Chomp-Élysées

(UPDATE, 6/12/12, 4:45pm) Shortly after posting this, the following article came out with some promising news from Mr. Barker himself. Sounds like Morgan Creek is making the move to do right by Clive and the fans, allowing this cut to be screened worldwide in an effort to fund a Blu-ray of the his original cut. Well, right on. Anyway, keep that in mind while reading these ramblings. 

“Oh look, it’s Clive Barker” said the man behind me in line, referring to the man who had just exited the New Beverly Cinema, headed for a car that was waiting in front. I decided to butt in and correct him, identifying the not-as-tall-as-I-thought (being a shorty myself, perhaps I was projecting) individual as one Mr. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. People in the line began to cheer upon seeing him, and he was pretty gracious about it. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you; we were all in line for a screening of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut, sponsored by Fangoria and Days of the Dead. Piper had just come from doing a Q&A for an early afternoon screening of They Live, which I would have gone to were it not for having made out with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black the night before and needing the extra sleep.

I’ll admit, I was starstruck; here was the man so fuckin’ badass, that just when you thought you knew the answers, this son-of-a-bitch changed the questions. Here was the man who took it upon himself to shotgun as many of those formaldehyde faces as he could, after discovering how our species was getting royally assfucked by the extraterrestrial 1%. Here was the man who’d I put on the Mount Rushmore of kilt-wearing Men of Manly Stature alongside Sean Connery, Christopher Lambert, and the homie, Mel Gibson. And yet, the only thing I wanted to scream out was “Holy shit, it’s Da Maniac from ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’!”
Anyway, the Cabal Cut. What happened was that back in 1990, Clive Barker followed up his feature directorial debut, Hellraiser, with a flick based on his novella “Cabal”. He went in wanting to make the Star Wars of horror, a Gone With The Wind with monsters, but apparently he must’ve been fucking with Lemarchand’s Box during post-production, because once he got that Lament Configuration worked out — WHOOSH! — out came the Cenobites known as Morgan Creek Productions and Twentieth Century Fox, hooking their chains into his film, tearing out about 50 or so minutes from it, and selling it more like a slasher flick, because that’s what people in the movie biz do to a motherfucker’s vision.
While Morgan Creek is busy trying to make up their minds whether or not they’re the Good Guys or the Bad Guys in this ongoing tale, some dudes got together to put together a cut reflecting Barker’s original intent; Mark Miller (from Seraphim Films) acquired the existing VHS workprints, Russell Cherrington oversaw the restoration, and Jimmi Johnson had the unenviable task of editing the workprint footage and the DVD footage of the 1990 theatrical version into the composite we now know as the Cabal Cut. Cherrington admitted that originally he just wanted to have a version that he could watch at home whenever he wanted to, but soon a movement was created with the intention of getting a proper Blu-ray/DVD made. Hopefully with these screenings, the word will get out and the Powers That Be will finally listen.
The screening was scheduled for 7:30, which meant that we didn’t go in until about 7:25. The New Bev is usually pretty good about that, so I can only assume it was a matter of clearing up after the They Live screening, as well as getting everything properly set up, since this would be a DVD projection — GASP! HORROR! DVD? DOES QUENTIN KNOW? It was shortly before 8:00 when the Fangoria peeps started with a trivia contest, followed by Brian Collins having to vamp up an extended intro for a while (at one point, asking a trivia question of his own and giving away his water bottle as a prize) before star Craig Sheffer came down to help buy some time, because Miller and Cherrington weren’t there yet. Sheffer talked about how his co-star, muthafuckin’ David Cronenberg scared him; they’d be chilling at the make-up trailer and Cronenberg would start in on the non-existence of God and the afterlife. Sheffer’s cell phone then went off and he answered it; it was his daughter, leading him to go into a routine where we only heard his side of the conversation that involved various illicit substances — or as I prefer to call them, daily vitamins.
Finally, Messrs. Miller and Cherrington arrived, joined by Mr. Clive Muthafuckin’ Barker himself. From what I understand, the guy was in a coma a few months ago and is still recovering; he ambled down the aisle, his upper body crooked down at a low angle, like if God himself was trying to bend the man down to His will, because God’s a fuckin’ player hater. Barker wasn’t having it, though; the motherfucker was operating at 110-percent awesomeness. Always quick with a joke, this one. The body may have not been willing that evening, but the mind and spirit sure as fuck was. Call it a man recovering from illness, but I’m going to go with the theory that here’s a man so full of Win, his own body couldn’t keep up with it and had no choice but to shut down out of pure fuckin’ exhaustion.

