“Everything is true. God’s an astronaut. Oz is over the rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live.” Peloquin, Nightbreed.
My first “adult” book was by Clive Barker. (This is old ground, but it leads up to what I want to talk about, so please bear with.) Growing up, my Mom’s friend Val, (who was sort of like another Mom to us, in fact, she still sends me birthday cards in the mail signed “Y.O.M.”), would take us all out for supper a couple of weeks before Christmas, and we would get our presents from her early. I always looked forward to this night as a kid, because Val always got us cool, off-beat stuff, and whatever she got us, we were able to enjoy it exclusively for a couple of weeks until actual Christmas came ’round and the deluge hit. When I was in grade 9, she bought be “Weaveworld” by Clive Barker, and it opened worlds to me.
“Um, are you sure about this?” asked my Mom when she saw the cover and read the blurbs.
“Trevor can handle it. The story shines through,” was Val’s cryptic response.
I couldn’t wait to get started, and I was excited, disgusted, shocked and thrilled with what I was getting into. (An aside: Grade 9’s Christmas was the first time I ever had eggnog, and whenever I taste eggnog, I think about Weaveworld. I know, weird association, but there it is.) Weaveworld was full of graphic violence, explicit sex, and harsh language, but it also told a wonderful fantasy story with little moments of beauty and grace scattered throughout. I was hooked, and I couldn’t wait to read more by this Clive Barker fellow.
This one friend, Jon, was a huge horror movie fan, and his parents bought him a subscription to Fangoria magazine, and we would often spend evenings up in his room, poring over the horrific pictures and production notes associated with the grossest 1980’s slasher films. Jon knew Clive Barker from these magazines as the writer and director of “Hellraiser” and he was impressed that I knew about him too. We both came to Clive Barker through different mediums (Jon: film, me: books), but we found common ground. I borrowed the “Books of Blood” omnibuses from Jon and then I moved onto “Cabal”.
“Cabal” felt different. It didn’t have as much soul as “Weaveworld” and not as much sardonic humour as in the stories found in “The Books of Blood”. “Cabal” was meaner and leaner (a glorified novella, really), but the cool thing was that it was set in Canada. Calgary, Edmonton and points north, to be exact. These were cities that I had visited, that I knew fairly well, and it almost felt like Mr. Barker was writing directly to me. I got this feeling years later when his novel, “Sacrament” opens up in Northern Manitoba too, but the feeling was stronger with “Cabal”. There didn’t seem to be a wasted word in “Cabal” and I ripped through it in a number of days. At its heart, it is a love story. You know: “Boy meets girl, boy gets framed for a bunch of serial murders and flees town, looking for a refuge for monsters hinted at by fellow mental patient, girl follows boy. Insanity ensues.” We’ll all been there.
A few months later, Jon and I found out, (through his Fangorias, no doubt) that Clive Barker was turning “Cabal” into a movie called “Nightbreed” and was actually going to film it on location in Alberta. Then we got some incredible casting news: Canadian director David Cronenberg was going to act in it as Dr. Decker, and this put me through the roof. This was before the days of the internet, of IMDb, and we could only get scraps of info from Jon’s mags. Each month, Jon and I would pore through each publication when it arrived, looking for any news on the project. Bit by bit, tantalizing set photo by tantalizing set photo, the project began to take effect. Soundtrack by Danny Elfman! Matte paintings by Ralph McQuarrie! Finally, the movie had a release date in Feb, 1990.
It was Restricted, obviously, and we were just 15 at the time, but somehow I convinced my Mom that I really needed to see this movie on opening night, and so unbelievably she dropped Jon and me downtown at a multiplex. We were nervous that we wouldn’t get in, but on opening night the first few hundred people, “to visit with the Nightbreed” as the ads said, would be given a limited edition “Nightbreed” pin and we needed to get that pin at all costs. Well, we didn’t need to worry. There were maybe about 12 people in line for the early show (I guess Clive Barker, even then, was a niche market) and the clerk at the box office didn’t look twice at us. He just punched in our ticket order and handed over the pins without a word. We were in!
Unlike Jon, I was a “horror movie virgin”. I was never allowed to watch them at home, and I never really had an interest in seeing them until “Nightbreed” anyway. I didn’t even really think of “Nightbreed” as a horror film, actually. It was just an adaptation of a well-loved novel to me. Sort of like “Pride and Prejudice” with monsters and serial killers, I guess. It wasn’t until I was sitting in the theatre with my drink and popcorn that the reality set in. “Holy shit! I’m in a restricted movie with my friend Jon. We’re about to be one of the first people in North America to see “Nightbreed” and we got our collector’s pin!” The pin itself wasn’t anything special. It was a rectangle and it just had the movie’s logo on it, but it was still cool. It was on the bulletin board in my room for years (I didn’t have the nerve to wear it on my clothes to school or anything) and I’m sure it’s still in a box somewhere in my Mom’s basement.
What did I think of the movie? I loved it. It was scary and funny and the effects (I thought) were great, and I loved the monsters, and OMG David Cronenberg was fantastic! I wanted him to do more acting, and over the years he’s popped up in things from time to time but he’s never come close as the (SPOILER:) terrifying Dr. Decker/Buttonhead. The only thing was that the movie strayed from the novel in a number of key places, especially towards the end. It downplayed the love story in favour of emphasizing a more conventional “slasher/horror” angle. Even in grade 10, I was already jaded enough to know that books sometimes get changed by producers/screenwriters/studios etc along the way, and quite often to the detriment of the source material. I just assumed this was another example of that happening. Even though the ending was disappointing, there was a lot to like about “Nightbreed”, and that evening remains as a milestone for me. Jon and I couldn’t stop talking about the movie, and we scoured the earth for anything “Nightbreed” related, comic book adaptations, movie tie-in books, the soundtrack (I had it on cassette and there was a time when I played it non-stop, before Achtung Baby took over. Only Danny Elfman could make a pan-flute sound sinister).
