Friday Night Flix: Nightbreed (The Director’s Cut)

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 9.26.33 PMWelcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. When the mood strikes, I’ll use this space to recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

Nightbreed! (Netflix) FINALLY.

Can you believe I’ve never seen Nightbreed? I’m not the biggest Clive Barker fan but I never would have missed a movie of Nightbreed’s cult cachet were it not for the fact that it has been damn near impossible to find for the past 15 years.

It came out in 1990 and did less box office than it’s meager (though enormous by Barker’s standards at the time) budget of $11 million. Barker’s original edit was like two and a half hours long. The studio hacked it down to around 100 minutes before pushing it out to theaters with a tepid marketing campaign that made it look like a slasher movie, rather than the elaborate, crazy ass horror fantasy it was.

A guy who did a few of my tattoos was so obsessed with Nightbreed he had each of the main characters’ faces inked on his legs over the course of a very painful week. I won’t say I liked it that much, but there’s a lot of really cool shit going on here.

First off, Barker is a nutcase. His Books of Blood novels have spawned as many coherent films as they have batshit insane ones. This leans more toward the latter, which is a good thing in my book. The best part is it’s totally original. For this movie (well, the novella he wrote first) Barker created a detailed, totally fresh mythology rooted in snippets from the Old Testament. He populated it with zillions of unique creatures, gave them a bunch of ornate sets to play on, and then presumably made everyone eat their weight in acid while filming.

The plot goes from rock n roll love story to a serial killer movie to a mad monster party to full-on Armageddon in no time at all. That’s a lot to squeeze in so naturally there are hits and misses. Barker’s biggest mistake is directing this shit himself. He has no sense of spatial relations or exposition, so a lot of the time you’re left wondering who the fuck is doing what the fuck and why.

The monsters live in a place called Midian, a mythical world hidden beneath a forgotten graveyard in the middle of nowhere. Except it’s not hidden or mythical, or even a world at first. It’s just an ordinary mausoleum with a back room. For the first half of the movie, all we see of this “world” is two tiny cement rooms. Then, out of nowhere — Oops! — it’s a whole cave system with hundreds of residents. It’s a shame he decided to cast David Cronenberg in the movie instead of asking him direct the damn thing.

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The sloppiness of Nightbreed has always been laid on dumbass studio meddling. That’s probably true but even in this version — supposedly the definitive cut — a lot of things make little sense. The rules of Night Club (I funny!) tend to change radically from moment to moment. An invincible Nightbreed can casually decimate a police station full of armed cops, yet later he’ll get his head chopped off in a fight with one knife-wielding middle aged dude.

Characters do things that make no sense, like the drunken priest who’s released from jail to act as some kind of spiritual guide for a lynch mob. At some point he decides the monsters aren’t evil and tries to stop an attack on them. A few minutes later, he decides he needs to kill them all himself. Um, what?

Enjoy this movie for its loco, off the wall ideas and visuals. Try not to get to caught up in the details. If nothing else, you owe it to yourself to see this edit. According to Barker it’s truer to what he intended than any version so far, including the 7,000 minute “Cabal Cut” that made the festival rounds a few years back. Shout Factory used that version’s buzz to build an audience for this one. By all accounts fans are finally getting what they wanted. We live in heady times.

Added Bonus: Why is one of the monsters just a shirtless white dude with a nipple clamp and a Boston terrier? Who knows!

Friday Night Flix: Beneath

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.59.21 AMWelcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. When the mood strikes, I’ll use this space recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

What is it with bargain bin horror and generic titles? How on earth can your movie gain any traction when no one can remember its name? Today’s selection is Beneath (Netflix), which is a perfectly relevant title since it takes place primarily in a coal mine. That would put our characters beneath tons of rock. So, sure, appropriate. But ten minutes after I saw it I forgot what the exact title was. I’ve seen a dozen movies with similar titles and I’m sure in a week I won’t be able to tell you which one of them was Beneath. Beneath, Below, Behind, Betwixt, Be-BORING.

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.56.40 AMI’m a stickler for titles, and this one could have had a million better ones. But that’s admittedly a minor (Ha! Miner!) issue. Beneath has bigger problems. Like the central conceit. A coal miner’s daughter (not kidding) comes back to her home town to celebrate her pop’s retirement. The party occurs the night BEFORE his last day at work, which makes exactly zero sense. A few drinks, some bold talk from manly miner types, and suddenly our heroine decides she’ll show these tough guys what’s what by volunteering to spend a day working in the mine. No one has a problem with this. For real? Like it wouldn’t be a huge insurance risk to take an untrained dilettante down into a mine shaft on a bet?

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.57.34 AMGetting past the silliness of that setup, you have to admire what the writers do here. They clearly did their homework on mining lingo and culture. It gives the movie a ring of authenticity that many low budget horror movies lack. Even if it all kind of spirals into a thoughtless, throwaway ending it’s a pretty tense ride. It even has a brief but terrifying claustrophobia sequence that reminded me of The Descent. 

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Added bonus: This movie is not Canadian! Usually when you see an unheralded English language horror movie with exactly one known actor (in this case, Jeff Fahey) surrounded by a troupe of nobodies, it’s because it was made in Canada. There are huge financial incentives for shooting in Canada as long as you use a certain number of Canadian actors. Production companies just pay one American “star” to come out and work for a week or two so their movie can pass as a Hollywood feature. I assumed that’s what this was but apparently it’s not. That’s right, your added bonus is me admitting I was wrong. Don’t get used to it.