He was a little difficult to understand from where I was sitting, because evidently ninety percent of New Bev guests forget that they’re holding onto a microphone and it helps to speak near it. At one point, Barker asked the people in the back if they could hear him. After one person said “No”, he responded with “Then why did you say ‘No’?” He made it very clear that only one version of this film exists — this one — so this isn’t some Lord of the Rings Extended Edition shit, where the director approves of both versions. While enjoying his red licorice and tea (I assume it was tea, him being a Brit and all), he talked about stuff like having had breakfast once with Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, and how she gave him shit for the way he dressed. He then went on to trash her fashion choice and color combinations. I’d be absolutely content with hearing this dude talk shit about others for hours, but soon, it was time for the movie.
Well, not yet. First there was a few ads for conventions and Fangoria magazine, giving my fat ass time to hit the snack bar for some of that delicious New Bev popcorn and Cherry Coke. The total came out to about the same price of a small anything at your average multiplex. Bless your dear heart, New Bev.
We were warned ahead of time about the quality of this presentation; the movie would intercut between the DVD footage and the VHS workprints; Cherrington said that at some points, the quality would be similar to watching a umpteenth-generation porn bootleg. These kids today, with their Internet porn and its crystal-clear titties and ass, they don’t know how good they have it. When editing the Cabal Cut, Johnson went as far as to add sound effects and music (from the CD of Danny Elfman’s music score) into the workprint sequences, and not in a haphazard fashion either, he did his best to time it to coincide with the on-screen events, not to mention matching it with the emotion/psychology therein.

During the opening credits, some people booed at the Morgan Creek logo and applauded Barker’s name. I don’t know, I thought that was funny. If anybody at Morgan Creek is reading this, don’t get all butt-hurt, just realize that you can turn those boos into cheers by going in for the Big Win, rather than being all corporate and shit. C’mon, don’t be a bad guy, be a nice guy.

