• Lord Of Illusions

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: December 16th, 2014.
    Director: Clive Barker
    Cast: Scott Bakula, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O'Connor
    Year: 1995
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    The Movie:

    The third (and so far final) feature film directed by Clive Barker (following Hellraiser and Nightbreed), 1995’s Lord Of Illusions is part horror film, part fantasy picture and part noir inspired crime story.

    When the film begins, an illusionist named Philip Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor) leads a group of magicians who are out to stop a rival master of the black arts named Nix (Daniel von Bergen). They catch up to him and Swann uses some magic as ritualistic as Nix’s own to incapacitate him. Jump into the future a decade and a half or so where we meet Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula), a New York City private detective working on a case in Los Angeles that ties into the death of Swann, who recently passed away when one of his ‘tricks’ went wrong. Seem before he passed, Swann had become world famous with his act in which his real magical abilities were able to convince audiences around the globe that he was a talented illusionist.

    As Harry sets out to solve the mystery as to what really happened to Swann, he uncovers a secret doomsday cult intent on bringing Nix back to life. He also grows closer, physically and emotionally, to Swann’s widow, Dorothea (Famke Janssen). As those involved in taking Nix down the first time years back start showing up dead, it becomes obvious to Harry that someone is picking them off and the closer Harry gets to the truth, the more his life is put into danger and the more Dorothea’s past comes back to haunt her.

    A mish-mash of genres done in a way that only Barker could have managed, Lord Of Illusions can be a bit of a mess but it’s nothing if not entertaining. The plot has some holes and there are times where trying to figure out the motivations of the various magician characters that populate the film are really intended to lie, but as is typical with Barker’s work it is a wildly imaginative movie. The visuals work really well here and make it easier to look past some of the inconsistencies that pop up in both story and character development – it’s an easy movie to get lost in.

    As far as the performances go, Scott Bakula is both likeable and quite effective as the male lead here. He plays the ‘private dick’ type well, giving his character a bit of a hardboiled edge but not so much that we can’t accept him in the part. It’s a little hard to buy him as a complete hard ass so it’s to his credit that he doesn’t try to play the role that way. Famke Janssen is a perfectly gorgeous femme fatale type and she too is well cast in her part, with Daniel von Bergen bringing enough strange energy to his role as the main bad guy to make the part his own. The acting, combined with some great design work and interesting effects set pieces, make this one an interesting and genuinely compelling film to revisit. It’s a dark picture to be sure, both visually and thematically, but that’s in keeping with Barker’s ethos as a creative force. Lord Of Illusions is actually a really underrated film, and it deserves to be more widely regarded in horror/cult circles than it is.

    Note that this Blu-ray release is a two disc affair. On the first disc we find the Theatrical Version that runs 1:48:53 and on the second disc we get the Director’s Cut running 2:01:33 (this is what was previously released on the DVD from MGM way back in the late nineties). The longer version features some stronger violence and a few more scenes with Nix at his compound that better explain that character and that show Jennifer and Maureen getting involved with some of the cult members. There’s also a longer take to the scene with Billy and D'Amour breaking into the magician's repository. There’s another scene here where Dorothea tries to get in touch with Harry on the phone house after Swann dies and a few other minor extensions. The Director’s Cut has better character development and some stronger moments of horror, the theatrical cut, to its credit, moves at a better pace. But hey, now you don’t have to choose, you get both versions of the movie.


    Lord Of Illusions arrives on Blu-ray framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. There is some minor print damage noticeable throughout the movie, small white specks and what not as opposed to massive scratches, but otherwise the image is pretty clean. Colors are reproduced very nicely here, reds and brighter hues in particular, while black levels stay pretty solid even if there is a bit of minor crush in some of the darker scenes. Detail is definitely above and beyond what DVD could offer but some scenes do look softer than others, likely an issue that would stem back to how the movie was shot more than an issue directly related to the transfer. There doesn’t appear to be any noise reduction or edge enhancement here and any compression artifacts that show up are minor.

    Audio chores are handled well by the disc’s English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. There’s some good range noticeable throughout the movie and dialogue remains clean and clear. Hiss and distortion are never a problem and the track is well balanced. A DTS-HD 2.0 track is also provided and there are removable English closed captions provided.

    As mentioned, this release contains bot the theatrical cut of the movie as well as a new high definition transfer of Barker’s Director’s Cut but there are quite a few other supplements here to go along with the two different versions of the movie, starting with a commentary from Barker over the director’s cut of the movie. He’s pretty upfront here about his thoughts on what works and what doesn’t in the movie and he offers up his side of the story as to why the theatrical cut is different from his own original vision. He also shares some stories about working with the cast and crew on the film, writing the script, some of the effects work and a fair bit more. There are times where he clams up and a few too many instances of ‘Clive is telling us what’s happening on screen for some reason’ but there’s enough good material here to make it worth a listen for Barker diehards. Barker also provides a brief into to the director’s cut of the movie in text form.

    Shout! Factory have also included A Gathering Of Magic, a featurette that runs just short of eighteen minutes. Here we get input from Barker as well as cast members Scott Bakula, Famke Janssen and Daniel von Bargen as well as the film’s producer, JoAnne Sellar. It covers some of the same ground as the commentary but the inclusion of the cast and Sellar gives certain aspects of this retrospective look back at the making of this movie its own spin. Complimenting this is sixty-two minutes worth of original Behind The Scenes footage that was obviously shot on set during the production of the film. There’s a lot of content in this section including scenes showing Barker at work, the effects technicians doing their thing and most of the principal cast members prepping and shooting various scenes.

    The disc also includes a quartet of Deleted Scenes with optional commentary from Barker. Most of this stuff belongs on the cutting room floor and wouldn’t have really helped the movie much, but one scene does expand on the character of Nix a bit. Barker’s commentary explains why he took this material out. Storyboard Artist Martin Mercer appears on camera for an interview that runs just under twelve minutes in length. He speaks about how he got into the business, what it was like working with Barker on this project and how some of the storyboarded ideas translated into the finished film. Rounding out the extras is a pretty extensive Photo Gallery, a theatrica trailer (which is the only extra on the first disc), animated menus and chapter selection. The disc comes housed in a Blu-ray case with a nice cardboard slipcover that fits over top. The cover insert is reversible, with the original theatrical artwork on one side and a newly commissioned piece (which matches the slipcover image) on the other side.

    The Final Word:

    Lord Of Illusions isn’t a masterpiece of modern terror but it is a pretty entertaining horror/fantasy hybrid. It’s an engaging film and a really fun watch and Shout! Factory has done right by the movie with this special edition Blu-ray release.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Nice review. I've always liked this film, though, as you say, it's a little bit of a mess. I picked up the Blu-ray in the U.K. back in March without paying much attention. When I got it home, I found that the director's cut was in standard definition! What the hell...? Now, at some point, I'm going to have to upgrade.