THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"LORD OF ILLUSIONS"
It's no wonder Clive Barker stopped making movies. The famed horror novelist had his film Nightbreed butchered beyond all recognition by 20th Century Fox, the studio that released it in 1990. Not surprisingly, the mangled final product earned a paltry $8.8 million at the box office. Then, five years later, United Artists pressured Barker to make changes to his movie Lord of Illusions. It, too, bombed, pulling in just over $13 million. As frustrating as these events must have been, 2014 has proven to be a banner year for Mr. Barker, as Scream Factory released the director's cut of Nightbreed on Blu-Ray, and is now doing the same thing for Lord of Illusions.
The new cut runs 12 minutes longer. Scott Bakula plays private detective Harry D'Amour. While on assignment in Los Angeles, he gets pulled into a mystery involving a bizarre figure named Nix (Daniel von Bargen). Nix had real magical powers and used them to attract a cult of followers before being muzzled by a group determined to prevent him from spreading his malice. He's now on the verge of being brought back. A popular stage musician named Swan (Kevin J. O'Connor) and his wife, Dorothea (Famke Janssen), may have information related to this, and D'Amour wants to get to the bottom of it.
Lord of Illusions is a very unusual experiment. Barker attempts to meld a film noir detective thriller with a horror flick. That combination ensures that the movie is continually fascinating, as you see the different ways he mixes and matches elements from both genres. In its theatrical cut, it was more horror than noir. This director's cut flips that balance, emphasizing the hard-boiled private eye stuff to a greater degree. Much of it works pretty well, simply because it's so uncommon. The film is unique, in a manner that is quite appealing.
I recall seeing the original version when it was initially released. I wasn't impressed. The film seemed confused, like it couldn't entirely decide what it wanted to be. Twelve minutes is not a substantial amount of time, but in this case, it's enough to make it clear what Barker's intentions were. The melding of two well-defined genres stands out more clearly. It's quite possible that Barker was also ahead of his time. Would the movie have fared better today, when mash-ups are commonly accepted? Perhaps.
Even in its director's cut, Lord of Illusions has a few minor problems. The plot remains a bit confusing at times, and Scott Bakula still seems woefully miscast as a Sam Spade type. (He simply doesn't have the tough, brooding quality Harry D'Amour seems to need.) A few of the CGI effects are also somewhat humorously outdated. If not a masterpiece, Lord of Illusions is nonetheless an ambitious attempt to do something different, and that makes it worthy of notice, even nineteen years later.
Scream Factory has assembled a typically impressive assortment of bonus materials for Lord of Illusions, including the theatrical cut of the film on a second disc. Barker provides an audio commentary for the director's cut. A brief text intro from the director plays before the feature, putting the two cuts into perspective.
“A Gathering of Magic” is an 18-minute feature combining interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. There's also an hour of additional original behind-the-scenes footage that goes fairly in-depth into the making of the movie. Barker returns for commentary on three minutes of deleted scenes, and storyboard artist Martin Mercer gets twelve minutes to discuss his work. Comparisons between his drawings and the final product are included here. Finally, there's a still gallery and a theatrical trailer.
Scream Factory is known for supplementing their releases with high-quality bonus material, and Lord of Illusions is no exception. Here's hoping it helps Barker's unfiltered vision get recognized.
For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.
Lord of Illusions is rated R for strong violence and gore, and for language and sexuality. The running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.
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