Lord of Illusions (1995)
By: Dr. Obrero on August 8, 2002  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
MGM (UK). Region 2, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, German DD 5.1, Italian DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1. English, French, Portuguese, Swedish, Danis,h Norwegian, Finnish, Polish Subtitles. 118 minutes
The Movie
Director: Clive Barker
Starring: Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O'Connor, Famke Janssen, Barry Del Sherman, Daniel Von Bargen, Vincent Schiavelli, Barry Sherman
Screenplay: Clive Barker
Tagline: Trust Nothing Except Your Fear
Country: USA
AKA: Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions
A class above Barker's hugely unimpressive cinematic achievements, particularly the crude Hellraiser and the inept Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions is a splendid melding of horror flick and hardboiled detective novel, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Martin Campbell's excellent Cast a Deadly Spell.

Story has rundown private eye Harry D'Amour (Bakula), a specialist in the supernatural recovering from a recent, traumatic exorcism case, sent to LA on a quickly dispensed with insurance fraud scam. When a stage magician is apparently killed during a performance, D'Amour finds himself dragged into the netherworld of a sinister magic circle, where illusionists and magicians aren't the bogus charlatans we generally believe, but actually sorcerers mixing equal part illusion with liberal helpings of very serious black magic. Seems Nix (Von Bargen), the most powerful of them all wants out from the grave, to whence he was dispatched in the prologue by one time acolyte Swann (O'Connor). Also caught up in this are Swann's wife Dorothea (Dutch model Famke Janssen-much better here than in Goldeneye or William Malone's atrocious House on Haunted Hill remake), and psychotic wannabe magician/sorcerer Butterfield (Del Sherman) who's taste for torture gives D'Amour his biggest headache.

The plotting in the director's edit under review unfolds with considerably more logic than in the 108-minute version released to American cinemas. Approximately 12-minutes of footage has been restored to this print allowing for greater in-fill to the back-story. The basic structure (kill the monster in the prologue and spend the rest of the film bringing him/it back for the climax) has been used before (Hammer's Vampire Circus for example) and the idea of magic being genuine and a part of the real world is also hardly new, as mentioned above. Barker steals from other movies throughout his scenario (the 'binding' technique used to imprison Nix at the film's opening is lifted from Bava's La Maschera del Demonio, whilst the is it real/fake? onstage magic conundrum was clichéd 20 years ago with the likes of Joel M. Reed's incompetent sleazefest The Incredible Torture Show and the execrable Wizard of Gore). All this said, Lord of Illusions is a thoroughly entertaining slice of hocus pocery, efficiently directed and considerably better than much of the usual genre fodder. On the downside, the film is thinly plotted and condescends slightly to its audience. It's an efficient little shocker though, a couple of hours pass by speedily enough and the viewer should find this equivalent of a good fairground ghost train ride well worth the effort. Acting and tech credits are fine, and though the script leaves something to be desired, it still passes muster for the tolerant viewer, willing to overlook its imperfections and just sit back and enjoy Barker's rollercoaster ride. The director's cut reviewed here is immeasurably superior to the original US theatrical version, though probably a one-off, as sadly Barker has never managed to equal it subsequently!
MGM's anamorphically enhanced R2 DVD presents the film at 1.78:1. and is just stunning. Colour is natural and fully saturated, with accurate fleshtones, vivid, warm colours and deep, solid blacks. Images are sharp and detailed, with excellent resolution. Contrast and shadow delineation are nicely rendered for a pleasing visual experience in this reference quality transfer.
The vibrant Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is thrilling and enveloping, drawing the viewer into the film quite superbly. The powerful deep bass presence delivers dynamic impact, whilst surround envelopment is effectively directional, and spatial sidewall integration is exemplary. Composer Simon Boswell's ominous score is suitably creepy and nicely integrated, with a wide soundstage presence. Dialogue sounds natural and exhibits good spatial integration. This is an impressive soundtrack that delivers an effective aural experience with wonderful clarity, directionality, and strong bass that heightens the tension.
Extra Features
The excellent 21/2-minute theatrical trailer and the isolated film score kick off the supplemental materials, both of which are pleasing. The supplemental highlight however is Clive Barker's screen-specific audio commentary track. As pretty much everyone reading this will know, commentary tracks are a very mixed bag; some are informative, others less so, some downright boring (such as Joel Schumacher's atrocious 8MM commentary track and the less-than-thrilling John McTiernan Predator talk-through!). Barker's is about the midway point on the commentary scale, hardly the earth-shattering, nor close to the worst. A fair degree of it covers the battle Barker had with the studio over content and editing for the shortened 108-minute (US) 'theatrical' edition and this is fascinating. He notes reinstated scenes and why they're added to this director's cut, and sheds light on all the characters and actors. The MPAA also get some unfavorable asides relating to trims they imposed for the (US) theatrical 'R' rating. Interestingly to note one reference early on to "laser" giving away the fact that Barker originally recorded this for the laserdisc release. Another favorite DVD supplemental feature is always 'Deleted Scenes' and the inclusion of several short scenes from the cutting room floor that did not even make it into this director's cut makes for intriguing viewing. Presented with the option of commentary, they don't add anything significant to the film, except perhaps one expository scene in which Harry and his magician friend discuss Harry's first marriage, but are nonetheless good to see. They run 44-seconds, 25-seconds, 36-seconds, and 42-seconds. Finally, there is an 8-page booklet on the making of the film and production notes. Like so many of these, it's a nothing, not uninteresting to glance through, but could just have easily been included on the disc proper.
The Verdict
MGM atoned for their theatrical atrocity by giving Barker control of his film for home entertainment release and it shows. With the inclusion of the restored footage, Lord of Illusions is an intelligent, better film, effectively a new movie. Barker's commentary is worth the time taken and the film is easily his best. This Region 2 Lord of Illusions DVD includes eminently satisfactory supplements including the uncommon isolated musical score option and is highly recommended for fans of the movie or its director, indeed even for those who've not seen the film and want to take a chance.
Movie Score
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