BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Clive Barker
Starring: Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O’Connor, Joseph Latimore, Famke Janssen, Wayne Grace, J. Trevor Edmond, Sheila Tousey, Susan Traylor, Daniel von Bargen
Given his profile and the amount of properties his name has been connected to, it is still quite astonishing to think that Clive Barker has only directed three feature films. But whereas the classic Hellraiser has grown into its own thing and Nightbreed has continued to court controversy and gain something of a cult following, his 1995 offering Lord of Illusions (based on his own short story The Last Illusion, from Books of Blood Vol. 6) has never quite gotten the same recognition. A shame, as in many ways this could well be the quintessential Clive Barker movie, but hopefully with this new two-disc package from 101 Films the film will pick up a new audience.
Cult leader Nix (Daniel von Bargen – Basic Instinct) is a man with magical powers and has gathered his followers in the desert in preparation for the sacrifice of a young girl, but Nix’s follower Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor – The Mummy) has decided to put an end to the cult and turns up with a few others to thwart Nix’s plans and kill him, burying him “so deep no one will ever find him”.
Fast forward thirteen years and private detective Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula – Quantum Leap) is investigating an insurance fraud when he is warned by Quaid (Joseph Latimore), a former follower of Nix who has been left for dead after being attacked, that ‘The Puritan’ (Nix’s name for himself) is coming back. In the meantime, Swann has become a stage illusionist and, at the request of his wife Dorothea (Famke Janssen – X-Men), hires D’Amour to investigate the murder of Quaid, but D’Amour is thrown into a world of magic and mystery where what is seen isn’t always what is real, and the resurrection of The Puritan appears to be the ultimate goal.
Taking the approach of mixing classic film noir with modern horror and fantasy, Lord of Illusions is an intricate tapestry of plot threads and (then) groundbreaking special effects that, when you look at the broad palette of Clive Barker’s literary work, cannot be mistaken for the work of anybody else. The noir-ish edge to the story lends itself perfectly to Barker’s off-kilter way of telling a story and, ironically, has a lot in common visually with the stylish but very flawed Hellraiser: Inferno; not a film Barker was directly involved with but there are some very telling similarities.
The murder mystery pacing, plot reveals and some cool gore effects all make for a well-written horror thriller but Lord of Illusions also benefits from some solid performances. Daniel von Bargen always plays a good scumbag and making him into a Charles Manson-like cult leader seems to have lifted his acting chops somewhat, and even though he’s only in the film for what amounts to about twenty minutes his presence is felt throughout. Kevin J. O’Connor does his mumbling weirdo schtick but with a little more showmanship than usual, which is what the role calls for, and Famke Janssen is as reliable as always but Scott Bakula is a bit of an unusual choice for what amounts to the hero role, his performance perfectly fine but he never really comes across as a leading man in a movie and seems a bit trapped by his TV actor persona.
The Blu-ray disc contains the theatrical version of the film and it must be said that the HD transfer looks excellent, the reds and yellows looking particularly rich and the image razor sharp. Disc two is the DVD of the Director’s Cut, which runs about ten minutes longer and is Clive Barker’s definitive vision for the film. It isn’t massively different although there are one or two scenes added that make things flow a little better and some of the gore shots are a little longer, but it would have been nice to have had this version in HD as the standard definition picture does make the film look its age.
Overall, Lord of Illusions is a film that you may need to watch a couple of times to fully appreciate but if you are in tune with Clive Barker’s recurring themes of rebirth and resurrection, and fancy something a little less gruesome but no less challenging than Hellraiser, then it is a very satisfying film. The Blu-ray version really is quite stunning to look at and is better looking than most modern horror films, and quite surprisingly most of the special effects hold up, which is very unusual for a film that’s nearly twenty years old and uses early CGI (that looks a lot more convincing than most of what we get in bigger budget films nowadays, if truth be told). The lack of special features is a little disappointing and only having the theatrical version on Blu-ray also goes against it but otherwise 101 Films have delivered a high quality transfer of an interesting and inventive film that makes you wish Clive Barker would get behind the camera again.
Special Features: Director’s commentary (Director’s Cut only)
UK Release Date: 24th March 2014