Writer’s Note: This is the second part of our 25th Anniversary retrospective for Nightbreed which celebrated its monumental birthday yesterday. You can check out part one HERE.
Nightbreed may not have necessarily been a huge commercial and financial success upon its release in February 1990, but it was a hugely important film for many reasons. At a time when horror was mostly focused on sequels and slasher-centric types of stories, Clive Barker dared to not only make a film about monsters, but make a film about monsters who were also heroes, which was a remarkable feat in itself.
Something else Nightbreed is fondly remembered for by fans of Barker’s horror fantasy is the wonderfully visceral and intricate special effects work on the film by the aforementioned Bob Keen. Both Hugh Ross (“Narcisse”) and Simon Bamford (“Ohnaka”) recalled their two pivotal scenes that involved some of Keen’s effects magic- Narcisse’s sacrifice to Baphomet and Ohnaka’s death at the hands of some unsympathetic police officers.
“That moment in the hospital ended up being such a vivid scene in the movie and it was a pretty intense filming experience as well because we had to get it all in one take,” Ross said. “We didn’t have any second chances on this one and so put a lot of pressure on me not to screw it up (laughs). I got it right though and I loved how gruesome but visually striking the final look of Narcisse ended up being. I would get a lot of looks during lunch everyday (laughs).”
Bamford discussed the look of Ohnaka and his untimely demise, saying, “Because making a movie about monsters as the heroes was so groundbreaking at the time and because it was so unusual, I think that was the main reason my character appears in only a human form. That way the audience would have someone to empathize with- and thankfully this time, the only prosthetics I needed were some fake nipples and tattoos (laughs).”
“For my death scene, they used a prosthetic body double set into that fetal position and they had several levels of him burning which I thought made the whole gag feel so authentic. They filled my pants with smoke and there were these condoms filled with that would burst into puffs of smoke to sell that the sun was causing me to burn. It became a really important moment for the movie too because it changed the stakes for everyone. It was incredibly powerful.”
Despite the stars aligning for Barker’s project initially, some minor troubles were already brewing on set even before the producer’s stepped in and ordered the notorious reshoots for Nightbreed in order to make a film that seemed more ‘marketable’ to horror fans.
According to Bamford, “I think that tension was slightly evident even prior to us finishing the first shoot. I remember there was this big meeting with the entire cast and crew where we were informed they had run out of money and they asked us to work for free for a week. I think there were a fair amount of bad feelings about that but we all believed in the film and knew we wanted to finish it so we agreed to their request.”
“But what I think really happened with Nightbreed was that perhaps there was a slight naiveté on set because we all believed we were making a particular movie and because no one else was doing it at the time, we should have seen the producers’ interference coming. It’s a shame they second-guessed Clive’s vision for Nightbreed because all those initial ingredients were there, which are now finally incorporated into the Director’s Cut,” he added.
Ross also chatted about his role being expanded during the reshoots. “When they finished the movie and had done some tests, the studio thought some things needed changing I guess so that they could ‘lighten things up.’ So we did three weeks of reshoots and that’s how I ended up living through the original version. The producers really liked Narcisse and they were hoping to do sequels so they wanted him around. Of course, anyone who has seen the Director’s Cut knows I have a much different fate so I think that maybe in that regard, I kind of prefer the original (laughs).”
“I was also part of the reshoots that were ordered so they could go back and add in more gore and stuff like that,” added production designer Steve Hardie. “It was such a different atmosphere than the first time we all came together to work on Nightbreed- you could just tell there was something in the air and it wasn’t right. And I think we were ALL surprised that night at the premiere because that wasn’t the movie we had made; that’s why the Director’s Cut feels like vindication for Clive- we all knew the vision he had going into Nightbreed and it’s incredible that after 25 years, it was finally fulfilled.”
Bamford recalled how the premiere of Nightbreed would end up being a personal disaster for him due to him partaking in one too many drinks prior to the event. “I remember opening night and there was a party beforehand and I think I had too many cocktails, probably because I was so nervous. I just remember watching the film during the premiere, completely drunk, and just wholly disappointed in what I was seeing because I knew that wasn’t the film Clive had wanted to make.”
“I ran into Clive towards the end of the screening and he asked me what I thought; because I wasn’t exactly in my right mind, I blurted out, ‘I hated it!’ and he was just shocked. Of course, I know that wasn’t the way I should have responded but it just sort of came out that way because of the alcohol and Clive didn’t talk to me for something like 10 years after that. I can’t say I blame him (laughs) and it taught me that you never, ever drink before a movie premiere.”
