It’s almost #Nerdoween, so it’s only fitting that the Blu-ray and DVD releases be all about the scares. Well, it’s not ALL about the scares. There are definitely a few laughs, and even some action stuff, but, like, mainly it’s the scares. Ooooh, scary. One of these is a director’s cut that the director himself never thought would see the light of day, which makes it all the more exciting. And that the director in question is horror maven, and Nerdist Podcast guest this week, Clive Barker, means we couldn’t NOT talk about it.
Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut
Clive Barker only directed three feature films, despite his enormous literary and filmic influence on the horror genre. His first film, 1987’s Hellraiser, is still hailed as a masterpiece of ’80s S&M nastiness and gave birth to a series of sequels each starring Pinhead, known at the time simply as “Lead Cenobite.” His second film, however, was not met with the same plaudits, but that was largely not Barker’s fault. He wanted to adapt his novel Cabal into a film and, off the back of Hellraiser, was backed by a nice, though still modest, budget to do so. However, when any kind of money gets involved, producers and studio execs get to have their say, and even remove people from the project. The film, 1990’s Nightbreed was all but taken away from Barker and given to a new editor, veteran Mark Goldblatt, to stitch together into something shorter, and “easier” to ingest, according to the brass. The theatrical cut of the film was a bomb both critically and at the box office and was forgotten in fairly short order.
However, a small cult following for the film grew and eventually from that following came a fan edit of the film, called “The Cabal Cut,” which put in some video elements of footage that was thought lost to time. This ran a full 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, but was still not what Barker’s original vision was. Leave it to Scream Factory to come through, though. This release of Nightbreed features a brand new edited restoration of the film using film that Barker himself thought was lost to time and the result is the definitive edition of the movie, as close as possible to what Barker’s initial cut of the movie was.
The film follows Boone (Craig Sheffer), a troubled young man who has recurring nightmares about demons and things. He also blacks out and wakes up random places. This, naturally, scares his singer girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby), but she nevertheless stands by her man. Boone is in therapy with Dr. Decker (director David Cronenberg) who convinces Boone that he must be committing the various heinous and bloody murders taking place in town, except it’s actually Decker himself doing the killing in possibly one of the creepiest masks ever put to celluloid. Boone keeps dreaming of a place called Midian and wants to go there, which he does (Midian is located inside a cemetery) and is met by two demonic people, one of whom bites Boone in the chest. Boone is then gunned down by the police, who believe he’s the murderer, at Decker’s insisting, but his body sinks into the ground and he becomes a “Nightbreed,” one of the ancient race of outcasts who live underneath the cemetery of Midian.
Boone is destined to be Midian’s savior, but his ties to the human world are still strong, in the form of Lori who continues to investigate his disappearance. Decker, also, finds out about Midian and believes Boone’s existence, and the existence of the Nightbreed, will endanger his rampant killing and he enlists the help of a racist, gun-toting local sheriff to lay siege to Midian. The end of the film is equal parts horror film and western, and is mightily entertaining.
There’s something incredibly imaginative about all the demon people in Midian, and of Midian itself. In the theatrical cut, lingering shots of the underground kingdom are few, but in the director’s cut they’re back to their original glory. The makeup on the various, distinctive “monsters” is exceedingly well done and manages to make them all gnarly and strange without losing the actor’s ability to emote and use their eyes. The music is done by the great Danny Elfman and its pounding brass and percussion really do help give the film a style and pace. Overall, Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut is a damn fine 2 hours of horror and a love letter to Barker and his overlooked classic.
The Blu-ray special edition features both the new cut and the theatrical cut, but all the best special features are on the solo Director’s Cut release. These include a new making-of documentary, a look at the makeup effects, and a commentary featuring Barker and director’s cut producer Mark Alan Miller. A great set, highly recommended.
Planet of the Vampires
At the beginning of the month, I made a list of my top five favorite films by the Maestro of the Macabre, Mario Bava. These were either in the giallo or Gothic horror group, but if I had put a sixth one on the list, it very likely would have been his 1965 sci-fi shocker, Planet of the Vampires, a film that actually prefigured a lot of the themes present in Ridley Scott’s Alien, but has the added camp factor of being an Italian technicolor fever dream as only Bava could have done.
Two spaceships are heading toward the mysterious and unexplored planet of Aura (fitting name) after picking up a distress signal. On the way, one of the ships’ crew suddenly begin turning homicidal, attempting to murder each other violently. Only the ship’s captain, Markary (Barry Sullivan) has the strength of mind to resist this force and shakes everyone out of their mind control. Upon landing on Aura, they can see no sign of their sister ship and go on an expedition to find it, traversing the planet’s eerie, misty surface to do so. When they find the other ship, they see that this crew wasn’t so lucky and has indeed murdered each other. Markary’s crew buries who they can, but several dead crew members are inside the locked control room. He goes back to his own ship to get tools to open the lock, but returns to find all the bodies gone. Members of the first ship’s crew begin turning up dead as well.
Eventually, Markary and a couple of surviving crew members go to investigate another wrecked ship on the surface and find even more corpses within, meaning they weren’t the first to answer the distress call. Soon, dead members of the crews turn up and Markary realizes they’re zombified puppets used by the incorporeal Aurans in order to attempt to escape their dying world. How can you fight creatures you can’t see or touch, and ones that continue to possess and kill people?
This is a really creepy film, shot entirely on a soundstage. It looks fake, and the bright colors don’t help that, but I feel like that adds to the charm and allure of the movie. The crew all wear these sort of ridiculous black vinyl suits that all sort of resemble futuristic Dracula capes, which is of course meant to evoke the Gothic nature of the story. In truth, Planet of the Vampires is a Gothic horror piece masquerading as a sci-fi movie, again, much like Alien. It’s a lot of fun and well worth a look.
WKRP in Cincinnati The Complete Series
Shout Factory continues their journey to apparently release complete series box sets of every single 1970s situation comedy with the exceedingly popular 1978-1982 radio station laugher, WKRP in Cincinnati. It involves the day-to-day exploits of a failing station in Ohio who calls in program director Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) to turn it around. It doesn’t quite work and Travis’ short stint turns into several years as he tries his best to get the station on its feet. Of course, the place is populated by a lot of wacky characters, including the bumbling general manager Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), the washed-up DJ from L.A. Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman), a neurotic, straight-laced reporter named Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), the wise and capable blonde bombshell receptionist Jennifer (Loni Anderson), the boorish ad man Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner), the young and shy Bailey (Jan Smithers), and the funky new evening DJ Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid). Together, the group’s travails make up 88 ’70s-funny episodes, including the immortal “Turkeys Away” which is often considered one of the best half-hours of television ever made.
The box set also includes a bonus disc with a Paley Center reunion panel, a retrospective interview with Gary Sandy, and a couple of featurettes from an older DVD release.
Squirm – Late-’70s creature feature about a town in the south overrun by electrically-charged earthworms. They fill an entire house at one point and it is delightfully gross.
The Vanishing – Harrowing Dutch film about a man whose girlfriend goes missing suddenly and inexplicably and the lengths to which he’ll go to find her, including dealing with a fiendish man who knows something but won’t say what. One of the most shocking finales in film history.
Companeros – Italian director Sergio Corbucci’s answer to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly has Franco Nero as a Swedish arms dealer getting embroiled with Tomas Milian’s Mexican bandito and Jack Palance’s dope-smoking psychopath in the middle of the Mexican Revolution.