The following is part one of a three part interview.
Restore to its original vision a film like Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil—a classic, interfered-with film noir directed by a hallowed figure in cinema—and you will earn a secure chapter in the annals of cinema history. Restore a film like Nightbreed—the much-meddled-with 1990 Clive Barker horror movie, based on his novel Cabal, that pits monsters hiding in a cemetery in Northern Alberta against a crazed serial killer and a host of heavily armed police and assorted rednecks—and you’ll get barely a footnote. But what a footnote it will be! Plus you’ll win the undying love of thousands of horror movie freaks, the gratitude of the film’s still-living creator, and one hell of a Blu-ray special edition.
The story of how Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut came into existence begins around 2009, when Mark Alan Miller, one of the key figures in the restoration, went to work for Clive Barker.
“I used to be a model, believe it or not,” Miller tells the Straight, on a Skype connection from his home in California. “And I found out that Clive was turning people into living canvases for a 2009 art show called Imagining Man. I was and still am a huge fan, and I sort of launched myself into his presence. I wanted to be meet him, I wanted to be a part of the show, I wanted to be a part of any original Clive Barker creation. And I made it happen. I was also a writer, and at the time I was writing for a local newspaper [in Orange County] called OC Weekly. And he and I got to talking and we hit it off. Eventually he asked me to come work for him. I started off as an intern and just sort of worked my way up.”
What does an intern for Clive Barker do exactly? “Initially I started as a typist. He handwrites all of his pages to this day, when he writes, and he was handing those pages, for Abarat 3, to me. I started simply typing everything, but by the end of the process, he and I were editing the book together. It was incredible.”
During this time, “after one of the many sessions he and I had, I was doing some research on him and found out that Nightbreed had missing footage. I think I was on an IMDB message board, and there were all these posts, all this hearsay and conjecture, about missing footage and when the director’s cut was coming out. I figured, why not go directly to the source? So I sent Clive a text message asking him if it was true. He confirmed, ‘Indeed it is true, however, contrary to all the rumours on IMDB, there’s no plan for a director’s cut; I wish it weren’t the case, but that’s the way it is.’ That’s when I replied, ‘Well hell, would you be opposed to letting me try?’ He said, ‘My God, if you could find everything that was missing, that would be incredible.’ Then he invited me back to the office, he sat me down, he told me, ‘That’s where the trails in the sand end, and that was 19 years ago, so good luck. I don’t think it’ll ever happen, but here are the key names, and go to it!’ And so I went to it, and six years later, here we are.”
The process was by no means a simple one, however, and it included an intermediary stage: Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut, assembled in the UK by Russell Cherrington.
“Russell’s just a long time friend of the company, and when he found out that we had found the footage”—originally discovered on much degraded, PAL-formatted VHS tapes, located in Clive Barker’s storage closet—“he contacted me and said, ‘I really want to see it!’ He’s probably Clive’s number one fan. So I had Phil and Sarah Stokes send him a copy on DVD of what we had found on both tapes. They’re his archivists and they run his website. And Russell thanked me. And then the next time he came and visited the office, he handed me a DVD. It was a great moment. I looked at him and I went, ‘What is this,’ and he smiled and said he’d hired an editor, named Jimmy Johnson, to splice in the footage with the Warner Brothers DVD that had been released a few years earlier. I put it on and it was three hours long, and it had everything in it. It eventually became what we called, when we were touring it, the ‘Kitchen Sink cut.’ I mean, there were even characters that died twice. It needed some heavy editing. It was basically a workprint version of what Clive originally wanted. It was the tool that launched us, that got us the attention of the studios, that got us the attention of everyone that initially balked at the idea of re-releasing this film.”
Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut won a cover story on Canadian horror mag Rue Morgue, and eventually attracted the interest of the Shout Factory DVD label, and its genre subdvision, Scream Factory. There was also a fan site and a petition, Occupy Midian, letting all interested parties, including the owners of the film, Morgan Creek, know in no uncertain terms that fans wanted to see a director’s cut get released.
The origin of the phrase “Occupy Midian”—referring to the secret realm beneath the cemetery where the monsters take refuge—is down to a remark by Anne Bobby, who plays Lori Winston, the love interest of the film’s main monster, Boone (Craig Sheffer).
“It was a crazy moment,” Miller says. “It was in South Carolina, and it was after the very first screening [of the edited-down, official version of The Cabal Cut] and Anne was just tripping out, because she’d never seen any of these scenes, and she just looked at the audience and said, ‘You guys are why we’re here, you need to tell people that you want to see this! You need to go out and’—she just off the cuff said—‘You need to Occupy Midian!’ And there was this uproar, and at that minute we bought the website domain. It all just snowballed after that.”
Read about the detective work that went into Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut in part two.
Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut screens at the Vancity Theatre on Thursday (October 30)