Merging S&M with the horror and fantasy genres with the likes of Hellraiser and Candyman, Barker has delivered his own unique spin on horror, coming across as a mix of H.P Lovecraft, Stephen King and Francis Bacon. As a writer, director and artist, Barker has been given multiple platforms to share his twisted surrealist perversities with his audience and Lord Of Illusions feels the the ultimate convergence of his work.This 1995 film may not be a total artistic success, but at least you know that Barker is adapting and directing his own short story, The Forbidden, for the screen.
The film follows Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula), a private investigator, specialising in the occult as he investigates the death of an illusionist (Kevin J O’Connor). D’Amour’s case involves a mysterious cult and it’s obsessive group of followers who are eager to reinstate the mysterious Nix (Daniel von Bargen) as their leader.
Bizarrely, Lord Of Illusions’ weakest link is its story. The plot developments never feel organic – they just seem to happen so that characters can be in certain places at certain times. This means that elements work in tiny sections, but the film doesn’t hang together as a whole. Another problem with it is that it feels very tame on nearly all fronts. It’s as if Barker made a Faustian pact with United Artists to bring the movie to the screen but that acquiring the budget came at the loss of the fantastical excess of what makes his work unique.
Lord Of Illusions features probably the only time that Quantum Leap’s Scott Bakula played a leading man on screen, while it also marks Famke Janssen’s acting debut. Performance-wise they both work, but their character’s are there to service the plot rather than it being the other way around. There’s something of a hard-boiled component to their position in the film, which is sadly underdeveloped.
Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions is an engaging horror-fantasy that has all the elements to make it feel like a greatest hits of his former work. However, it feels like it was tamed down to make it suitable for a mainstream audience and because of this it often feels rather bland. Having said that, there are some stand-out sequences and impressive visuals on display here. Time has been good to Lord of Illusions, giving it a unique place in big-budget horror. It’s a classically paced piece without gimmicks, made with an honest approach to telling delivering a tale that could only be told by a filmmaker like Clive Barker. However, it’s a reminder that when making horror, more scope doesn’t necessarily make for a better movie.
This Lord Of Illusions blu-ray comes with an additional DVD featuring director’s cut of the movie. The alternate cut is a better presentation of Barker’s vision, however it’s not as twisted as it really should be. The director’s cut also comes with a commentary that’s informative and well paced. A solid package and good presentation of an interesting enough movie.