Anne Bobby, who portrays Lori in the film, was also unhappy with the theatrical version of Nightbreed due to the studio minimizing her role and removing various plot points which demonstrated the bond between her character and Boone (Craig Sheffer), ultimately changing the focus of Barker’s story overall.
“I remember I had told all my friends about this extraordinary film that I was a part of that was going to do forever change the horror genre- I mean, we all believed so much in this story. Then, Nightbreed comes out and it’s a completely different type of film than Clive had in mind. My friends all sort of looked at me like I was crazy after we saw it, because I had talked it up so much, but I was just heartbroken to see what they did to this project that should have been so momentous.”
“That’s why I think the Director’s Cut is so important,” Bobby added. “There’s a redemptiveness to this version because Clive’s vision deserved to be fully-realized. Plus, it also filled out my character much more which gives fans a chance to see the real relationship between Boone and Lori. It was so sterilized and downplayed in the original Nightbreed so I think it’s really great that this version exists and demonstrates just why you should care about them as a couple and root for them to be together in the end.”
Prior to the release of Barker’s cut of Nightbreed by Scream Factory late last year, fans often had pondered over the years just what might have been had the producers not interfered and the prolific storyteller had been able to make the film he had always imagined. Thankfully, the stars aligned for the project when Mark Miller, Vice President of Seraphim Films, worked diligently to uncover all the missing elements that would be necessary to complete Nightbreed finally. And it was after meeting Miller during a trip to the Magic Castle in Hollywood that the Director’s Cut editor Andrew Furtado would get the opportunity of a lifetime.
“Mark and I immediately became close friends,” Furtado said. “We talked about horror and work and he brought me on to handle the Director’s Cut once everything started coming together for it. I had seen the Cabal Cut at Beyond Fest and while I thought it was cool, I just thought the way it was presented was garbage; the whole three hours I just kept thinking to myself, ‘Man, I want to fix this so badly.’”
“The pieces were all there but none of the new stuff was incorporated in the right places so when Mark asked me if I wanted to edit the Director’s Cut, I immediately said, ‘Fuck yeah.’ Clive is such an amazing artist and while I appreciated the original version of Nightbreed as a kid, I thought if I could make something I loved even better that it would be an amazing opportunity for me.”
“I think Clive always had the hope that fans would one day see his version of Nightbreed. I think he got close with the Cabal Cut but Russell didn’t really listen to him much on that so it was almost like Clive being cut out of his own movie twice. For the Director’s Cut though, I just wanted to make sure this was going to be the movie Clive had always envisioned,” added Furtado.
Once things were underway on the edit of the Director’s Cut, Furtado found himself facing some pretty crazy deadlines in order to deliver the finished film in time for Scream Factory’s planned release date. “I had about a month to put this together. There was something like 36 hours of footage to go through and about 20 hours of it had no sound so the only audio I had available to sync everything to was the VHS audio. I spent about a week going through every single piece of footage we had and get it ready and then had three weeks to edit everything and rework the footage into the new cut. I don’t really know if I slept at all during that process but it was all worth it.”
“Nightbreed fans are insane in the best possible way; they’re so intense and involved with everything so I knew they were going to be scrutinizing every little thing we did on this. I’m so happy and appreciative that everyone has reacted so positively on this version- it’s been a really cool experience.”
And while the journey of Nightbreed over the last 25 years has become almost as legendary as the creative force behind it, Barker’s wildly inventive tribute monsters that also manages to be a thoughtful and timeless examination of sacrificial love and acceptance of those we don’t necessarily understand, has always been a wondrous achievement in horror and fantasy even in its flawed state. Now that fans can enjoy the Director’s Cut version of the film though, we now have many more reasons to celebrate Nightbreed’s 25th anniversary this year and its release is quite possibly the greatest tribute to Barker’s astonishing imagination.
“Nightbreed is possibly the best cinematic depiction of the Clive I knew from his Dog Company days,” Bamford expressed. “He was this man with an enormous vision who was like a kid in a sweets shop who was let loose to his own devices. He had such joy for that project, it was a shame that it took so long for his vision to be finally realized.”
Check back soon for additional Clive Barker special features on Daily Dead and look for details on our special Clive Barker issue of DEADLY Magazine later this week.