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Are Director’s Cuts Worth Watching? ‘Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut’ Is Latest To Raise the Question

Are Director's Cuts Worth Watching? 'Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut' Is Latest To Raise the Question

There are good director’s cuts and there are bad director’s cuts. The theatrical cut of Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate,” which feels like an incredulous, 149-minute epyllion of dirt and dust filmed through a glaze of vaseline, is a shell of the much longer, 219-minute director’s cut, which somehow feels shorter, more coherent, more gorgeously tragic. That’s a good director’s cut. Sergio Leone’s four-hour anti-gangster tragedy “Once Upon a Time in America” was butchered by studios, purging it of its suspense, its character progressions (and mutations), the ethereality created by Leone’s nonlinear narrative. The theatrical cut is an abomination, heartbreaking in all the wrong ways; the four-hour version is sublime, earnestly heartbreaking, and a great director’s cut. James Cameron’s “Aliens” and “Terminator 2,” two great, lean, tight, tense action-thrillers with impeccably efficient (and effective) pacing and startling effects, are both bloated and tranquilized in his unnecessary director’s cuts. Cameron negates suspense by showing what was previously left to the audience’s collective imagination (the aliens storming the impromptu bastion while automated turrets fire unrelentingly, their ammo counters rapidly ticking down, for example). Both of these are bad director’s cuts.

Ridley Scott engendered the director’s cut after the troubled production of his eventual-classic “Blade Runner,” during which time the cast and crew slowly developed a fierce ire for the director, and studios, fearing the film’s ambiguity would lead to confusion and consequently low ticket sales, injected a much-maligned, lifeless voiceover from Harrison Ford, doing his best impersonation of a corpse. Scott’s multiple cuts of the film, to which he was still making changes just a few years ago, raise questions about the nature of the director’s cut. Is the director’s cut the “real” cut of a film? Is it a more authentic and faithful emulation of the artist’s initial vision, a la Cimino and Leone? Or is it more akin to a remix, a secondary product cobbled together afterwards? Are they simply director indulgences, like the Cameron cuts? And how do you judge a director’s cut? Does the director’s cut add anything integral, or alter the meaning of the work, or simply re-slather the fatty, disposable parts that were cut for a reason?

These questions linger in the mind like heavy fog while watching the new “Cabal Cut” of Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed,” which is currently touring select theaters and undergoing a digital restoration for an eventual Blu-ray release. (the studio responsible for the cut, Seraphim, refers to this as the “Kitchen Sink” cut because it had everything Barker shot in it.) “Nightbreed,” a cult favorite of the midnight crowd, holds an intriguing place in the pantheon of horror; it was one of two would-be classic horror films hacked-and-slashed by studio heads in 1990, that strange synapse between the gaudy Reagan-era slashers and “The Silence of the Lambs.” Its director’s cut has been sought-after for years, sometimes referred to as the Holy Grail of horror director’s cuts, and its reputation has grown monstrously. The other film, William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist III,” took a little longer to build its following, probably because audiences had yet to get the acrid taste of “The Exorcist II: The Heretic” from their mouths. Blatty’s film is at once akin to “Nightbreed” in the usurpation of its director, and oddly antipodal to Barker’s film in the type and extent of studio interference. One film was a minor art house masterpiece tainted by studio interference; the other was a bad film whittled down into a shorter but equally bad film.

Both “The Exorcist III” and “Nightbreed” were passion projects of their creators; both artists authored the source material for their films, and both artists adapted said material themselves, would-be auteurs kept on a tight leash by studio heads. Blatty’s film takes Lieutenant William Kinderman (George C. Scott), a minor character from the original “Exorcist” (then played by Lee J. Cobb, who died in 1976), and puts him front and center. Kinderman, like the film he’s inhabiting, is serene, smart, and soft-spoken, but prone to sudden outbursts that make the arteries in your neck swell. Kinderman is investigating a series of religious-themed murders that defy rational explanation, and slowly, through episodes of increasingly unnerving reveals, learns that the killings may be rooted in the supernatural. It’s a quiet and slow film, and Blatty strikes the right balance between showing us the horrors dwelling in the dark heart of man and allowing our imaginations to fill in the long pauses with terrors best left unseen. Every shot serves one of two purposes: build suspense, or deliver a gotcha moment, and Blatty handles both with deft confidence.

