When I learned that Netflix released Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut for streaming, I couldn’t wait to see it. It was one of my favorite movies in the early 90’s, and I was eager to see if it had the same magic and if the additional footage added anything other than minutes to the run time.
Overall, the film is still vital to the horror oeuvre, and overcomes its flaws…but just barely. The Director’s Cut improves the film a little bit.
- Special Effects: Uneven. A few stop-motion pieces were salted in but should have been left out, and several of the Nightbreed monsters were somewhat redundant. The glowing effects on Baphomet and during the transformation from person to monster should have never been included: they looked cheap. Despite that, some of the ‘Breed were truly disturbing: the woman with half her face flensed to the muscle, the blobby-looking thing with its face by its crotch, some others.
- Acting: Good. David Cronenberg was very, very creepy as Decker, but pulled off a weird sort of mildness that worked for the character. They didn’t do enough with Peloquin, who should have his own movie. The stand-out was, of course, Hugh Ross as Narcisse. Stole every scene he was in, and wrung the best out of some clumsy lines, making them his own.
- Script: Inconsistent. The humor worked in some places, and didn’t in others. Decker interrogating the old man at the gas station was bizarre enough to be funny, but some of the laugh-lines delivered in Midian among the ‘Breed just came off as lame. Shoehorning in jokes doesn’t work, even if they’re funny. Narcisse was the only worthwhile comic relief in the movie. Best lines: “I love a coward!” and “Run, while you’ve still got legs!”
- Sets: Extraordinary. Barker’s inimitable artistic style was prevalent throughout, and provided an aesthetic that worked perfectly for the subject matter: semi-primitive, visceral, stunning. From the malformations of the ‘Breed to the cave paintings, it was extremely well done.
- Pacing: Flat. The film tried too hard to be epic, and unfortunately failed. Even with the additonal footage, it wasn’t long enough to weave the film’s various antagonists into a coherent enemy or provide a feeling of grandiosity: first Decker was the bad guy, then Peloquin, then Eigermann, then the rednecks, then the priest. I understand that the ‘Breed are beleaguered, but these elements didn’t coalesce. The flashback scene with Babette and Lori was interesting, but clumsy. The efforts made to portray the passage of time didn’t work: too many abrupt scene changes. The ending of the Director’s Cut, with the additional footage, rounded it out better and laid the groundwork for an extension of the story which won’t likely ever come to print or celluloid.
- Additional Footage: Necessary. The additional footage improved the film overall, though a few scenes weren’t necessary. The love scene in the underwear didn’t work. The press conference was interesting. The armory scene with the guy close to ejaculating in his trousers over shotguns and piano wire garrotes was funny, if a bit excessive. The end, where Lori begs Boone to make her a ‘Breed and later forces the issue was very good, but we unfortunately didn’t get to see what sort of monster Lori would become as a walking dead Nightbreed.
It’s been stated many times by far more perspicacious media critics than I that Nightbreed is, at its heart, a metaphor for homosexuality. Boone is forced back into the closet by Decker, his psychiatrist, but ends up running away to be with people who are also gay. They have to live in a secret place, deep underground (once again, in the closet), or else they’d be killed. They’re hounded by religious forces, (the priest) redneck gay-bashers, and a physician who wants to end their “curse” by killing them. We learn that gays have been hounded for centuries by the church. In the end, they have to hide until they can find a new haven where they can just be themselves. Perhaps this worked in 1990, but in today’s culture, it’s a bit too overwrought.