Plot: What’s it about?
Recently I have been on a bit of a horror and cult-film kick. On top of that, there are so many recent fantastic reissues of titles I could not have gotten just a year ago in any type of a decent format. After watching numerous of these films that fell into the horror genre, I finally felt that I was ready to see one of Clive Barker’s films. I started with Lord of Illusions, because I didn’t think I was ready to watch Hellraiser yet, and because I remembered how bad I had wanted to see the film as a ten year old kid. I remember that Sci-fi had a show that specialized in talking about upcoming films and that the episodes I watched focused on films like 12 Monkeys and Lord of Illusions. It did not necessarily need to be sci-fi, it just had to be dorky enough that people would not necessarily get behind it. This was the same program that talked about Waterworld, Virtuosity, and Johnny Neumonic. For some reason or other, I cherish memories of staying up and watching this show alongside any of the best of my childhood memories. It is a strange sort of nostalgia that forces me to seek out these movies and see them to fulfill a desire from twenty years ago that went unfulfilled.
So enough about my childhood…
Lord of Illusions was the third and final film of Clive Barker’s film career. The movie did not achieve what it had hoped at the box office and Clive Barker never directed another feature film. Watching the film, its is really a shame because he was really starting to get the hang of things. While Hellraiser is far more terrifying, Lord of Illusions is much more enjoyable. It is essentially a cross between a pulp detective story and supernatural horror film.
The film begins in the Mojave Desert in a cult compound in 1982. A cult, similar to a Brian Jonestown following, around a noted magician and illusionist named Nix is gathered. Nix is planning to sacrifice a twelve year old girl. Just in the knock of time, three other magicians, including an illusionist named Philip Swann, storm his compound and save the girl by applying a metal mask firmly onto Nix, letting the screws burrow into his skull, and letting him die. Thirteen years later, Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula,) a private investigator that has supernatural experience stumbles into the world of illusionists and magicians as people begin to get murdered by one of Nix’s fanatic followers. This trail leads him closer to Dorothea (Fameke Janssen) the wife of Philip Swann.
Personally, and I might be in the minority, I think that Lord of Illusions is pretty fantastic. The story is very engrossing with some amazing scenes, including a really great scene in which Philip Swann performs an incredibly dangerous magic trick involving numerous swords. The plot is unique and contains some scare devices that still creep me out, even if they don’t look as realistic as some of the effects used today. The casting is actually very good with great turns by Scott Bakula, Famke Janssen, and Daniel von Bargen. This doesn’t mean that the film is completely perfect. There are a few missteps here or there, and some of the CGI effects look terribly out of place and dated by our standards today. Those are minor gripes against a film that is so original.
I liked this movie so much that I gathered the courage to watch Hellraiser. It scared the everloving crap out of me, and I have no plan to ever watch it again. Lord of Illusions was so good, that I immediately purchased the Scream factory release, and started watching it again to write up this review.
If you like horror films, and noir mysteries this film is a nice combination of both. I highly recommend giving this one a chance.
Video: How’s it look?
Shout Factory did a solid job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a new 2K restoration. The transfer is another solid effort by Shout Factory and the image looks very nice, while still being of that mid-nineties semi soft focus variety. This is by far the bes the film has ever looked, blowing away the previous DVD and VHS versions of the film.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The audio treatment of Lord of Illusions is very good. This is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, and the sound design packs some punch to it. Certain scenes in particular use sound very well. I did not detect any audio drops, hiss, or pops. Overall, great work here. Any limitations in this department are solely due to the newest in technology since this film was released, but it holds up very well.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- A Gathering of Magic: The Making Lord of Illusions – (HD,17:52) – a really solid archival piece on the making of the movie. This includes numerous interviews with the director, cast, and crew. I feel like this might have been one of the videos I saw on Sci-fi as a kid, but I could be mistaken. Obviously, some of the material feels dated due to the popular techniques at the time for these type of promotional tools.
- The Illusion of Reality – Original Behind The Scenes Footage (HD, 1:01:57) – a full hour of archival footage and interviews cobbled together with a lot of behind the scenes footage. This is a great addition for a fan like myself, although it drags a little bit in parts.
- Interview with Storyboard Artist Martin Mercer (HD, 11:55)-an interview with the storyboard artist for the film which does a good job of showing how a good storyboard artist helps to navigate the direction of a film. This feature is pretty cool because it also shows a storyboard comparison to the Swan magic act.
- Deleted Scenes with Clive Barker Commentary (SD, 3:21)- just a few minutes. Actually pretty interesting.
- Photo Gallery (HD; 15:53)
- Audio Commentary with Clive Barker – This commentary is only available for the Director’s Cut of the film, and I believe this commentary comes from a previous disk. Clive explains his reasoning behind shots and process on the film, including some of the dark humor he employed in the film. I enjoyed hearing the writer/director talk through the film.
The Bottom Line
Lord of Illusions is a pretty divisive film. Some people will enjoy it, whereas others will not. Personally, I think it is pretty unique and very underrated. It is by no means a perfect film, but it is so unformulaic that I think it should have been given more credit than it has received. It is really a shame that Clive Barker didn’t continue to direct films after this one. Scream Factory have provided some fantastic supplemental material in addition to a fantastic transfer of both the Theatrical Cut and The Director’s Cut of the film. I am going to highly recommend checking this film out. That said, this film does have blood and gore and creepy ideas that are not far outside of Clive Barker’s realm. Consider yourself warned that some of the imagery might get to you, but it pales in comparison to the shock of his previous films.