The Lord Of Illusions is a 1995 film from Clive Barker which attempts to blend the horror and film noir genres. It stars Scott Bakula, most famed for his time-travelling adventures in 80s sci-fi series Quantum Leap, and Daniel von Bargen. Bakula, at the time not an obvious choice for the role of detective Harry d'Amour, is now enjoying some success in Enterprise, and his performance in the film is certainly competent enough. Von Bargen, d'Amour's opposite, offers a similarly appropriate performance as Nix, a misguided and murderous cult leader, determined to destroy the world one piece at a time.
As is common with Barker's film work (see Nightbreed and Hellraiser), the script is based upon Barker's writing. In this case a short story, The Last Illusion, provides the basis for the screenplay, although it has undergone significant changes. Best thought of as variations on a theme, both versions are based upon a simple premise: there are two worlds of magic. One, the domain of the conjuror, based on trickery and sleight of hand. The other is real. Real in the sense of blood, grit, power and a sinister desire to take over the world. Nix, as is so common in such films, has both the necessary power to destroy and a lust for destruction to go with it. Early on in the film he is shot, bound and buried by a young ex-cult member, Swann, yet still presents a threat to the world. His loyal cult members, though disbanded, patiently await his resurrection. Their efforts are hampered only by Swann, who has used Nix's teachings to become a highly successful stage magician. Through Swann d'Amour becomes drawn into this shadowy world and, ultimately, must battle to stop the resurrection taking place.
As is unfortunately becoming common with Barker's film work since Nightbreed, a glittering, promise-filled launch led to mediocre reviews and poor viewing figures. Such poor performance is ultimately blamed on unneccessary cuts, lack of specific genre and too much intelligent script. To be fair, the cinematic release did feature many minutes of cuts which entirely altered the structure of the story; with the director's cut a whole plethora of background information is restored, and the rather strange actions of Nix's cultsuddenly become much easier to understand. As is standard with Barker, a whole host of torn flesh and gore was removed. Barker himself muses during the DVD commentary on how certain scenes were only allowed by the censors if they were rendered in black and white to dull the effect of the blood.
The movie was accompanied by a haunting Simon Boswell soundtrack, and also featured songs by Diamanda Galas, Joshua White, Brave Combo and a rather sinister version of Magic Moments by Erasure. The soundtrack CD is available on Mute Records.
A sterling performance in the movie, one which must be acknowledged, is that of Barry Del Sherman, whose rendition of Butterfield is astounding. Sexually ambiguous and possessed of cold, calculating cruelty, the scene in which he tortures Swann's right hand man for vital information about Nix's grave is both chilling and terrifying.
Those familiar with Barker's work will, of course, recognise the character of d'Amour, who is the nearest thing Barker has to a recurring character. His appearances throughout Clive's work are few but interesting: thus far he has appeared in the short story The Last Illusion and has bit-parts in The Great And Secret Show and Everville.
Lord Of Illusions was directed by Clive Barker, and released by MGM in 1995.
Video and DVD versions of Lord Of Illusions are easily available, both of which contain the superior Director's Cut. Additionally, the DVD features a commentary by Clive Barker, various deleted scenes and an opportunity to hear the isolated music score, which is also available on CD.
Scott Bakula: Harry D'Amour
Kevin J. O'Connor: Philip Swann
Famke Janssen: Dorothea Swann
Vincent Schiavelli: Valentin Vinovich
Barry Del Sherman: Butterfield
Sheila Tousey: Jennifer Desiderio
Joel Swetow: Valentin
Joseph Latimore: Caspar Quaid
Susan Traylor: Maureen Pimm
Daniel von Bargen: Nix