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Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut (2012)

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Nightbreed: The Cabal CutStarring Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg, Doug Bradley, Anne Bobby, Hugh Ross

Directed by Clive Barker


For some reason, I’ve always held a soft spot for ambitious failures. Nothing fascinates me more than when a visionary filmmaker swings for the fences, but pops a messy fly-ball. If you’re going to fail, fail big. I enjoy re-visiting and dissecting these kinds of movies, studying what went wrong while admiring the diamond in the rough. Clive Barker’s Nightbreed was always one of those movies for me. It was a narrative disaster, but had a world so full of life and creativity that I fell in love with it instantly.

Unfortunately, what we saw was only a portion of what was intended. Ever since its release in 1990, the film’s production troubles have been well known: Panicked by its unconventional nature, studio Morgan Creek forced reshoots and re-edits in an attempt to spin Barker’s epic dark fantasy tale into a more marketable horror film (I guess they’d never read one of his books). This resulted in a wildly unbalanced movie that contained a lot of great monsters and set-pieces, but an underdeveloped story and characters. And in the end, none of their tinkering helped the box office. Stupid Hollywood.

Luckily, several of Barker’s pals at Seraphim Films discovered old VHS tapes from the original workprints and have pieced together a much longer version (over 2 1/2 hours vs the original’s 100 minutes) in a bid to convince the studio for a full restoration of his original vision. Cobbled from DVDs and VHS tapes, “The Cabal Cut” is in pretty rough shape and if you’re fortunate enough to view it, the varying degrees of quality take some getting used to. That said, as someone who makes their living as a film editor, I’m accustomed to seeing works-in-progress and had no problems using my imagination to fill in the blanks and lose myself in the experience.

If you’re reading this, odds are you know the story: Working class stiff Boone (Craig Sheffer) is haunted by dreams of Midian, a world full of ancient monster outcasts. Unfortunately, he’s picked the world’s worst psychiatrist – David Cronenberg, whose nefarious Dr. Decker moonlights as a serial killer and frames his patients for murder. Pursued by the law and the mad doctor, Boone takes off into the very real underworld of Midian, joins the ranks of the Breed, and quickly finds himself wrapped up in prophecy and war.

Right from the offset, The Cabal Cut does a much better job at establishing Boone, his relationship with girlfriend Lori, and his rampant psychosis and drug use (which accounts for many of confusing moments in the theatrical cut). Likewise, the relationship between Boone & Dr. Decker plays far more intimately (one scene even has Sheffer crying in Cronenberg’s arms) which adds a lot more weight to both characters and their impending showdown. Many sub-characters are also given larger roles and in some cases, their fates are changed entirely. The biggest example is Hugh Quarshie’s detective who takes on a more heroic role that survives to influence a lot of events in the climax and provides a little more balance to the “evil human” characters.

There’s a variable treasure trove of new material that makes Nightbreed feel like a different film entirely. We get to see much, much more of the Breed through the eyes of Lori as she explores the world of Midian and dive even further into it’s history through operatic flashbacks of monster holocausts. And along with an entirely different ending, there’s plenty of little character quirks sprinkled in, including scenes where Cronenberg has demented conversations with his mask, much like Willem Dafoe in Spiderman. In a movie like this, it’s the little things that matter.

But not everything found in The Cabal Cut is necessarily for the better. This is a “kitchen sink” edit from Barker’s first-pass, which means every scrap of footage has been thrown back into the film without any regard to pacing. While we get plenty of extra meat, there are also plenty of superfluous scenes (like drawn-out Boone/Lori smooching, a silly concert number, and an unnecessary visit to the police armory) that desperately need to be chopped down or excised entirely. Editing a movie is like chiseling a block of cement down into a statue – but in this case, they’ve piled so much discarded material onto it that it becomes partially obstructed. Should this footage get a proper restoration from the studio, the folks behind The Cabal Cut would do well to be less precious with the footage and establish a better narrative flow (like it or not, some of the cuts in the theatrical version were for the better).

This is especially true of the ending police siege on Midian. A lot of spectacular moments have been unearthed (including a stop-motion dinosaur creature and some vehicular mayhem) – and it largely reverses the dynamics, turning what was a standard action climax into “Schindler’s List with monsters” – but the climax runs way longer than it needs to, with endless shots of police firing guns and running through caverns that not only slows down the momentum, but gets downright confusing. All in all, the full two and a half hours presented here would greatly benefit from losing a good fifteen-to-twenty minutes.

Still, the stuff that does work transcends Nightbreed well beyond it’s initial studio hatchet-job, and when you get passed the extremely rough footage and questionable editing choices, it’s not hard to see a beautiful movie underneath. Without question, The Cabal Cut is a much richer film and a big step closer to giving the fans a truly satisfying version of the movie. Will we ever see a the film restored and fully-realized? You can help make it happen by supporting the Occupy Midian movement and signing the petition at the official Occupy Midian website.

3 1/2 out of 5

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On

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Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin


When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.

 

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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