Release Date(s)1995 (December 16, 2014)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
As of this writing, Lord of Illusions is the final film from director Clive Barker. A lot of variables have gone into that, the main one being that his films were meddled with and treated poorly by the studios that funded and released them (save for Hellraiser, of course). For a man who has distinguished himself as such a unique writer and visualist, and had such an impact on not just horror films, but graphic design as well, it’s unfortunate that he only made three movies: Hellraiser, Nightbreed, and Lord of Illusions. On the other hand, they also serve as a reminder to filmmakers that whoever backs your movie, try to keep them out of the creative process as much as possible so that your true vision can get to the screen.
The real shame of Clive Barker’s relationship with movie studios is that he never truly blossomed as a filmmaker. He never got to make those all important mistakes, learning from them and making better movies. He had to, instead, settle on changes to his movies that he deemed unnecessary and detrimental to the work, especially on Nightbreed. Lord of Illusions, while not quite as tinkered with, also suffered some of this fate. Unlike Nightbreed, however, it was allowed to be released separately on home video (laserdisc) as Barker’s director’s cut of the film. It was a welcome treat, especially for fans.
For those who haven’t seen it, Lord of Illusions tells the story of Harry D’Amore, a detective who keeps telling himself that he wants nothing more than to investigate small-time cases involving things like insurance fraud, but somehow keeps falling into cases involving the supernatural. His latest case is no different. A group of cult followers who follow the evil magician and illusionist Nix, who was killed by a man named Swann years before, await Nix’s return, and it’s up to D’Amore to try and solve the mystery behind Swann’s connection to Nix and the mysterious woman whom Swann has taken as his wife.
The story of Lord of Illusions is based on the noir-ish character of D’Amore, a character that Barker had created and written about before and since in both short story form and novel form. As far as the two versions of the movie go, my feeling about them is very much similar. I find them visually stimulating, but they lack any real dramatic punch or overly interesting characters and situations. Neither version really grabs me as something unique the way that Hellraiser did when I first saw it. Not just that though, but the story doesn’t really have an interesting place to go once the characters are in place with proper motivations. In an odd way, the story sort of reminds me of Dark City. While they’re both about completely different things, the noir aspects and a story about a man discovering the truth while evading opposing forces (set within fantastic visual environments) is very much the same. Not that Lord of Illusions is guilty of it, but a lot of films from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s feel very much like The Matrix in this way as well, but I’m getting off topic here.
The movie itself is simply ok, at least to me. Not that comparisons are acceptable, but I found it less interesting than Barker’s previous effort Nightbreed. That film had a little more originality to it, even though I don’t think that it was totally successful in either version of it either. Still, I’ll take anything Clive Barker does over most of the horror films being released today. There’s a real passion and genuine interest to Barker’s work, as well as an attempt to create something different. Lord of Illusions doesn’t manage to do that, but it’s an interesting horror film overall.
For Scream Factory’s release of Lord of Illusions on Blu-ray, they’ve chosen to utilize a new high definition transfer of the director’s cut of the film while porting over the theatrical version from a previous transfer, so fans who prefer the director’s cut should be pleased with this. As far as the theatrical version goes, there’s not much difference between the transfer for it and the director’s cut quality-wise. Despite each version’s soft look, both have very pleasing and organic grain structures to them. Color reproduction is very accurate and there are some deep blacks to be had, but shadow detail can be lacking. Contrast and brightness aren’t altogether consistent either. There are some extremely minor artifacts leftover that amount to not much more than a few specks here or there, and there doesn’t appear to be any signs of over-zealous use of DNR. The thing that stands out the most in both versions is the early, low-budget CGI, which depending on your taste, looks pretty abysmal. As for the soundtracks, both versions feature English tracks in 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD. They’re mostly front-heavy tracks as far as dialogue and sound effects go, but some space has been opened up for the score and some ambient activity in the rear speakers. It’s not a flat soundtrack by any means, but it does have some pretty good dynamic range. It’s never overly aggressive, but it’s very good overall. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
As for the extra material, there’s a very good selection to choose from. For the theatrical version on disc 1, you’ll find nothing more than the film’s original theatrical trailer, but on disc 2, which carries the director’s cut, you’ll find A Note From Clive Barker from 1995 about the director’s cut (carried over from the laserdisc release); an audio commentary featuring Clive Barker; the A Gathering of Magic: Behind the Scenes of Lord of Illusions vintage featurette; some behind the scenes footage; a set of deleted scenes; a newly-produced interview with storyboard artist Martin Mercer; and a still gallery.
Lord of Illusions may not have the bite and full-blown originality of Hellraiser, but like Nightbreed, it has a very good cult following, especially for fans of Clive Barker’s written works. Scream Factory’s treatment of the title is another crowd pleaser for horror fans and the film itself is a decent take on both the noir and horror genres overall.
- Tim Salmons