The strange thing about Clive Barker is that I always seem to read or hear people citing Hellraiser as his one great film. Maybe it's just me, but I don't see it that way. Don't get me wrong, I love the first Hellraiser movie, and I also think that it was a great low-budget debut by Barker, however I see Barker improving as a director with each subsequent film. Once in Nightbreed, his fantasy/horror adaption, and then once again, with Lord Of Illusions.
Somebody recently raised an interesting point to me. It was that Barker's films are a let-down when compared to their original source material, primarily because his words deal more with thoughts and emotions more often than actions, although personally I don't compare the two at all. I view Barker's literature and his films as different projects entirely.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Lord Of Illusions, is that the film was designed by Barker as such from the outset, rather than it being specifically adapted from a novel or novella. Having said that, the private detective character of Harry D'Amour has appeared in two Barker novels, and in the short story "The Last Illusion", which inspired this greater tale and film.
Film is best described as horror noir and this is what Barker himself states in the DVD liner notes:
"This self-willed collision of genres - horror movie and detective film - caused the studio some headaches when I first screened Lord Of Illusions. They wanted a simpler picture, with less emphasis on the noirish mood."
Barker agreed to some changes on the understanding that the home release would be his desired director's cut. This is what he says about that:"Thanks to the vision of my colleagues at United Artisits, this cut was not cobbled together after the fact. Simon Boswell scored this version. We mixed it, dubbed it, and timed it. In short, we did everything but put it on the big screen. Ah, well..."
What a nice man Barker appears to be! And kudos to United Artists for that pre-mentioned treatment. It's a far cry from Universal's treatment of Sam Raimi and his Army Of Darkness project.
What a great film this is, as well. When I first saw it some years ago, it helped to restore my faith in the then current "mainstream" horror film genre. It features some genuinely chilling moments within a cultist lair, with the (beyond Manson!) villain (Daniel Von Bargen), fused together with an exciting mix of fantasy, film noir, humour and action. All interlaced with Barker's obvious fascination with the illusionist genre. The film contains a more complex plot than Barker's earlier projects. It has many tangents which weave together nicely, before the final conclusion, and that is what also makes the film stand up well to repeated viewings.
The surprise "ace in the pack" is Scott Bakula. This film is the way I choose to recall him! When the film was originally released, I had only seen this actor in the morally upright Quantum Leap series, so it was fascinating to watch this man swear, fight, have sex, and actually be likeable!
In fact, all cast members are chosen very well indeed. I can't fault the casting at all. You've got Kevin J. O'Conner as the troubled illusionist, and Barry del Sherman shines in his sexually ambiguous Butterfield role. Of course the film also stars the beautiful Famke Janssen, who must enjoy working in the fantasy and horror fields, judging from her usual choices of roles!
I should imagine that this film was not cheap to make, and it certainly does not look it either! From the casting, the costumes, the sets, or to the special effects, you certainly can't help but take notice. The DVD booklet states that over 100 visual effects shots and over 100 major make-up effects were required for this movie. In fact, when the age of the film is considered, the early computer effects are very impressive. They still more than hold their own today!
So there you have it. Not only do I think that this is a wonderful film, but I also believe that it's Barker's finest moment so far.
The DVD gets a nicely represented 5:1 soundtrack, coupled together with impressive picture quality. This is a list of what MGM provide:
Widescreen print (of course!)
5:1 sound in English, German, Italian or Spanish
Deleted scenes with commentary
Isolated music score (5:1)
An 8 page booklet with Clive Barker notes and film information
Not bad at all! I'm particularly happy about that isolated music score, which makes it seem even stranger that MGM don't even mention that special feature on this DVD case! I wish that more DVDs would come with this extra, it's a shame that it isn't utilised more often.
Deleted scenes/out-takes are of interest but it's Barker's top commentary that deserves all of the attention. I should imagine that it's very difficult to provide an interesting commentary on your own. So far, Ridley Scott's Alien, Bruce Campbell's Evil Dead, and Clive Barker here are the best examples of solo commentaries that I have heard.
Barker provides fascinating insights into his characters and their behaviour, together with explanations of the film-making process and many amusing anecdotes or filming stories. Top stuff - well done Clive!
A pretty good DVD from MGM really! I would have liked to have given it a higher mark for extras, but I realise that commentaries and isolated music scores aren't everyone's idea of fun. A pity! Of course, further merriment could be obtained by watching Scott Bakula talk with a German, Italian and then Spanish voice, but that sounds a bit sad so I wish I hadn't mentioned that!