As we’ve seen previously, writer/director Clive Barker has had a little trouble with his storytelling skills in the past, usually relying on a very thin string of a plot to sustain an entire film. For his debut feature, “Hellraiser,” it worked just fine as it was truly the special effects that were the star of the film. However, for his second outing, “Nightbreed,” he tried the same approach, but to much less effect, resulting in an overly-long and dull film that didn’t have much to offer except some neat makeup.
Five years later came his third and most recent theatrical feature, “Lord of Illusions,” which begins in the Mojave Desert in 1982 with a former member of a cult, Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor), returning to a hideout to face his old master, Nix (Daniel von Bargen), an evil man with incredible powers. Swann and his team are successful in subduing him, but all they can do is seal him away and hope that he’s never found. Over a decade later, the story picks up with a private investigator, Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula), coming to Los Angeles to investigate a man for insurance fraud. However, while on the case, he stumbles into something much bigger, something that involves Swann (now a famous illusionist), Swann’s wife (Famke Janssen), and a plot to resurrect Nix. Obviously they can’t allow this, so they set about to stop it before it’s too late.
With “Lord of Illusions,” we once again find Barker having trouble filling a two-hour film with enough plot to justify such a runtime. What we get as a result is a rather dull, stretched-out film with a storyline that attempts to blend film noir and horror, but the main problem is that neither element is done in an interesting or engaging fashion. Just like with “Nightbreed,” we have some well-done makeup effects, but once more they’re not enough to help make the film worth seeing. For most, the most interesting aspect of the film will be seeing Scott Bakula at a point between his two most famous roles, Dr. Sam Beckett on “Quantum Leap” (1989-1993) and Captain Jonathan Archer on “Star Trek: Enterprise” (2001-2005).
This film certainly wasn’t a highlight of the period, but I suppose he had to take what he could get. He does a fine job playing the PI Amour, but the character, which Barker originally wrote about in short stories and novels, unfortunately remains rather flat and undeveloped throughout the film. Because of this, we are never given a reason to get involved with the bland mystery, which merely leads up to a giant plothole (literally a huge hole in the ground where the climax occurs) that will leave viewers scratching their heads in confusion. When all is said and done, it becomes no surprise at all that Barker has not written or directed a theatrical film in the 19 years that have elapsed since.
“Lord of Illusions” comes to Blu-ray in an outstanding 1.78:1, 1080p transfer that features just a little grain, but you really have to strain to see it. As usual, Shout! Factory has done a great job cleaning up a somewhat obscure film and making it look good as new again, not only in the video department, but also with the Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio, which gives you every audial element in the best quality possible. Overall, there’s nothing to complain about here, but that’s to be expected when Shout! Factory is involved.
Commentary by Clive Barker
A Gathering of Magic Featurette
Original Behind-the-Scenes Footage
New Interview with Storyboard Artist Martin Mercer
Starting off with the commentary, unfortunately Barker’s track features very little in the way of interesting info about the film, making it not worth the time to listen to. Similarly, the interview with Mercer doesn’t feature anything particularly revelatory about the film. Luckily, the main bulk of the extras (“A Gathering of Magic” and the “Original Behind-the-Scenes Footage”) are the same high quality of special features that we have come to expect from Shout! Factory, featuring in-depth interviews with the cast and crew, as well as lots of footage taken during the shooting of the film. If you’re looking to learn anything about the making of the film, these are definitely the ones to stick to.
Sadly, with “Lord of Illusions,” Clive Barker stumbles into the same pitfalls he did when he made “Nightbreed” just five years earlier. It’s dull, unengaging, and features a plot that is stretched out far past its breaking point. It was an interesting idea to merge film noir with horror, but his storyline leaves much to be desired. Perhaps if he had thought it through a little more and made it a little less simplistic, he might have had something, but ultimately it merely stands as the worst of his three theatrical features.