So, the film. If anything here sounds unfamiliar to you Nightbreed fans, well, that’s because that’s what you’ve been missing from the original cut. Sheffer plays a dude named Boone, living this idealized best-of-both-worlds male fantasy of being a hard-working blue collar with a nightclub singer for a girlfriend; work hard with the boys during the day, play hard with your girl at night. Homeboy must be in the union or something because his insurance affords him a fancy-ass psychiatrist, but then again, it is a union and they ultimately fucked him over because the psychiatrist is a creepy motherfucker named Dr. Decker (played by my man, the Crones, who was way too good in this role, if you know what I mean). 
Turns out Boone’s been having dreams of some kind of monster haven called Midian, and Decker feels that there might be a connection between homeboy’s dreams and some real-life death shit going on; someone’s out there slaughtering innocent families (an oxymoron, if there ever was one – you procreate, you’re part of the problem, ultimately) and all fingers point to Boone, even though it’s Decker doing the finger-pointing and the Psycho Freaky Jason slicing up breeders is kind of a slender type and Boone’s a little more of a beefy dude. I don’t know, I’m just saying.
Boone eventually travels to Midian to join the monsters and play in their reindeer monster games, in a tale made up of various elements that will probably please you if like the following: fantasy; mythology; impressive make-up effects; kinda impressive visual effects; romance; fuck yous to organized religion; fuck yous to the police; fuck yous to gun collectors; fuck yous to rednecks; Romero-esque bad guys who are not even one-dimensional, they’re half-dimensional idiots who love it that way; easy small-town bar sluts; happy fat couples all smooching on each other; decaptiations; flesh-chomping; cute mutant dogs turning into cute little girls; black dudes with more sense than dumb whiteys; weird half-naked monster innocents who skip about with their little pug dogs; David Cronenberg wearing a scary mask with button eyes, fucking shit up slasher-style; killing; fire; killing things with fire; Danny Elfman’s music from that ’89-’95 era when it all sounded very epic superhero-y and baroque; and many, many monsters in various states of grossness/fucked-upness, etc. The most disturbing part, though, was watching some chick fail at eating a nasty-ass looking pastry of some kind. That is seriously the sickest imagery I’ve seen come from Barker’s mind.
It’s all pretty entertaining for the most part, but even at 155 minutes, I feel it could stand for the occasional trim (just not the studio-mandated kind of trims), which is funny that a long-winded cunt such as myself is giving shit to a movie for not shortening it down a tad. Anyway, it’s kind of like a Sam Peckinpah director’s cut, in that it can be a little sloppy and unwieldy at times, but it’s also as pure a vision as you’re gonna get. I liked the theatrical, but after the Cabal Cut, it’s obvious that what came out in 1990 was really just a distilled form of the story Barker wanted to tell.
It got a tad laggy during the go-for-broke climax, which certainly feels at least twice as long as the climax of the theatrical version, but I’m going to give this cut the benefit of the doubt and blame some of that on the quality of the video; these dudes did their best to give us something watchable, but ultimately the Cabal Cut can’t escape its mostly VHS-duped (lack of) quality, and trying to make out something through all the darkness and grain can be kind of tiring to the eyes. Again, it’s the climax that I feel suffers the most from its workprint origins. It’s not surprising to find out later from Cherrington that a public screening of one of the VHS workprints resulted in people walking out every minute. That’s why I hope this flick gets its due and comes out in 1080p (or even 480p), so I can spend my ocular energy on taking in the on-screen events, rather than on figuring out if that’s yet again the same slow-motion shot of a Midianite getting blasted in the back or if it just looked that way because of the below-par quality.
As far as the differences between the theatrical and Cabal Cut — aside from length, obviously — the biggest one (for me, anyway) is that the main villain in the theatrical cut (Dr. Decker) comes off more like a mere slice of the douchebag pie in this long version. The main conflict in the Cabal Cut ultimately comes down to the monsters of Midian going up against what appears to be an army comprised of hard-drinking redneck gun nuts (in other words, a militia), in a climax comprised of a first half that feels like the Liquidation of the Ghetto sequence in Schindler’s List, and a second half where our heroes finally make the choice to Fight Back and begin owning other motherfuckers like they just came from a garage sale where weak-ass bitches were being sold 10 for $2.50. But in the theatrical cut, the climax between the Midianites and small-town miliita feels more like they’re running interference while Boone and Freaky Button Eyes are headed for the fuckin’ end zone. 
The most interesting — and telling — thing about the Cabal Cut is that while the extra footage adds a lot more character development to the protagonists — I really liked an early sequence that details Boone’s descent into his bad drug trip far more convincingly than in the 1990 cut — the antagonists only get more to display more examples of what a bunch of goofy unlikable jerks they are. The Cabal Cut does to them, what the theatrical cut did to the monsters — making them more like freaks. It’s like Barker figured, “I don’t give a shit about how the bad guys feel, because they’re the fuckin’ bad guys. Fuck those guys.”

I really did get a kick out of these small-towners, these are some bordering-on-offensive lame-asses who are really just a nuclear holocaust away from rollin’ with the Humongous; these yokels literally hang out of their pick-up trucks, wearing their flannels and caps, drinking and spewing out alcohol in every direction, hooting and hollering, firing their guns because the 2nd amendment said they have the right to bear arms and if that goddamn socialist commie Obama wants to take ’em away, well he’s gonna have to take ’em from their cold dead hands NRA FOREVER IT’S ADAM AND EVE NOT ADAM AND STEVE THIS IS GOD’S AMERICA DON’T TAX ME IT’S MY MONEY FRY THEM ALL LET GOD SORT ‘EM OUT LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION ROMNEY 2012 FUCK MEXICO.