Barker’s film is a bizarre hodgepodge of fantasy and horror with monsters conjured in the most vivid of imaginations, eccentric masked madmen wielding sharp stabbing weapons, and a romance that transcends mortal life. Craig Sheffer plays Boone, a disturbed young man who dreams of Midian, where monsters and outcasts live in serenity. Boone is manipulated into believing he’s a serial killer by his sadistic doctor (David Cronenberg, amusing in a gimmicky sort of way that would have lent itself far better to a cameo). The film is strange, it’s violent, it has a very typical Danny Elfman score conducted by Shelly Walker (who would go on to compose the music for the “Batman” animated series), and it has accrued a legion of supporters. The make-up and prosthetics are visually astonishing, but the monsters of Midian leave no lasting impression; they’re actually kind of lame, with some looking like rejects from a post-“Videodrome” Cronenberg film, and others like the adult incarnations of David Bowie’s goblin army from “Labyrinth.” The restitched scenes give us more time with the monsters as well as Boone and his love interest, along with a priest who has lost his faith. There’s also a crazily bigoted police squad with an arsenal room that wouldn’t be out of place in “Hot Fuzz,” and an extended, climatic war. These scenes remold the film into something that sort of resembles an epic fantasy with identity issues. Maybe the film’s wavering tone is meta-commentary on Boone’s identity crisis, but probably not.

“The Exorcist” actually sustains a singular feeling, a certain syncopated rhythm — Scott and Ed Flanders (who earned four Emmy nominations for his work on “St. Elsewhere”) trade barbs at a rapid pace, a call-and-response of creepy but funny one-liners that both build characters efficiently and lure viewers into a feeling of serenity so Blatty, like a master surgeon, can easily slip a blade into the right organs; but astute viewers can easily discern the studio’s sticky finger prints on abrupt scenes of a lone priest witnessing inexplicably creepy and satanic occurrences, and then inexplicably showing up, steeped in deus-ex-machina, to deliver an effects-laden, half-assed exorcism during the film’s climax that accomplishes exactly nothing. It’s jarring, it’s stupid, and it made Brad Dourif “feel bad” — Brad Dourif! the scariest man alive!

Worst of all, the studio-engendered scenes are unbecoming of a film that takes its time conjuring a onerous feeling of dread. Blatty created an art house horror flick for those who crave something more from their horror, and the studio exorcised that ambitious spirit. A fan edit released in March 2011, dubbed “Legion” (the title of the original novel), expunges these bloated exorcism scenes (a total of 15 minutes cut) and tries to recreate the low-key ending Blatty envisioned. The fan edit flenses the plethoric, studio-added bits and was subsequently championed by Dourif. It’s likely the closest we’ll ever get to a director’s cut, since most of the cut footage is rumored to have been destroyed.

“The Cabal Cut” is a horse of a different color. It ultimately marks a paramount moment in director-studio bickering, one in which the director wasn’t a victim and the studio wasn’t wrong. With 45 minutes of scenes pulled from two faded, forgotten VHS tapes found in the catacombs of Barker’s closet, the film runs 155 minutes long. The restored scenes return the fantastical, hallucinatory air that enveloped Barker’s original screenplay, and their muddled, cauterized quality adds a certain feeling of nightmarish uncertainty (because you can’t see what the hell is happening). Barker establishes too many tones, none of which works very well, and throws them together all willy-nilly. Sorry, “Hellraiser” fans, but Clive Barker just isn’t a very good director.

The theatrical version actually feels more cohesive than Barker’s cut; even though the slasher-horror aspects of the film are banal and devoid of scares, they feel even worse when wedged between scenes of death-defying romance and the epic, man-vs-monster, Hell-on-Earth battle that takes up the last 45 minutes of the film.

