The act of movie-making is all about the illusion. It is about tricking the audience into thinking that what is seen is actually happening, that the fragmented pieces of the behind-the-scenes work is actually a cohesive whole, filled with the monsters of your nightmares. Clive Barker has always attempted to blend the real with the hellish, the humans with the demons; often, those projects have either been underappreciated or often cut to shit by the funders and producers of his films. Like Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions, Barker’s 1995 film starring Scott Bakula and Famke Jannsen, also had its direction skewered because of running time and differences in ideas. Scream Factory has seen fit to bring Clive Barker’s original cut to Blu-Ray with this Director’s Cut release, as well as including the original theatrical cut on a separate disc.
I watched both versions of the film for this review, because I had never actually seen Lord of Illusions and I wanted to experience the two to understand how they differed from each other. Overall, I have to say that, despite very slight differences, the Director’s Cut of Lord of Illusions is the better film, adding about 12 minutes of footage to the original theatrical cut. This is quite a bit less extraordinary than the mangled Nightbreed cut – despite what Barker claims in the introduction to the Director’s Cut, Lord of Illusions isn’t really affected by adding the deleted scenes or cutting them out. What they do do, however, is add a new dimension to the film – and some penis and boobs for good measure.
The film follows Harry D’Amour (Bakula) (a recurring character for Barker), a PI who is called on to investigate a criminal in LA. Unfortunately, what he finds there is a lot more sinister than he probably imagined – instead of capturing a low-life, he gets swept up in a case where an illusionist dies, a group of cultists assemble, and a couple of odd-looking dudes seem to turn up at murder scenes. Sincerely, though, that’s all a part of normal life for D’Amour, who has dabbled in the supernatural for some time.
It is Dorothea Swann (Jannsen) who decides to hire D’Amour, especially since a lot of her husband’s friends wind up dead. Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor) and his cohorts, at the beginning of the film, destroyed the illusionist Nix (Daniel von Bargen) and sealed him with special bindings so that he could not use his tricks anymore; unfortunately, Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman) and his loony sidekick escaped that day and vowed to bring Nix back however possible. They’ve returned to take out everyone who was involved in sealing Nix, and Swann knows he’s next.
D’Amour’s involvement is much like a noir detective. He’s gruff and hardened, attractive to the women, and dedicated to the tasks at hand. He has a penchant for humor, although he ditches that persona when it’s time to get down to business. Barker does a great job of portraying this in the script, especially in the Director’s Cut, and Bakula really is perfect for this role. The same is true of Jannsen, who is a beauty for sure and looks absolutely stunning throughout Lord of Illusions. However, she’s not quite the damsel in distress, and Barker repeatedly gives her room to fight her own battles against demons.
To be honest, though, Lord of Illusions never quite gels together. There are a lot of disparate, unconnected parts to the film, including the tone. The beginning of the movie is very much in line with the noir elements Barker claims to be an influence, but as Lord of Illusions progresses, it loses that sense of detective-work; the horror, obviously, becomes a bigger aspect, but D’Amour as a central character decreases when Swann reappears. D’Amour’s private eye persona is played up more in the Director’s Cut, especially including the sex scene with Jannsen where she bares her breasts (another reason to watch this one instead of the theatrical), but essentially there’s little clue-finding happening once Nix’s name gets dropped.
It’s not a bad thing, though; it’s okay to drop the original tone when Barker’s demons look so good. When Nix returns from the dead, the makeup is pretty awesome – he even has a pulsating vagina on his forehead. The Director’s Cut adds more scenes of Nix’s cultists as well, giving further exploration to the group that worships him. Still, this isn’t enough to really drive home Barker’s theme about the last illusionist – his symbolic representations of the differences between magicians and illusionists isn’t clear in either film, and this is one of the reasons why Lord of Illusions isn’t as good as it could be. There’s not enough done to punctuate what Barker means by all of these creative, mythological events.
Still, Lord of Illusions is a fun film with enough special effects to keep the viewer watching during the slower middle portion. As stated before, the Director’s Cut is the recommended version of this film – nothing is cut from what was in the theatrical cut, so you might as well just watch the longer version. It’s not Barker’s best work by far, unable to reach the same strong motifs as Hellraiser or Nightbreed. But it is an illusory feat, one that is worth the act’s admission price.
I don’t think it’ll come as any surprise that Scream Factory has done a great job with the high-def transfer, very much on par with what they did with Nightbreed. The Director’s Cut disc has the special features, meaning the theatrical cut disc is a nice extra but really unnecessary to pop into your Blu-Ray player.
Included is a 17-minute documentary on the making of Lord of Illusions originally shot for the SyFy (then Sci-Fi) channel, but if you move on, there’s an hour-long documentary, edited less rigidly for runtime, of behind the scenes footage and multiple interviews with cast and crew. This is what you should watch instead, because you’ll see all of the interviews from that making-of doc plus more.
Also added by Scream Factory is an interview with storyboard artist Martin Mercer, which looks to be shot at the same time they did the Nightbreed special features. It’s not a pivotal interview, but it does give further insight into the film. Lastly, Scream Factory includes a lengthy 15-minute artwork and stills video set to the music of Lord of Illusions; however, I’d recommend fast-forwarding through it because it does take quite a while to watch in its entirety.