Shadowvision: “NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT”Columns,Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black and white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
I must admit that there’s an inherent attraction to approaching contemporary monster movies in black-and-white. As horror on film began with the introduction of cinematic monsters in pictures such as THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and NOSFERATU, the imagery usually translates well into a monochrome presentation. Yet the issue with removing the color from many contemporary creature features usually goes into their intended presentation: the beautiful, monstrous works of Guillermo del Toro and Don Coscarelli are presented in such colorful glory that it’s hard to not immediately detract from the experience. And furthermore, while some special effects look glorious in the shadowed black-and-white presentation, others look even less realistic without color to distract from certain design flaws.
With both sides of the conversation considered, curiosity won when the idea of viewing NIGHTBREED in black-and-white came about. Perhaps it is because of the visual atmosphere from the lens filters, which dips most of the monstrous imagery in a purplish-blue or sepia-tone hue. Perhaps it is because the monsters of NIGHTBREED aren’t particularly too colorful in nature, or at least present their color in a secondary fashion outside of their physical appearance. Or perhaps it’s because, despite the depth of the NIGHTBREED universe, the film itself is incredibly informed by classic monster films; even the slasher element is more influenced by M than A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
Unlike recent re-examinations, NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT will require a wee bit of technical tinkering for the best possible presentation. Considering two or three scenes take place in incredibly dark locales, the brightness should be increased (although only about one notch or so) to help the contrast take a full effect. Speaking of, the contrast should be adjusted to your preference, with those looking for a more authentic black-and-white experience adjusting higher than those just looking for further visual clarity in this exhibition.
To my surprise, NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT visually works quite well in black-and-white, as Robin Vidgeon’s cinematography builds a world out of light and shadows effortlessly when removed of color. Furthermore, the make-up on many of these creatures is indicative of early monster make-up; the heavy pale make-up on some truly appear as if out of the Universal Monster era. The black-and-white presentation also changes the dynamic of the moral divide of the film; humans appear much more cold-hearted and stiff in their body language, while there is a great perversion lurking in the body language of the monsters. And to that point, the visuals of Dr. Decker are even scarier when removed of color, with Cronenberg’s heavily physical performance reminiscent of Boris Karloff or Tony Perkins at their mechanically horrifying best.
The most interesting aspect of NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT in black-and-white is just how much the atmosphere of the film changes. When paired with Danny Elfman’s unmistakable score, the film that once felt imaginative and fun becomes something more haunting and nightmarish. This is further complemented by the performances on display; Barker’s voice flows through the characters, reeking of knowledge and eloquence, which befits a black-and-white creeper rather than a colorful monsterfest. To that point, the atmosphere of NIGHTBREED becomes more intense, scarier, even when the monsters show their taunting humor.
Despite everything that black-and-white adds to NIGHTBREED, much is either lost in translation or doesn’t work as well. Of course, the lack of color does throw off any sense of realistic weight in the story, giving NIGHTBREED the gravitas of a silly bedtime story. Furthermore, while the make-up appears impressive in black and white, the environments aren’t as lucky, with the world that appears so organic in color feeling bland and lifeless when deprived. Lastly, the color of NIGHTBREED is instrumental to the love story between Boone and Lori, especially when it comes to their culture clashes and basic attraction; without color, this angle feels melodramatic and never quite builds the chemistry.
Overall, NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT is a complete coin toss when it comes to recommendation; it really matters on why exactly you watch NIGHTBREED in the first place. For those looking for fun and even poignancy from NIGHTBREED, Barker’s intended color version will be your one-and-only satisfying presentation. However, for those looking for a darker and creepier spin, black-and-white pushes the film into visceral territory, which is alleviated too consistently in the color version to resonate with audiences.
Recommended for Black and White Consumption?: Maybe.