Review: Lord of Illusions / Cert: 18 / Director: Clive Barker / Screenplay: Clive Barker / Starring: Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O'Connor, Famke Janssen, Barry Del Sherman, Daniel von Bargen / Release Date: March 24th
After his success with Hellraiser and Nightbreed, Barker adapted and elaborated on his short story The Last Illusion with this great film from the mid '90s, finally available in HD.
Weary private detective Harry D'Amour (Bakula), recovering from his last case which involved an exorcism, is hired for what seems like the relatively simple task of accompanying a lady named Dorothea (Janssen) to a performance by her husband, the stage magician Philip Swann (O'Connor). During his new routine, however, there's a terrible accident and Swann is killed. Meanwhile, the Swanns' past is coming back to haunt them as a powerful black magician Nix (von Bargen), killed by Dorothea thirteen years earlier when Swann and his friends rescued her from his cult, is attempting a resurrection. It's down to psychotic sorcerer Butterfield (Sherman) to find out from Dorothea where Nix's body is buried by any means necessary.
A marvellous blend of horror, Grand Guignol and detective story, Lord of Illusions draws the viewer into a complex web of deceit, murder and magic. Bakula is an amiable lead, just laid back enough to have the Philip Marlowe style, yet not averse to a bit of rough and tumble – even if it's in the sack with the recently widowed Dorothea (whose mourning suit seems to be a diaphanous pink dress). While not as gory as the Hellraiser films, it certainly doesn't hold back and there are several splatter-filled moments, although the early CGI is put to shame by the brilliant practical effects.
The standout, however, is Sherman's sadistic and terrifying portrayal of Butterfield. Odd-looking and unrelentingly nasty, he is a character of nightmares, and that's not just his too-tight trousers!
The director's cut (which is twelve minutes longer) is also included, but only on DVD, and the quality dip is noticeable, with some scenes particularly soft. Which is a shame, not only because the theatrical version on the Blu-ray is so clear, but because this version is more enjoyable, expanding on the characterisation and making it more coherent. The director's cut also includes an interesting commentary from Barker, who points out the differences in the two versions, as well as the filmmaking process and the mechanics of the plot. There are no extras on the Blu-ray, nor are there the deleted scenes and trailer which appeared on the earlier release.
Extras: See above