When it came out on video, curiously I didn’t buy it, but I rented it dozens of times (dumb, right?). I often used it as a litmus test for girlfriends. If I liked someone, I would suggest watching it and see what they thought. Looking back on it, “Nightbreed” is a TERRIBLE date movie. What was I thinking? Maybe that’s why so many relationships in high school fizzled after the first date. (At least I’ll blame it on Nightbreed to protect my fragile self-esteem, okay! Please play along. Damn you, Clive Barker for ruining my love life!)
But then, high school ended and we all moved on. I had moved on myself from Clive Barker to Stephen King, who may have lacked the sheer imaginative power of Clive Barker, but certainly made up for it quantity. Stephen King is still a household name, even for people who have never read one of his. I’m not sure you could say the same about Clive Barker.
It seemed like Clive Barker moved on too. Sure, he published a couple of more books after “Cabal” but nothing came close to what he was doing in the late ’80s. In fact, if you ever wanted to know Clive Barker, I’d say read “Weaveworld” and “Cabal” and you’re pretty much set. I’d throw in one or two stories from “Books of Blood” and maybe “The Thief of Always” for variety, but that’s that.
Clive went on to focus more on his art, his movie-making, and now he seems to be pre-occupied with his children’s fantasy series, “Abarat” recently purchased by Disney, of all things!
I had forgotten about the impact “Nightbreed” had on my in my “formative years” until I discovered the “Occupy Midian” movement a few months ago through social media. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like the ending of “Nightbreed”. In 2009, two European Region VHS tapes were discovered with additional, lost footage from the movie, including a totally different ending that was more faithful to the novel. From this, the “Occupy Midian” movement was born.
Instead of paraphrasing, let me just quote from the FAQ section of the “Occupy Midian” page:
Occupy Midian is the movement to get an extended version of the film “Clive Barker’s Nightbreed” released onto Blu-ray and DVD. After 2 differing workprints of “Nightbreed” were discovered, Mark Miller from Seraphim film (Clive Barker’s production company) contacted Morgan Creek in the hope he could source the original negatives to restore the film to its original cut. After a few meetings with them, it became apparent they were not convinced of the commercial viability of ‘Nightbreed’, and the hope was lost – but not for long. Russell Cherrington, friend to Clive Barker, took it upon himself to restore the presumed lost extended cut, and created a composite cut combining these workprints and the theatrical version from DVD, closely following the book ‘Cabal’ and the second draft of the screenplay. The outcome of this was ‘The Cabal Cut’ which contained over 45 minutes of extra footage, and restored the original ending. In February 2012, Russell (with permission from Morgan Creek) arranged a screening of the first edit of the composite cut at Mad Monster Party in Charlotte, NC. After this screening word spread like wildfire and the ‘Occupy Midian’ movement was started. To show how loyal and large the Nightbreed fan base was to Morgan Creek, a petition was launched in March 2012, and got over 5000 signatures in less than 2 months (and even had celebrities promoting the cause via Twitter.) Then in June 2012, Russell arranged two sold out screenings of the Cabal Cut in Los Angeles (with himself, Clive Barker, Mark Miller and Craig Sheffer in attendance.)
After this, and the presentation of the petition, Morgan Creek gave permission for screenings to be held worldwide, to raise money for a possible future release on Bluray/DVD.
Does this mean the negatives are available? We as yet do not know. When will this happen? We as yet do not know. But as and when ‘Occupy Midian’ will spread the news.
Now in its 6th edit, with more to come, The Cabal Cut runs 144 minutes.
Amazing, huh? From a couple of 1980’s VHS-quality tapes an entirely new movie has been pieced together with Clive Barker’s blessing and involvement. Isn’t the internet wonderful? So this “Cabal Cut” is now making its way around to various festivals and conventions, rekindling fan love and creating a new generation of fans who might only know Clive Barker from the “Hellraiser” franchise. They have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and just the other night they held a screening in Calgary, where a section of the movie was shot. How cool is that? In 2014, an authoritative “coffee table” book on the making and restoration of “Nightbreed” is planned for release, along with a 90 minute documentary. Who knew there was so much latent love out there for this movie? It wasn’t just me and Jon. There are other weirdos out there too. Lots of them. You can feel the passion through the fans’ comments on Facebook. Stuff like “I would pay ANYTHING to get this on Blu-Ray” and “LOVED this movie. Where do I donate?” I’m love to see this cut, someday. Maybe even own it. I wonder how I would feel about it now, as an “adult person”. Would I still like it, or would it be one of those historical curiosities that had it’s time and place? I don’t think I could ever get my wife to watch it. Some of the stuff, like Buttonhead’s first appearance, is pretty horrifying, even as an adult, especially as a parent.
Nevertheless, hearing and reading about all the work that has gone into restoring and improving this movie, not only from the fans but also from the original cast and crew, I can’t help but think about my Mom’s friend Val’s comments twenty-five years ago. Throughout all this, despite studio interference, creative compromises and the scourge of time, the story will still shine through.