Devan attended the 25th anniversary screening of the horror classic. Then he got to hang out at Clive Barker’s house because he’s better than us.
It started with a random email that came in late on a Friday night. The subject line read CLIVE BARKER INVITES YOU TO NIGHTBREED. Tingles of excitement shot through me as I opened the attachment and read “Clive Barker invites you to witness a love story 25 years in the making. Seraphim Films & Century Guild proudly present a private screening of Nightbreed: the director’s cut. Monday October 27th The Majestic Crest Westwood Theater.” The invitation, a veritable golden ticket by horror standards, explained that there would also be a Q & A with Clive and some of the original cast after the show. The evening promised all the benefits of Con screening without any of the hassle. I was told some of the original Cenobites from Hellraiser, including Butterball, would even be in attendance.
In case you’ve been in a coma the last twenty some odd years Clive Barker is a living legend in the horror and fantasy community. An English writer who came to prominence from his early works, The Books of Blood, Barker would eventually be praised for his paintings and drawings, screenplays, comic books, and even a video game as well. The bottom line is the guy is a nightmare factory, cranking out beautifully dark images that continue to mesmerize and astonish us while making our skin crawl and showing us parts of our subconscious we’re generally afraid to look at. Barker’s style is so distinctive it’s impossible to miss. Riddled with religious references, homoerotic sexual angst, and the marriage of seeming opposites artistically blended together, Clive’s work takes us into the hidden worlds of fantasy happening right under our very noses. His sensual and unabashed approach to the supernatural luridly embraces dark fantasy and horror with such aplomb it’s impossible to look away. Maybe that’s why Stephen King once said, “I have seen the future of horror, his name is Clive Barker.”
Clive’s best known for his Hellraiser and Candyman films but Nightbreed, a commercial flop at the time of its release, holds a special place among horror fans and with good reason. Based on the short story Cabal about a man, Aaron Boone, who dreams of Midian, a mythological city in an abandoned cemetery somewhere north of Calgary where monsters live in peace with one another while hiding from the rest of the world. Through a perverse series of events set in motion by serial killing psychotherapist Dr. Decker (played by none other than David Cronenberg, adaptor and director of Naked Lunch) Boone discovers Midian and is ultimately inducted into their society by touching the blood of Baphomet, their protector deity. In the end a raging battle ensues between the people of the shadows and the forces that would exterminate them that leaves Midian demolished. Baphomet explains the city’s fall was foretold and charges Boone with finding a new home for the Nightbreed, renaming him Cabal.
But the idea of the monsters being the real heroes was something that didn’t sit well with test audiences of the original two and a half hour version. So Warner Brothers decided to make some alterations, starting with changing the title of the movie from Cabal to Nightbreed. Next they demanded an hour be cut off the show, causing the original editor Richard Marden to quit in protest. The film was eventually cut down to 102 minutes. Warner Brothers didn’t know why the movie featured no big stars or why it had to be so violent so they began promoting it as a slasher film. The promotional materials like movie posters and television trailers radically misinterpreted the content of the film, according to the director. The MPAA rejected the trailer twelve times, forbidding any monster footage. Eventually the trailer was cut down to only show a man being terrorized by a razor. Barker was horrified to learn that the head of marketing at Morgan Creek never watched all the way through because it “disgusted and distressed” him. The people in charge of his baby didn’t know the first thing about it. Not only had they not read Cabal they hadn’t watched his feature. They didn’t understand his vision at all, that Clive loved the monsters and believed that we feared and hated them because we envied their magical powers.
To make matter worse the studio argued that there was no point showing Nightbreed to critics because they earnestly believed that the people who went to see horror movies didn’t bother to read reviews. Unsurprisingly Nightbreed was not well received by critics when it did come out. His original goal of making “the Star Wars of horror films” transformed into ashes before his eyes. What was to be the springboard for several more films that explored an entire universe would only be realized through a series released by Epic Comics that remained true to the original vision and spanned 25 issues. Nightbreed lay dormant, hiding in the shadows and seemingly dead like the very characters Barker had portrayed, until the fans began to resurrect it, quickly turning it into a cult classic.
