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Film Review: Lord of Illusions (1995)

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SYNOPSIS:

During a routine case in L.A., NY private investigator Harry D’Amour stumbles over members of a fanatic cult, who are waiting for the resurrection of their leader Nix. 13 years ago, Nix was calmed down by his best trainee Swann. In the meantime Swann is advanced to a popular illusionist like David Copperfield and is married to the charming Dorothea. She hires D’Amour to protect Swann against the evil cult members. A short time later Swann is killed by one of his own tricks and the occurrences are turning over, and it crackles between Dorothea and D’Amour.

REVIEW:

Lord of Illusions was Clive Barker’s last stab at being a director. Like Nightbreed before it, studio interference required cuts to make it a leaner meaner horror film. In short, they wanted another Hellraiser. Barker insisted that the theatrical cut of Lords of Illusion was not his intended vision and was able to prove this was the case when the Director’s Cut was eventually released a couple of years later. And that ends your history lesson for today.

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Lord of Illusions is the tale of New York private investigator Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) – another character plucked straight from Barker’s books and his first time on film – who becomes caught up in the machinations of an evil cult when he is hired to protect a high profile magician from its members. Along the way, there’s babes, bullets and a long dead cult leader, played in a prologue by Daniel Von Bargen, who seems to be pulling the strings of everyone from beyond the grave.

Back in 1994, before the release of Lord of Illusions, Clive Barker spoke about how the film isn’t just solely ‘a homage to 40s noir.’ Well, no it’s not. However, it is fair to say that Lord of Illusions is at least a potent blend of noir and Barker’s own brand of supernatural shenanigans. Even though the film is set in the present day – aka 1994 – its narrative could easily have fitted within the constraints of the 30s and 40s. The mood and tone is there for everyone to see. As too are the tropes: from Famke Janssen as the chased femme fatale of sorts, to Barry Del Sherman as the sinister right hand man constantly getting in D’Amour’s way, to Kevin J O’Conner as the mysterious illusionist, Swann. It’s not really all that hard to imagine Phillip Marlowe finishing his case with the Sternwood family and taking on this one in the early 30s. Heck, critic and author Kim Newman certainly gave it a good go in his Diogenes Club series.

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Bringing a cheeky charm to proceedings, Bakula is great as the gumshoe dropped into everything from above. It’s heavily implied throughout that D’Amour has tackled this kind of crazy before, but in the same capacity as the literary paranormal investigator, John Carnacki. ‘Yes, I’ve seen it all before,’ Bakula’s performance seems to say. ‘But I’m not going to jump into a conclusion with both feet.’ O’Connor brings in a subtle performance as the reclusive Swann, adored by millions but, as so happens in these kind films, harboring a dark and heavy secret. It’s really Janssen who lucks out, being given very little to do but pout and hang out in lingerie. Interestingly enough, a few months later, she would appear in GoldenEye strangling Pierce Brosnan with her thighs.

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Mostly all of the above certainly works in favor of Lord of Illusions. In fact, these moments are so successful, some of the occult stuff threatens to overturn everything. Particularly in the bombastic finale, when subtlety is thrown out of the window and taken away with the next breeze. It’s only then that the potent blend I previously referred to becomes oil and water. I’m not saying Barker’s brand of bone crunching, face morphing body horror isn’t welcome, it just feels like it’s overshadowing all the characterization and nuance he brought to the previous hour or so of buildup.

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As if somehow, he felt he just had to throw some red on the screen. And I don’t think it was completely necessary. Lord of Illusions is a different beast from Nightbreed and Hellraiser, which attempts, within the confines of its own universe, to blur the line between prestidigitation and real, demon raising magic. Whilst by no means a footnote in Barker’s career – to suggest otherwise would be insulting – Lord of Illusions is certainly a curiosity in terms of pitch and tone. If you have never seen it, it must definitely worth a watch.

Bonus Features

    • — DISC ONE —
    • Theatrical Cut of the Film
    • — DISC TWO —
    • All NEW High Definition Transfer of Clive Barker’s Director’s Cut of the Film
    • Commentary by Director Clive Barker
    • “A Gathering of Magic” Featurette – Original Behind the Scenes Footage
    • Unseen Rare Behind the Scenes Footage “Illusion of Reality” – Vintage Interviews and UNSEEN On-Set Footage Provide a Fascinating Look into the Making of the Film
    • Deleted Scenes with Clive Barker Commentary
    • NEW Interview with Storyboard Artist Martin Mercer
    • Photo Gallery

Lord of Illusions is on bluray per Shout Factory

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