Lord of Illusions. Film Review

lord-of-illusionLORD OF ILLUSIONS
Director: Clive Barker
Screenplay: Clive Barker
Starring: Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O’Connor, Famke Janssen, Daniel von Bargen
Running Time: Theatrical Cut 109mins, Director’s Cut 121 mins
Certificate: 18
Format: Blu-ray/DVD
Reviewed by Guy Adams

While Clive Barker’s reputation as a novelist and painter is legendary, his output as a filmmaker is frustratingly small. Aside from his considerable work as a producer he has only written and directed three films of his own. HELLRAISER, his debut feature as a director, was taken on because he felt he couldn’t possibly do a worse job of handling his scripts than had been achieved with UNDERWORLD and RAWHEAD REX, both of which had limped onto the screen in the mid-eighties under the direction of George Pavlou.

Initially intended as a cheap, straight to video production, HELLRAISER was released in movie theatres becoming a phenomenal success. While it led to numerous sequels, It should also have been the beginning of a lengthy career of original cinematic horrors from the filmmaker. Instead it was to prove the last time Barker’s vision ended upon our screens without others getting in the way.

His next film, NIGHTBREED, based on his novel Cabal, suffered from considerable studio interference. Nervous of trying to sell a two and a half hour movie where the monsters where the heroes, Morgan Creek Studios insisted on an hour of cuts and some re-shoots. When the movie was finally released it was as a compromised shadow of its previous self and it floundered with critics and audiences alike.

Finally, here, we have LORD OF ILLUSIONS, an adaptation of Barker’s short story The Last Illusion. Barker wanted to create a fusion of horror with film noir. The studio wanted a ‘simple’ horror movie. Cuts were requested. At least this time Barker was able to insist on a home video release of a ‘director’s cut’ that would retain his original vision of the film.

Perhaps it’s no great surprise he hasn’t returned to the director’s chair since, you can only fight so many battles before the pleasure’s beaten out of it for you.

Luckily, whatever Barker had to go through, the movie is an absolute joy.

Scott Bakula stars as private detective Harry D’Amour, who stumbles into a long-running feud between cult leader Nix (von Bargen) and stage illusionist Swann (O’Connor). There is a difference, the film tells us, between magicians and illusionists. The latter are simply fakers, clever tricksters, the former, however are very dangerous indeed. From the, suitably noir, rain-drenched streets of New York to the sun and skin-deep glamour of Los Angeles, D’Amour, a man who has always walked the line between Heaven and Hell, must learn to differentiate between the two.

Bakula, always a welcome presence onscreen, is a charming and intelligent hero, the script is tight and witty, the visuals are rich and thrilling. While the film’s use of early CGI effects means it’s sleight of hand occasionally shows, Barker offers us his customary platter of earthy storytelling. It’s all about the flesh, the sweat, the sex and the blood, digging deeper in the hope of finding the insubstantial essence that may lie beyond the last illusion of all: death.

Sadly, 101 Films welcome release of the movie is hampered by a lack of the HD source materials needed to present the Director’s Cut on Blu-ray. Instead we have two discs, the theatrical cut looking bright and clean on Blu, the Director’s Cut on DVD alongside a commentary from Barker. I can only sympathise because I’m sure the label would have preferred both cuts to have had the best presentation. As it is, I can’t imagine many will watch the Theatrical Cut, as the longer version is unquestionably better.

A second blow comes with the announcement that the movie will see its US Blu-ray debut from Scream Factory in the US. They’re understandably reticent in discussing whether they will be offering a Director’s Cut in HD (and given the problems 101 Films had in sourcing materials one can only imagine they’ll struggle). A shame for this release as such news, heralded with claims of the movie ‘coming to Blu-ray for the first time’ must have stolen some of 101 Films’ thunder.

As many of Scream Factory’s Blu-ray discs are region-locked to the US, however, it’s worth pointing out that this great movie is available to UK audiences now and for those without region free players this is the only version for your shelf.