In 2009, Mark Miller, co-head of Barker’s production company, Seraphim Films, discovered to his surprise that the so-called “missing footage” originally cut out of the director’s version was in fact readily available upon request. Studio executives simply didn’t believe there was a big enough audience to justify blowing cash on an extended version of the film. Miller and Barker could now prove that there was. This lead to the Cabal Cut, a 155 minute version created with the help of Russell Cherrington that began showing at horror conventions and sparked the interest of die-hard fans, who took to social media demanding producers release an extended cut. The movement quickly picked up speed and became known as “Occupy Midian”, a term coined by actress Anne Bobby. Flash forward to this year when a true directors cut overseen by Clive Barker was announced, promising to run 20 minutes longer than the theatrical version with 40 minutes of new and altered footage. A Limited Edition almost quickly sold out of its initial 5,000 units when pre-orders began for it, Shout ordered another 5,000 units for popular demand.
I arrived early to see “CLIVE BARKER’S NIGHTBREED” screaming down from the old marquee of The Majestic Crest Westwood Theater in blood red letters. There was a sizable line of horror media types (many of them appropriately dressed in shades of gothic horror) that wound around the side of the building and into a dark alley like a serpent’s twitching tail. Joining their esteemed ranks we jostled pleasantly back and forth as our credentials were checked at the door then filtered into the amazing theater noisily chomping on popcorn and slurping fizzing sugar water. The man who’d invited me to the event, Thomas Negovan from Century Guild, the gallery that represents Clive’s paintings and recently released IMAGINER, the first comprehensive volume of his artwork, stood up on makeshift stage and gave the film a heartwarming introduction. Soon we were lost in the surreal world of Midian the way it was meant to be seen in all of its glory. The packed theater roared with laughter, cheered on the monsters, and screamed with delight at the new presentation. A deafening round of applause followed the credits as Clive Barker took the stage and began to thank the fans, the cast and crew, and all who had believed in the dream of restoring his film to its original form, saying “It’s not just the movie I made but a better version of the movie I made.”
Clive called the entire process a reunion for him, saying how much he had to be grateful for in life, and how he appreciated that, unlike writing and painting, cinema turned him out and forced him to be with others. He finished by explaining that the Nightbreed represent the need to be different as well the need to create art. The cast and crew talked for a while after Clive left, exchanging war stories, cracking jokes, and feeding us juicy tidbits from behind the scenes, including the creation of a full length music video from the lead actress Anne Bobby’s musical number, a performance of Joanie Sommer’s 1962 hit, “Johnny Get Angry.” I went home feeling excited that I’d been one of the few lucky enough to witness a theatrical screening of the new release and to have been able to see Clive in person. But my time in Clive’s world wasn’t over just yet.
The next day Thomas extended an invitation for me to come up to Clive’s house and see his studio as well as his paintings. We set up a time later in the week and I set out high into the hills over Hollywood in search of the reclusive horror icon’s lair. Once inside Thomas took me on a tour of the main house, a buzzing hive full of assistants who catalogue and present Clive’s work. Starting at the front door I saw an impressive pile of awards, including not one but two of the coveted Bram Stoker trophies all horror writers fantasize about winning in the pits of their blackened hearts. On the walls were Clive’s art, along with movie posters, and the key to West Hollywood. As we worked our way through each room new delights popped out at me at every turn, from sculptures fans had sent him, to stacks of comic books and rare limited edition hardcovers lining the walls, to board games and action figures all based on is works.
One wall featured a breathtaking painting Clive had recently sold to the drummer from Tool just waiting to be picked up. Another featured the original painting from his movie Lord of Illusions. Towering black cabinets line secret archives in his winding mansion, filled with his distinctive sketching and art. Likewise bookshelves that climb several stories are crammed full of binders with handwritten books and movies. Clive only writes by hand, Thomas explained, showing me the original script for Nightbreed as well as the handwritten copy of The Scarlet Letters, the final story in the Hellraiser saga that is rumored to explore the origins of Pinhead. It’s been picked up by St. Martins for English rights release. The publisher anticipates a May 19th, 2015 publication date. There were triptychs of Arabat, the world Clive created in the young adult fantasy series, as we descended further down towards his main studio where three large paintings were being worked on. Behind this area endless rows of breathtaking art are piled up in archived canvasses.
Thomas allowed me to grab some shots for Escapist readers to remind them that the horror master is still busy creating new art. We sat and talked about his work for a while before he gifted me a copy of Imagineer and sent me on my way. Clive’s house was so jam packed with awesomeness that I never wanted to leave. I could have spent a week there not seen all the incredible art. Thanks again to Thomas and Clive for the opportunity to peek inside the creative nerve center of a true master and creative genius.
For more on Clive Barker, visit his site http://realclivebarker.com.