I’ve been a Clive Barker fan ever since I read his Books Of Blood back in the late 80s. Since then I’ve devoured a lot of his work, both in print and on screen, and it’s a shame he’s only directed three movies: Hellraiser (1987), Nightbreed (1990) and Lord Of Illusions (1995). All three of which I’m a big fan of.
What struck me as odd about Lord Of Illusions when I first began hearing about it in Fangoria back in the day was that it was based on Barker’s own short story, “The Last Illusion,” but that’s not the odd part, the odd part is the movie he made is almost 180 degrees from that tale he wrote. I even remember reading he deliberately did that, wanting to focus the movie more on the horrors of “cult-life.” My term, not his. I was a little concerned about this drastic deviation since I loved the short story so much, but once I saw the movie all concerns magically vanished in thin air. And it’s such a loose adaptation I believe you could make an argument for it getting a remake, one that actually adapts the tale. But the tale is so contained it feels more like something I’d love to see as part of a Barker anthology film, rather than a full length movie, if one ever gets made.
If I can remember the source story takes place over a period of one night and starts out initially as detective Harry D’Amour being hired to “corpse sit,” for dead body, Philip Swann, by his wife. But weird shit happens and he either takes himself out of the case or is relieved of his duties, but is pulled back in by Swann’s assiatant, Valentin, who turns out to be a demon in disguise, but one’s who allegiance is with Swann, and I recall, his wife Dorothea, ending up being one of the bad guys, having sold her soul to the Devil. The main plot, if I can also recall, was that Swann sold his soul to the Devil but decided to renege on the deal and beat the Devil by taking all his power and using it for something trite, like being a magician. The Devil has been after him ever since and to save his soul from being damned for all eternity it has to be burned before midnight and the story is a race to keep Swann’s body out of the hands of Butterfield, who’s the main villain, not Nix, who was created specifically for the movie.
There are some pretty impressive demonic creations Barker created for the tale, too, that never made the movie since it’s focus is on living, and then dead, and then living, again, Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor) versus this dude named, Nix (Daniel von Bargen), whose the leader of this cult. He actually has powers and his protégé’ was supposed to be Swann, but he saw the light and when the film opens he and three other members who’ve seen the light, too, are in the Mojave Desert (circa 1982), armed and intent on putting Nix 50 feet under. Nix on the other hand has taken a little girl hostage to kill as part of one of his ceremonies, and he knows they’re coming for him.
Butterfield, as is his sycophantic lackey, seen as a kid in the prologue and played by Trevor Edmond (Return Of The Living Dead 3), ends up taking up the mantle of resurrectionist in present day once Nix is put down, “bound” and buried deep out in the desert. And once we’re back to the present we’re introduced to Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) who wants to be just a detective, which he is, but Fate has him being drawn to the dark side at every turn. This means he ends up tangling with supernatural foes more than the natural ones he was always trained for.
And he doesn’t like it much.
He’s presented with a chance to “relax” and forget his most recent case of child possession by heading out to California to investigate this guy who’s involved in insurance fraud. All he has to do is tail the guy, but as Fate would have it as he follows him to an appointment with a local fortune teller, D’Amour, is once again shat into the supernatural crapper. Which on the one hand isn’t entirely a bad thing since it leads him right into the arms of Philip Swann’s wife, Dorothea (Famke Janssen). This doesn’t settle well with Swann’s personal assistant, Valentin (Joel Swetow), who’s none to happy Dorothea has hired him to find her husband’s killer.
Until Nix shows up again, grown up Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman) and his crazy, fanged neo-nazi buddy, Miller (Jordan Marder), are the main villians, spending their time desperately hunting down their master’s remains. Grown Butterfield is an obvious psychopath and played brilliantly by Sherman. And then when they finally resurrect him we learn there’s no honor among cultists. Nix cares nothing for his “flock,” or for his now adult sycophantic lackey.
Nice homage, if it was one, to the evolved pineal gland from From Beyond (1986), as the now back-from-the-dead Nix sports this sphincter-like organ in the center of his forehead from which peeks something obscene when he’s working his magic. One the one hand, yeah, it does look like he has an asshole above his eyes that constantly looks like it wants to take a shit. It’s a strikingly brilliant and gruesome effect.
The demise of his cultists, where they are sunk in the mud and then the mud hardened and dried so all you see are various body parts jutting from the ground, is a scene directly from his “The Skins Of The Fathers” short story. I can’t remember the exact plot of that one, but there’s a scene in it just like the one I described.
I love Scott Bakula as Harry and wish Barker had done a D’Amour franchise, or even a series with him. In fact I loved all the casting for this movie. The right actors were acquired, in my opinion.
I remember buying this movie on VHS back in 1995 or 1996. It never came up to a theater where I was, and that bummed me out, especially since that was the same year John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness came out and it too never hit a theater near me. This movie had two forms: the theatrical cut and the director’s cut, and it was the latter that came out on VHS.
It first hit DVD in 1998 in Director’s Cut form only, and ever since blu-ray was invented it’s been a much-wished release for that format ever since. Well, that time has finally come. Shout! Factory released both versions of the movie through their Scream Factory sub-label on December 16th.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio—English subs only.
This transfer did not overly impress me. Colors were good, clarity was good, it was all good, just not on any really great level. A moderate upgrade is what I’d call it.
Each version (theatrical & director’s cut) is separated on it’s own disc, with only the movie’s theatrical trailer being included on the theatrical version. All the other extras are on the Director’s Cut:
- Commentary by Director Clive Barker
- “A Gathering of Magic” Featurette (17:52)
- Original Behind the Scenes Footage (1:01:57)
- Deleted Scenes (3:21) feature commentary by Barker
- New Interview with Storyboard Artist Martin Mercer – “Drawing Boards” (11:55)
- Photo Gallery (15:53)
Everything, but the Isolated Musical Score, has been ported over from the ‘98 disc. That DVD also came with a booklet, the first page of which had a special note from Barker and Scream has ported that over, too. It can be “played” separately from the movie. It’s listed right under Play Movie as ‘A Note From Clive Barker.’
What’s Scream has added is immense: the “A Gathering of Magic” featurette and the Original Behind the Scenes Footage is archival footage from 1994 and 1995 of Clive and company making the film, which along with the always superb commentaries he does are simply the icing on this edition’s cake. As I’ve mentioned before in other reviews, specifically Scream’s Night Of The Demons (1988) and Witchboard (1986) ones, I love to see footage from the set as the movie’s getting filmed and decisions are being made. You also get period interviews from some of the cast and Barker mixed in. The photo gallery has got some nice publicity photos, screen shots and behind the scenes photos that rounds out this edition perfectly.
I hope someday Bakula returns as D’Amour. In the meantime, if you had any doubts on upgrading this movie, consider them squashed with this review.