Friday, 15 June 2012

The Monstrosity Exhibition

Clive Barker's dark fantastic masterpiece Nightbreed will always have a place in some black corner of our heart. Officially unavailable in the UK to this day, we have fond pre-internet memories of the ex-rental VHS arriving from a rare video mail order service, and eagerly plunging ourselves into Barker's world of underground magick, graveyard sexuality and monster politics. In Nightbreed, the vilified flesh-eaters and perverted undead of Midian are our heroes, while the backwater authorities and David Cronenberg's ice-blooded serial killer psychiatrist are the true forces of darkness. The Nightbreed, in all their grotesque and wondrous deviance, are the hunted and persecuted refugees of the banal, roused by the reluctant Boone (the Boreanaz-esque Craig Sheffer) to rage against normality.

Little wonder then that when presented with Barker's original 155 minute cut of the film in all its splendour, studio Morgan Creek panicked and ordered the film to be decimated, re-cut, restructured and refocussed, ultimately losing over an hour of footage and a great deal of coherence. It's a testament to the irrepressible strength of the idea and spirit of the film that the cut we can seek out today retains so much of what was intended and still stands as a classic, as much aligned with Anger and Jack Smith as it is Hellraiser, and unfairly neglected in the debate around fantasy, horror, queer cinema and British filmmaking (Barker hails from Liverpool).

The work prints of the original cut of the film were lost to time, and the re-cut version performed poorly on release. Plans for the film to be the first of an epic trilogy, a macabre Lord Of The Rings for the late 20th century, were shelved. It seemed the only hints of what might have been were to be found in Barker's source novel Cabal and in online clouds of fan speculation - until two years ago. During a clear-out of his own production office, Barker came across two dusty old VHS tapes - tapes that contained the lost footage in its entirety.

When news of the discovery broke, Occupy Midian was formed to campaign for a release of the extended cut. Petitions were mounted amid defiant rhetoric that can't help but echo the spirit of the film. An inspired Barker committed himself to the project, using the degraded VHS footage to reassemble the film in its original form. The resulting Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut was screened at horror-con Days Of The Dead on June 10th to edge-of-the-seat anticipation. A screening tour is now underway to raise funds for a future release - and it is to this full release that Occupy Midian has turned its attention.

But it would be a mistake to think of The Cabal Cut as a retrospective presentation of Nightbreed as it should have been at the time. The very fact that the new footage is sourced from darkened, worn VHS, welded to the glossy high definition print that saw the light of day, immediately marks the film as something even more Other than it was conceived to be, something approaching the experimental. The trailer fuzzily hints at a fuller, more immersive journey into the world of the Nightbreed than we were given in the original, all the more so because it is visibly old. This story belongs to the past, a time capsule containing the essence of what was once a bold rebellion but can only now be seen as a last stand - of the Nightbreed, of Barker (who has to date only directed one more film), of imagination. The tale of The Tribes Of The Moon, in all their dark fabulous monstrosity, here passes into myth, unearthed and rendered in murky video static, aged documentation of a forgotten people and a near-forgotten spirit. The reassembled cut will never play local arthouses, but will resonate across conventions, basement screenings and midnight gatherings of the un-faithful. A film commissioned by mainstream studio heads as a monster blockbuster will will surely now find its home in the Underground as a true and pure work of protest.

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