Whereas Blatty wanted to end his film with two men talking in a room — revelation through conversation — and the studio made him add pyrotechnics, Barker gleefully blows everything up. The dichotomy between these endings would make a killer split-screen shot in a De Palma film. Blatty’s film is undeniably eerie, penetrating your subconscious with genuinely frightening results. But the restored “Nightbreed” is just a bad director’s cut. 

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The author forgets one very important thing is this comparative essay, which is why Nightbreed’s director’s cut was made — thousands of die-hard fans encouraged its creation. It really does not matter what anyone says about the movie, whether or not it is "good"; what matters is that it was birthed to thousands of adoring viewers and will be cherished forever.


Heres the interesting thing. I saw Nightbreed in the cinema back when it was originally released. I also remember Clive Barker speaking about how the film had been cut. At that time, he said that his version of the film was about twenty to twenty five minutes longer than the released version. This was what Barker said at the time of the films original release. The cabal cut is basically a work print, containing most, but not all of what was originally shot. It is NOT a directors cut, despite what ANYONE says!! This is why I would expect any future directors cut to be longer than the original theatrical cut, but shorter than the cabal cut. The pacing was totally off in the cabal cut, but that`s to be expected from a work print.

Frank Mondana

I think DC's suffer from "that cherries popped" syndrome. Most of us who enjoy a certain property will always favor the first time we viewed/read/heard it. DC's change that version we fell in love with.
I'm a weird breed. I liked the Star Wars reissues (as well as the prequels which I could write an entire paper on the wrongheadedness of their "inferior" status) and I saw the originals first run in theaters. I even held a record for most viewing of SW4 at 152 over the summer of '77 so I really liked it (the next 2 I saw 112 and 123 times). I liked the reissues because the shaky engine lights and thick matte lines went away.
I also hold that DC's and reissues don't ruin the originals. They don't erase the memories and feelings of that special first time. I think such updates help younger folks accept the stuff us old farts liked back in the stone age. In an age where our phones can produce FX better than anything done 20 years ago, this is not a bad thing.


Ok…you said T2 and Aliens were bad directors cuts. I'll give you T2 but Aliens? Aliens is probably the best directors cut film around. The turret scene showed the Xeno's tenacity and relentlessness. It also explained why Ripley was so attached to Newt since ONLY in the director cut did we learn Ripley had a daughter that died while she was in cryo sleep. Good job on missing those points and others in the version of Aliens that everyone else on the planet refers to.


@Knack: The Blu Rays have the theatrical cuts. Cameron only openly stated his preference for the theatrical cuts after his director cuts were widely decried. They really are worse than the originals, though ALIENS fairs slightly better than T2. I grew up with both films on VHS, and they were pretty much responsible for my becoming a film fanatic, so the DCs really bother me. Ridley Scott, on the other hand, has always upheld his preference for the theatrical cut of ALIEN, and no one contests him. I didn't mention the EXORCIST: THE VERSION YOU'VE NEVER SEEN because it's an entirely different animal–it uses CGI to fix scenes that would have looked silly thirty years earlier, so it' should be viewed as a separate film.


Also wanted to point out- in the wiki on T2, it says Cameron favored the theatrical version, so I have no idea why those DC/special editions are still at large. Same goes for George Lucas' "repairs" to his long dead (to me) Star Wars franchise. Mainly low quality CGI and disappointing, or rather angering replacement of Jake Lloyd with lower tier actor Hayden Christensen.


I was just looking for a review that said Aliens and T2 DC were bad ideas.
Also, is it possible to acquire a theatrical version of either?
DC versions really bring those movies down.


blue is the warmest color is a overrated film that promotes the pedophilia, no Oscar for that stupid film.


Incredulous is not being misused; your definition is correct, you're misreading the sentence.


In the first line, you used "incredulous" incorrectly. It means disbelieving; it's not another way to say "incredible."


Paulina Garcia Best Actress for Gloria, Oscar for her

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