 1995’s underrated horror-noir Lord of Illusions. Of his three features, Nightbreed is the most nightmarish and dreamlike while also being the most incomplete.
Hacked and diced by the studio producers, Barker’s adaptation of his novella Cabal feels like a barely comprehensible Cliff’s Notes version of the story. We find everyman Boone (Craig Sheffer) dreaming of and drawn to the nightmarish world of Midian, a refuge for castaway creatures and monsters. But they’re only dreams, right? Boone's longtime psychologist Dr. Phillip Decker (David Cronenberg) has his own dark secrets - a serial killer who preys upon families. Aiming to discover more about the monsters of Midian, Decker frames Boone for his own murders and in the process unleashes a nightmare that has long stayed hidden.
Everyone has that work of art, film, or book that hits at the right time in their formative years that shapes the person they become. Mine was The Crow and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood stories. As a voracious reader I eventually came around to Cabal and this dark mystical story of horrors was something that struck a cord. By sixth grade, I was steadily moving into the realm of being the outsider of my friend group and that feeling of ostracization was growing. My interests became my refuge and finding a tattered copy of that book at a used shop hit at the right time. Then I discovered there was a movie of it called Nightbreed so I had to check that out - and was completely baffled by it.
Clive Barker’s battles on Nightbreed are well known. After the popularity of Hellraiser and Hellbound, the studios wanted to be in the Barker business - but weren’t fully willing to absorb his macabre worlds. Hacked and slashed to pieces, the Theatrical Cut as we know it barely resembles the original novella. There are hints and pieces of the full picture but the finished film focused so intently on the easy-to-grasp horrors of Cronenberg’s Decker that Boone’s story and the creatures and mythology of Midian were pushed to the side. Ultimately this led to a damned confusing almost incomprehensible finished film. I understood what was happening simply because I read the book.
In true Morgan Creek form, the lost footage remained “missing” for ages until the film was rediscovered and steadily grew a fan following that demanded to see the fabled Cabal Cut. With potential dollar signs hanging in the wind, all of a sudden, that lost footage was conveniently found and in 2014 we were given Clive Barker’s Director’s Cut featuring 45 minutes of brand new and alternate footage, and the film was given a new life. Not perfect mind you, but a vastly improved film emerged from the grave of Morgan Creek’s vaults. And yet still another cut lingered in the mist.
In 2017 a “best-assembled” Cabal Cut was released exclusively on Barker’s website in limited quantities featuring the finished footage of the Director’s Cut interstitched with footage that only exists on a workprint tape. I still haven’t seen that version, I missed the chance to buy it outright and now I’m just not willing to spend $250-plus on gray market prices. My hope is someone will open another vault door somewhere and casually offer up the remaining footage so a true and proper final Cabal Cut can emerge.
At it stands now, Nightbreed - specifically the Director’s Cut - is the best-completed version of the film available en-masse that is sadly not offered here in 4K HDR. Much like watching Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven, why would anyone return to the hacked-up nonsensically inferior version of the film? But for this review, I had to do just that. While it’s still a beautiful-looking film in this form and I can still see why I was initially drawn to it, this cut is still an untamable rats nest of poor editing choices with a beautiful score by Danny Elfman. Void of key character details and motivations, the film just lumbers along until the gunfire and explosions hit and even then it’s nearly impossible to understand what the hell is going on or why. This viewing experience just made me appreciate the Director’s Cut more, and make me even more frustrated with this new release because that's the version that deserves the most care and attention. It shouldn't be left to the sidelines as a castoff freak.
