Nightbreed: The Directors Cut, part two—of magic and detective work

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      The following is part two of a three part interview.

      How was the missing footage for Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut finally recovered?

      “There was a lot of banging on doors, and a lot of calling executives,” restoration producer and chief detective Mark Alan Miller says. “There were some really weird things that happened. Every time I talked to someone, they told me, ‘You should talk to so-and-so.’ One interview led me to a woman who had worked in post-production, and she was working for New Line Cinema now, I think. So I called her and asked, since she had worked in post, maybe she knew where the materials were. But she didn’t sound like she wanted to talk to me, and sort of ended the conversation very abruptly. During this time, I constantly had the Nightbreed IMDB page open on my computer, because I was intent on calling any crew member that I could get a hold of. And I noticed that shortly after our conversation her credit from IMDB disappeared! It started feeling like I was trying to find out who killed Jimmy Hoffa. It was really strange.”

      Scream Factory was crucial to the final discovery.

      “They were planning on distributing the film, and we still hadn’t found the original film footage, so the plan was to digitize the VHS tapes and clean them up as much as we could.” (As far as anyone in the general public knew, this was the state of things when the Straight interviewed David Cronenberg in March 2014. His comment was that, given how seriously VHS can degrade, it wasn’t going to be easy to make it look good). “But they weren’t giving up hope, and so they were sending out pings to all the storage facilities across the nation. They finally got a hit from some storage warehouse in the Midwest. I’m not sure if it was Ohio, or Iowa, or Idaho”—one of those vowel states—“and they said, ‘Yeah, we have something marked Nightbreed.’”

      After some confusion about whether those should be released to Scream Factory or Morgan Creek (which actually owns the rights), “500 boxes marked Nightbreed” finally came to light.

      “It was all these trims,” says Miller. “It wasn’t reels and reels of footage. The movie had been put together, and then the studio had just cut all the stuff out that they didn’t want, so it was 500 little boxes filled with bits of Nightbreed that had to be reassembled.”

      Plus these were sans audio, sans music. “We found no sound” at all, Miller notes. “Luckily we had our VHS tapes! It feels like an act of magic. If we had not found those VHS tapes, we would not be sitting here now. It was crazy. We hired this guy named Justin Cruse, he’s a sound wizard, and he sweetened it; every scene you watch in the director’s cut that’s not in the theatrical version—that’s VHS audio. And that was mastered to sound beautiful by Justin. He just killed it.”

      How about Danny Elfman’s score? There are scenes, including a remarkable bit of hallucinatory lovemaking that was neither in the 1990 theatrical version nor The Cabal Cut, that have fresh music to them.

      “We used the original CD soundtrack,” Miller explains. “We ripped it at the highest quality possible and we just laid down the music that was applicable. A lot of that was Clive. We’d find a song, and we’d think it worked, and we’d bring it to Clive and he’d say, ‘No, no, no, it should be this one.’ Twenty-five years later, Clive still knew exactly where the beats were and what music belonged in which scene. I don’t think that every bit of music that was on the soundtrack was used in the theatrical cut, so you still had this effect of hearing new things.”

      Those who have not seen The Cabal Cut will be particularly shocked by Anne Bobby’s musical number, a performance of Joanie Sommer’s 1962 hit, “Johnny Get Angry,” a thematically relevant song later revitalized by kd lang. For those wanting a preview, Nightbreed’s editor Andrew Furtado has a delightful official/unofficial video for the song on Youtube, featuring footage from the restored film. Not only does it play far better in the director’s cut than in the at-times clunky Cabal Cut, it sounds fantastic. That’s VHS audio? “Yeah, that was 25-year-old VHS audio. That’s what I’m saying—this guy Justin’s amazing.”

      There were a few cases where actors had to re-dub lines where no audio existed. The most significant example is Doug Bradley, a collaborator of Clive Barker’s since the early days of the horror legend’s work in theatre.

      “For the theatrical version, for some reason the studio recorded over the voice of Pinhead,” from Barker’s previous film Hellraiser, Miller says with exasperation. “They changed it to this strange mad-scientist German accent. But a lot of the VHS footage was Doug, and it was intense, it was incredible; we got to get a glimpse of Doug’s original performance, and it was far less silly than the German accent was. Audio was the final phase, and during the course of that, Doug reached out to us, and said, ‘Hey, what are the plans for the voiceover? I would love to have my original voice reinstated.’ As it turned out, there were still a lot of lines that were only with the German accent, so I replied and said, ‘Absolutely, whatever you can give us would be amazing,’ and we sent him all the lines that were still with a German accent. And he basically re-recorded them in his home, on his iPhone, and sent the lines in.”

      Some of the material incorporated into Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut appears in no previous incarnation of the film. For instance, there’s a “long push of Boone and Laurie on the hill, and when Clive saw that, he wept. That was his vision,” Miller explains.

      There is also one added image created specifically for the director’s cut, which is “the very last shot which was the fade to the mural. The image there of Boone and Lori sort of completing the prophecy, it never existed. It was in the script, but it never got built, it never got painted, it was never created because it never got that far.” At that stage the re-shoots that the studio insisted on were already taking place, and Clive Barker was already having to re-write the ending of his film. “We were using the original shooting script and when we got to the end, we read this little bit, and we said, ‘Oh shit.’”

      “There were about 36 hours of footage we found,” Miller says, “We scoured the footage, we found nothing that remotely resembled that image. We found a full on pan of the cave, we had access to every painted image that there was on the mural, and that was nowhere to be found. So, I didn’t even ask anyone about that, but I was texting a friend who works with the company, his name is Christian Francis, updating him every day, and I told him we hit a bit of a snag: we couldn’t find this footage. And he said, ‘Let me see if I can whip something up.’ And he took the hi-res images that we have of the cave, and he matched them in texture and in style, and he built this piece of the mural on his own. He sent it to me, with a sort of, ‘Hey, I dunno if it’s gonna be good enough, it’s probably crap.’ And my jaw dropped: it was perfect. And it’s what you see in the film. We didn’t even tell Clive about it, we surprised him. That day, we sent it to Andrew Furtado, and he put it in, and he did this sort of mask over it, where you see the cave is in flames, and you see the shadows on the wall. He animated it, so it didn’t look like a still image, and we brought that version to Clive, and we played it to him, and that was when we knew we had it.”

      There’s no way this all should work, let alone work as perfectly as it does (capsule review: the Scream Factory Blu-ray looks fucking amazing). Ancient VHS audio? iPhone overdubs? 500 boxes of audio-free film scraps, long believed lost? Soundtrack cues ripped from a CD? How can all this possibly come together to produce a seamless whole? “That’s what I’m saying man, it doesn’t make any sense,” Miller says, laughing. “It’s crazy. I can’t help believe it’s an act of magic.” 

      Read about Clive Barker's reaction to the finished product in part three.

      Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut screens at the Vancity Theatre on Thursday (October 30)