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Director: Clive Barker
Writer: Clive Barker
Cast: Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O’Connor, Joseph Latimore |
Length: 121 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: December 16, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
- Audio Commentary with Clive Barker
- A Gathering of Magic Behind-the-scenes featurette
- Illusions of Reality Unseen On-set footage
- Deleted Scenes
- Interview with Story Board Artist Martin Mercer
- Photo Gallery
Following the fiasco that was the Nightbreed production, Clive Barker, five years older and wiser, approached his next feature with a different perspective. He was well aware that his penchant for not only dark and twisted imagery but also non-conventional characterization and storylines was prone to problematize things with the studio. For Nightbreed, massive cuts not only reduced the film’s runtime but also subverted the narrative, undermining Barker’s intentions. For his follow up, Lord of Illusions, Barker’s goal was to seamlessly blend a horror story with a hard-boiled noir. This was not to the studio’s liking. Afraid of response, the studio preferred a more succinct genre film. Rather than fight the studio, Barker knew that he would have to sacrifice his vision for a theatrical release—knowing full well that his full vision would see the light of day via the director’s cut, as reflected in this quote which appeared in a Fangoria article in 1993, “[The studio] wanted to take out some of the detective elements. I said no. Part of the point of the movie is that is a genre-breaking movie. It moves from film noir to horror and back and forth and that’s what makes the movie work. But MGM/UA was adamant. They said, “We’re gonna take this stuff out, either you do it or we do it.” So I said I would take it out, so long as they promised me that a director’s cut would come out on video and laser disc. Worldwide.” In all honesty, the differences between the releases is nothing compared to the gutting that Nightbreed was subject to, but the added ten or so minutes does paint the film in a slightly different light. Originally released on Laserdisc and DVD, Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray release marks the first time the film can be owned in High Definition, and, as per usual, they’ve compiled a great set of features to go along.
If Phillip Marlowe were ever to be enlisted to investigate occult matters, the result would probably feel a lot like Lord of Illusions. This is exactly the film’s intent. The 1995 noir-horror mash up follows Barker’s private investigator Harry D’Amour (played in the film by a middling Scott Bakula). Prior to any images, a title card reads:There are two worlds of magic. One is the glittering domain of the illusionist. The other is a secret place, where magic is a terrifying reality. Here, men have the power of demons. And Death itself is an illusion
The first images we see set up the dark and brutal world of the film’s apocalypse cult. Barker’s camera slowly dollies around the perimeter of the cult’s compound. Cages, feathers, traces of blood and skeletal structures blend with the dusty and worn terrain. A strong wind disturbs the objects, giving their presence an aliveness; it’s something of fantasy, something straight from the mind of Barker. Barker crosscuts these images with shots of a caravan of vehicles racing towards an unknown destination. There is a feeling of foreboding doom, but Barker brackets the viewer’s attention momentarily. It is an opening that warrants questioning? What is this space? Who are the people in the caravan? Where are they headed, and why are they driving so fast?While these questions are answered, the film doesn’t stop asking here. Borrowing from the hard-boiled genre of literature, the film is about detection. It takes almost 15 minutes for Barker to introduce D’Amour, but when he does it rings right from the pages of nearly every Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe novel. D’Amour is first seen in a rundown apartment, like all great noir detectives he appears down on his luck. While Barker has gone on to say that Bakula is D’Amour—that he even writes D’Amour with Bakula in mind now—, Lord of Illusions biggest downfall may be Bakula’s performance. He doesn’t quite nail the stiff and callous demeanor iconized by his archetypical predecessors. Bakula plays the role with a degree of humor. He is lackadaisical, almost goofy. Far from ruining the film, Bakula is one of the weaker elements. In terms of visuals, as mentioned, the film is a leap forward for Barker. There is a real polished nature to it. Every shot seems meticulous in its staging. However, as the film is at the height of the onset of CGI, there are some laughable effects. Barker does manipulate CGI in an interesting manner though. Practical effects are not abandoned; rather they are used to represent the ‘real,’ where CGI is often used during hallucinations and/or magical events. The thematic separation between digital and practical effects embodies Barker’s uncanny understanding of cinema. As his last feature film, Lord of Illusions (flawed as it is) shows a real promise of what Barker could have done had his vision been unbridled by studio control. Lord of Illusions may not be Barker’s best film, but for those of us that have a love for both horror and noir there is a great deal of value to it. Lord of Illusions was Barker’s return to directing, following his contributions to the first two Candyman films, which were based on a short story by Barker. Almost ten years after his directorial debut with Hellraiser, the film embodies remnants of a matured and more confident director. It still was, however, only Barker’s third film, and similar to Nightbreed, there are some structural issues. The biggest problem is that Barker invests more energy into cinematic atmosphere than he does narrative. There is this unshakeable sense that there is more that we aren’t getting. Perhaps this is because Harry D’Amour predated the film. Prior to Lord of Illusions, D’Amour made appearances in four works by Barker, including a major role in 1994’s Everville. In the adaptation process there is always information left untold, sometimes as bits that are to be deciphered or illuminated for those aware of the textual predecessor. Or, maybe Barker’s script is a tad convoluted.
Sourced from the original elements, both the theatrical and director’s cut are presented in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios. A side-by-side comparison shows little difference between the prints, so for the remainder of the visual and aural assessment I will speak as if it is one transfer. With the exception of a few low-lit scenes, the visual quality on the transfer is superb. Colors are nicely presented, if not a bit washed out due to a bit of poor contrast. Nothing that is too distracting, however. Film grain is kept finely intact, leaving no signs of any digital “enhancements” such as DNR filtering. There are occasional specs of dust or scratches, but nothing out of the ordinary. Overall, the HD transfer of the film makes for a fine viewing experience.
The dynamic range of audio elements are presented in the film via both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 mixes. Both mixes offer an adequate listening experience. Dialogue is crisp and clear, sound effects are effective, and the score is granted the depth needed to evoke the impending sense of doom that film requires. There are no signs of age related issues.
One of the best aspects of Barker is that he is generally the first to talk in depth about his work. With Lord of Illusions, Scream Factory has included a Commentary by Director Clive Barker, where fans are able to get their Barker fix. The commentary bounces from quasi-analysis to behind-the-scenes information, proving Barker’s role as entertainer. Both the A Gathering of Magic and the Illusion of Reality are vintage featurettes that give viewer’s a sense of the environment behind the production of the film. While the former is a shorter piece, the latter appears to an expansion of the same footage including interviews with the cast and crew. A Gathering may not be a piece that will warrant too many revisits, but I found the Illusion of Reality to be very rewarding. Additionally, Scream Factory purports that some of the footage to be “unseen,” but at this time I cannot verify what elements/how much qualifies. Rounding out the package are deleted scenes (with Barker’s commentary), an interview with Storyboard Artist Martin Mercer, and a Photo Gallery. With the exception of the interview with Mercer, there are not any newly commissioned pieces, but it is a strong set of features nonetheless.
It is hardly worth trying to convince Barker fans the value of this package, they already know. For those who are only mildly interested in Barker’s work, or for those who enjoy a genre hodgepodge, Lord of Illusions is singular work. At the same time that it screams with Barker’s style, it is nothing quite like his other films. Packaged with a fine set of special features and both cuts of the film, the Collector’s Edition is the definitive edition of the film available. Barker manages to effectively mix a sense of serious dread with a playful touch. It is one that is worth taking a chance on.