The sympathetic characters are rendered more sympathetic, while the unsympathetic assholes are rendered more asshole-ish, for the most part, anyway; the drunken priest character, for example, seemed more like a tortured soul in this version, while in the shorter cut he just seemed nuts. And the character of Decker is shown to have something of a split personality — the mask is almost like Spider-Man/Venom’s symbiote, mentally conversing with him at one point, convincing him to put it on and get down with some stabby stab stab. Also, some characters who died in the 1990 cut survive in this one, and vice versa. While both cuts have open endings, the Cabal Cut replaces the theatrical slasher movie-style DUN DUN DUN ending of the 1990 version (which was a result of studio-mandated reshoots) with one that is more befitting of the epic story Barker had wanted to tell — a more solemn yet hopeful closing that hints that this is merely the beginning of a saga. A saga we never got to see, and probably never will.  

After the film, Cherrington, Miller, Sheffer and Collins came back down. Cherrington asked the audience if they felt that this was the better version of the film, and it sounded like only a couple people clapped, which I think was less a reflection of the Cabal Cut and more a reflection on how tired we were. At least I hope that was the case, I mean, who knows, maybe they didn’t like it. Maybe they were more accustomed to the Nightbreed they spent the last 20 years geeking out on, and weren’t expecting something of a different tone. But everyone applauded when the credits came up. I don’t know.

There was a Q&A, where among other things, we found out that the original producer, Christopher Figg, was fired for no real good reason other than that the Powers That Be demanded a fall guy on the chopping block, after some difficulties during production. Then they gave out the website, Occupy Midian, where you can get updates on screenings, as well as sign the petition to hopefully help convince Morgan Creek that there is an audience for a Blu-ray/DVD release of Barker’s cut. They already said they’d do all the work, they just need the Creek to give ’em the thumbs up. Many involved in the production of the film have already said that they’d be down to help out for free; the cinematographer of Nightbreed is already on board to oversee the transfer. 

But even if they were to meet the 10,000 signature goal, get Morgan Creek’s OK, and go about financing a proper restoration through Kickstarter, it will still be an uphill battle; according to Miller, there is no evidence that the lost elements even exist anymore. If that’s the case, he said, they can always go about trying to digitally fix up the workprint cut into the best possible quality a la the extended version of The Wicker Man (the original, bitch) put out by Anchor Bay last decade. Jesus Christ, it’s been that long?

Anyway, Cherrington is positive they’ll be found, since the movie is about 22 years old and he doesn’t think movies that relatively young get their elements junked. I mean, hell, the VHS workprints were discovered in Barker’s office, next to a print of Lord of Illusions, so who’s to say that the lost elements to Nightbreed aren’t chilling out in a vault somewhere, hiding behind a reel of outtakes from Freejack consisting solely of Mick Jagger doing a shitty job saying “I’m not testing you, Ripper, I’m testing the machine”?

When we got out, there was already a large line formed outside for the second showing of the Cabal Cut (the first showing sold out); I recognized Clu Gulager and his son, the director of Pirahna 3DD as well as some other familiar faces. It was around 11pm and the showtime, of course, was for 11pm. It was going to be a long night for everyone. 

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4 Responses to “Chomp-Élysées”

  1. Ugh. I thought you were gone for good, but apparently not. Here you are again with a way too long blog post about something that's been better written elsewhere by better writers — and if I may be frank with you — and better people.

    This “review”, if you even want to call it that, wastes time on things that have nothing to do with the film proper. OK, cute story about Roddy Piper in front, but what's with the brief interlude about buying popcorn and soda in what is obviously a desperate attempt at kissing up at the New Beverly Cinema? Perhaps if you had spent less time on that, you could've gotten into specifics about the differences between both cuts of Nightbreed. Instead, what I got was a paragraph full of half-thoughts and sentence fragments.

    Anyway, that is all. I just thought you should know how much you suck. Thanks for opening up the comments again, so I can tell you all this.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, EFC! It's much appreciated! I'm sorry my ramblings didn't do it for you, but hopefully you'll give me another chance with the next one.

    More importantly, though, are we still on for you giving me a hand job tonight, as planned?

  3. Son, I haven't missed an appointment for 18 years and counting. Why would I miss out on one now?

  4. Awesome. Just wanted to make sure. OK, EFC, I'll see you in 15 minutes! 🙂

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