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Director's Cuts Of Horror Films That Are Improvements Over The Originals

Updated June 21, 2021 1.3k votes 343 voters 31.2k views14 items

List RulesVote up the director's cuts that outdo the original films.

Horror fans can be opinionated when it comes to specific cuts of their favorite movies. Things can get especially dicey when it comes to a horror film director's cut. These releases have been known to cause drama among horror fans, but when the director says it's the ultimate version of the film, you’ve got to take them at their word. After all, it’s their vision so they know what’s best. 

It’s hard to argue against the director’s cuts of the horror films that are collected here. Not only do the cuts give the audience more blood and guts for their bucks, but they also offer greater character depth, and they deepen the films' thematic elements - something that can be lost when a film is cut down to its most basic scenes. Which of these films is the best version of a director getting the final cut, and which ones were better off without any additional tinkering? 

  • Aliens is already a long movie. The theatrical cut sits at over two hours, and the special edition (which is James Cameron’s director’s cut) is two and a half hours of suspense, aliens, and space marine violence. After Cameron delivered his initial cut to the studio, they had him cut it down to its essential elements, which means that much of Ripley’s character development and the explanation about what happened to Newt’s parents were excised from the theatrical version. 

    As with many of the films described here, both versions of Aliens are really good. The theatrical version manages to have a pace that never lets up in spite of its two-hour-plus run time, and the special edition has a depth and nuance that are rarely scene in the sci-fi/action genre. Of course, Cameron prefers his cut. On the 2003 Alien Quadrilogy DVD set, he explained:

    I actually prefer this version to the released version, because, as it’s been best described by one of my friends, it’s 40 miles of bad road. I think it’s a longer, more intense and more suspenseful version of the film. The conventional wisdom then was: don’t make the film too long. But at two hours and 37 minutes, this is the ride that we intended you to take.

    • Actors: Sigourney Weaver, Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen
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  • Released theatrically in 1990, Nightbreed was cut to shreds by 20th Century Fox before it was sent to the outside world. Viewers expected a film that mirrored the grotesque nature of Barker’s earlier film, Hellraiser, but instead, it had the tone of a slasher film that didn’t want to be a slasher. Barker says this is because 20th Century Fox didn’t get what he was trying to make and chopped 40 minutes out of the movie. 

    Unfortunately, much of the footage that was cut out of Nightbreed was believed to have been lost forever. It was rediscovered in 2009 by Barker’s production company, and a few different cuts of the film came out afterward. First, “The Cabal Cut” of the film was pieced together from VHS tapes of the lost footage and a DVD transfer. This release prompted Barker to recut the film for Shout! Factory as the definitive version of the film. 

    Barker’s final cut allows the audience to see what the director was going for, and it makes the film more coherent. Watching the original studio version and the director’s cut side by side shows that Fox seemingly cut the film up at random in order to dump it into theaters. In Barker’s intro to the film on the Blu-ray, he explains what went wrong with the original cut of the film: 

    Unfortunately it got a lousy handling with the studios who didn’t like really the fact that I was making a movie about monsters that were heroes. And that was the whole point of the movie but unfortunately when it was gutted and taken out to an audience in a really messed up form nobody was able to really understand the whole passion...

    • Actors: David Cronenberg, Doug Bradley, Charles Haid, Craig Sheffer, John Agar
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  • When a group of friends go spelunking in a mysterious cave, they end up in the fight of their lives against terrifying nocturnal creatures. It's a bloody film that's as emotionally exhausting as it is thrilling, but US audiences received a different cut of the film when it was released in theaters in 2005. Rather than the huge downer of an ending that the original UK version of the film includes, stateside audiences had a somewhat less grim ending. Director Neil Marshall says that the UK version of the film is the correct cut to watch, and the one that he envisioned from the start, but that both endings pay homage to the films that inspired him. He explained as much on the Blu-ray commentary for the film: 

    The alternative ending was something I kinda toyed with when I was in edit first time around, it was never something I thought of when writing the script. But I knew how it was going to end from the start. We finally got the ending we were happy with and that was released in the UK and the rest of the world. I personally prefer the longer version, the UK ending. So both endings in their own way pay tributes to different '70s horror movies that inspired me hugely.

    • Actors: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring
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  • Peter Jackson was already a popular horror filmmaker in New Zealand when The Frighteners was released to critical acclaim in the US, although he hadn’t yet reached the heights of his career that accompanied his take on The Lord of the Rings. If he had, audiences likely would have been able to see the director’s cut of The Frighteners much earlier than 2005. The updated cut adds 14 minutes to the film and expands on the character’s relationships with one another, but Jackson was reticent to call it the “director’s cut.” In his Blu-ray intro he said

    This version of The Frighteners is actually 14 minutes longer than the theatrical release. It’s the director’s cut, I guess, or special edition release. And this is the first time that that particular edition has been available on DVD. So, it’s very exciting for me to present this film to you in its extended form. 

    According to Jake Busey, who plays serial slayer Johnny Bartlett, there’s a five-hour cut of the film sitting around somewhere that delves into the backstory of the ghosts, and even goes back in time to deepen the audience's understanding of the characters. In 2018, he told Bloody Disgusting

    There was so much material, but... they may have cut it before they did the post. They may not have done all the animating and all that so it might not even be available but they filmed so much material on John Astin and his judge with the dog and the old west. He had this whole thing in the courtroom. He had a whole segment in his house and in the old west town. The movie goes back in time to the old west when he was really a judge and alive. There’s so much more with the ghosts, with Chi McBride. It was just way too much movie to try to cram into two hours. John Astin shot like a month’s worth of stuff that didn’t even make it into the film just because of time. It just got to be such a long-running thing, so they had to cut it down. You should definitely ask Peter for the five-hour director’s cut. 

    • Actors: Michael J. Fox, Peter Jackson, R. Lee Ermey, Melanie Lynskey, Dee Wallace
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