Theatrical Cut - 2.5/5
Director’s Cut - 4/5
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Nightbreed stalks home video once again with a new 4-Disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray Collectors Edition from Scream Factory. The Theatrical Cut 4K is pressed on a Region Free BD-100, a Region A BD-50 for the 1080p restored Theatrical Cut, with the same Region A BD-50 disc for the Director’s Cut and the same Region A BD-25 for the bonus features. All four discs are housed in a standard sturdy multi-disc case without being stacked complete with slipcover depicting the old-school videotape art that makes the film look more like a weird cross of The Breakfast Club and The Lost Boys. The insert artwork is reversible showcasing the theatrical poster with those black and white eyes. The discs load to Scream Factory's standard animated main menu with basic navigation system.
As stated in the artwork, this 4K Dolby Vision transfer is sourced from a new 4K scan of the best-surviving film elements… if that’s the case then why not do the Director’s Cut too? As is for this Theatrical Cut, it’s clearly the best the film has ever looked. Not perfect, but certainly a vast improvement over the previous Blu-ray releases. The primary issue is the condition of various elements where some patched can look notably rough compared to other scenes. Not distracting or problematic enough to take you out of the film, but enough to say this is as good as it’s likely going to get. That said, the details are excellent letting you relish the impressive monster designs and the textures of Decker’s hauntingly creepy mask. Facial features, makeup effects, and the impressive Midian production design are all on display.
HDR grading is on solid footing with a welcome improvement to black levels, colors, and overall brightness. My main issue with the past Blu-ray was that it felt just too damn bright and garish. This new transfer is still nice and bright and for those daylight and well-lit scenes but it doesn’t look like every scene was shot in a spotlight. Robin Vidgeon’s impressive cinematography actually looks like it has some mood and dimension now. Colors are healthy with plenty of primary attention and flesh tones are human and healthy (where applicable). Not to beat a dead horse here, but once again, this new transfer just makes it that much harder to not long for a bigger and better release for the Director’s Cut.
On the audio front, Nightbreed comes with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. Note on the artwork it only lists the 2.0 for the Theatrical Cut but both tracks are available. To that end, my call is the 2.0 Stereo mix is the better option. Dialog exchanges feel like they have more life in them, Danny Elfman’s haunting score hits harder and fills the soundscape, and the big explosive climax has a lot more power and heft. By comparison, I felt the 5.1 track just sounded thin and stretched. Not altogether terrible mind you, it’s still a decent enough experience but I felt need to turn up the volume a bit. The surround channels are employed and give a nice sense of atmosphere, but the main push is kept to the front/center channels without the same impact as the stereo option. The 5.1 really only felt viable when I flipped my receiver over to the DTS Neural:X function but even then the improvements were slight.
On the bonus features front we have the same set of extensive bonus features to pick through. The commentaries are a nice touch, Barker’s Director’s Cut commentary being the better one, but I felt the making of documentaries featuring various cast and crewmembers were the more informative pieces. If you’re a fan of Nightbreed and haven’t given these extras a go, there are several hours of great material to dig into and digest.
4K UHD - Theatrical Cut
Blu-ray One - Theatrical Cut
Blu-ray Two - Director’s Cut
Blu-ray Three - Bonus Disc
Of Clive Barker’s three feature films, Nightbreed may well be the most haunting but it’s also the most incomplete. Hacked and slashed by studio producers, the film was dumped into theaters in a near incomprehensible form. Thanks to fans a vastly better and longer Director’s Cut was cultivated and we get to enjoy something closer to Barker’s original story and vision as a filmmaker. Sadly, that better version doesn’t see the light of day on 4K - yet. For now, Scream Factory has only been able to offer up the messy near-incomprehensible Theatrical Cut for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with Dolby Vision HDR, and it does look quite good. As a notable improvement over the previous Blu-ray, it only becomes more frustrating that the better version of the film doesn’t get to look this good. While the Theatrical Cut enjoys a beautiful new transfer and solid audio and all of the extensive informative bonus features return, I just can’t bring myself to fully recommend this release. It’s fine if you haven’t bought the film, but if you’re looking to upgrade from the old disc, I’d encourage you to hold out and hope the Director’s Cut will see the same 4K restoration someday. Worth A Look.