Lord of Illusions Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by Clive Barker
1995, Region A, 121 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on December 16th, 2014
Scott Bakula as Harry D'Amour
Kevin J. O'Connor as Philip Swann
Famke Janssen as Dorothea
Joel Swetow as Valentin
Barry Del Sherman as Butterfield
Daniel von Bargen as Nix
Vincent Schiavelli as Vinovich
Wayne Grace as Loomis
Joseph Latimore as Quaid
Sheila Tousey as Jennifer Desiderio
Harry D'Amour is a New York City private investigator drawn to the darker side of life. He is currently hounded by tabloids and haunted by nightmares in the wake of his most recent case involving a boy possessed by a demon. Looking for a break from “weird shit”, Harry jumps at the chance to mix things up and investigate a tax cheat in sunny Los Angeles. Upon arrival, it appears this is going to be an open and shut case, but when he follows his subject to a crime scene, Harry gets more than he bargained for as he is pushed into yet another bizarre story. This one involving magic and illusions. What's the difference? Our reluctant hero is about to find out.
Harry is caught in a mystery that includes the ghost of a magician named Nix, who is fearfully mentioned only in whispers. Legend has it that the man was a cult leader and a true alchemist, but was executed years ago by some of his followers when he started taking young hostages to torture. Now, the evils of the past are no longer content to lie dormant, and Harry is sucked into a world of black magic as he investigates the death of a celebrity illusionist. Things quickly spiral out of control as he becomes a target of underground thugs seeking to introduce the dark power of Nix to a new audience.
Writer/ director Clive Barker's third and final directorial effort (so far; please prove me wrong, Clive), Lord of Illusions, is his most commercially accessible film in that it is neither a gory bondage flick like his debut Hellraiser, nor is it the monster movie filled with social commentary that is Nightbreed. The plot is taken from Barker's short story “The Last Illusion” featuring his long-suffering protagonist Harry D'Amour, a man cut from the cloth of 1950s true-crime pulp fiction, tossed into a supernatural murder mystery that just might prove to be the death of him. He is paired with femme fatale Dorothea Swann, a woman trying to escape a nightmare scenario that mixes truth and deception, fantasy and reality. Barker confidently guides his tale from one grand illusion to the next with a style that captures the strange beauty of the truly bizarre.
Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap) makes the jump from television star to cinematic leading man with ease as the troubled D'Amour. He approaches the character as a weary and cynical man who has seen too much and would like nothing more than to walk away from crazy shit, but is frequently drawn to the darkness in life. The ever-gorgeous Famke Janssen (Hemlock Grove) is the distressed Dorothea, a woman whose painful history makes her both sympathetic and dangerous. Kevin J. O'Connor (The Mummy) gets a rare chance to play the straight man as the doomed Philip Swann, an opportunist trapped by fame. Rounding out the central quartet is Joel Swetow (Rent) as Valentin, who serves as both Swann's assistant and Dorothea's protector. Daniel von Bargen (The Faculty) is particularly intimidating as Nix, the evil magician who vows to “murder the world”, and when you look in his eyes, you will totally believe that he can.
The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces, including an all too brief appearance by the late great Vincent Schiavelli (Ghost) as the master illusionist, Vinovich. He only gets one real scene, but owns every second of his limited screen time. One of the most interesting characters, Butterfield, is played by two different actors: first, an androgynous J. Trevor Edmond (Pumpkinhead II) in the prologue, and then as an adult by Barry Del Sherman (There Will Be Blood) for the majority of the picture. Both do a fine job with the creepy traits of the man and revel in his truly disturbing behavior. Sheila Tousey (Ravenous) and Joseph Latimore (Devil in a Blue Dress) play former cult members Jennifer and Quaid respectively, and each convey a sense of regret in their previous dealings with Nix, while Jordan Marder (American History X) plays Butterfield's volatile henchman, Miller, with malicious glee. Wayne Grace (Fire in the Sky) gives a nice performance as Loomis, the man who sends D'Amour on his way to California.
Clive Barker has proven repeatedly that he is a great storyteller and artist. His ability to work in multiple media (novels, paintings, film) is impressive and I would love the chance to see him behind the camera again soon. While Lord of Illusions is hardly the first movie to mix the neo-noir thriller with the horror genre (Angel Heart, Cast A Deadly Spell and Dead Again all come to mind), Barker creates a believable world that hides just in the shadows of our own familiar surroundings and fills it with well- developed characters. It is a shame so many others feel they know how to handle the material better than the creator, but between studio interference and troubles with the MPAA ratings board, Barker completes his third cinematic journey with yet another restored “director's cut” demanding a release, as Illusions lost roughly 14 minutes on its way into theaters. Fans will be happy to note that now all three of his titles are finally available uncut on Blu-ray and well worth the wait. The best trick the artist can pull off for his fans now is to make more films, books and paintings for years to come.
Video and Audio:
Both the theatrical and director's cut are presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The picture is fairly sharp on each with strong colors, deep blacks and natural-looking flesh tones throughout, but there are instances of dirt and print damage. This is particularly disappointing given the impressive treatment of older films with lower budgets than this. That being said, this is easily the best the movie has looked and is quite a step up from all previous releases.
Both cuts offer a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix that preserve the original stereo presentation. The film obviously benefits from the expanded 5.1 option, as music and effects are given the chance to fill the room, particularly during the final act.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Scream Factory's Lord of Illusions Collector's Edition offers two cuts of the film, each on their own Blu-ray disc.
The first disc presents the edited theatrical version (108 minutes), paired with the original trailer. It is nice to finally have both cuts in HD, but there is little reason to revisit this disc once you see the work as Barker intended.
The director's cut (121 minutes) receives a more thoughtful set of supplements, beginning with a note from Clive Barker expressing his appreciation for having the extended version of his film available on this edition.
Returning from the earliest Laser Disc release (1995) is an engaging audio commentary with Barker that is definitely worth checking out. The track is very informative, and longtime fans will cherish hearing the youthful strength in the director's voice as he shares his thoughts on the material, though he is prone to mixing his insight with simply narrating onscreen action.
A Gathering of Magic (18 minutes) is a vintage featurette that offers a glimpse at the making of the film through on-set production footage paired with cast and crew interviews. Everyone is typically fawning, but it is encouraging to hear so many praise Barker's imagination.
A more impressive collection of behind-the-scenes footage that was shot in 1994 appears in the rarely seen The Illusion of Reality (62 minutes), a documentary that anyone with an interest in how films are made will want to check out, as there is quite a bit of “fly on the wall” material here. This long-form piece follows the day-to-day process and offers a look at everything from Barker's directing process to the special make-up effects guys at work to camera blocking and cast rehearsals, which are presented in a split screen with finished film footage.
A collection of deleted scenes (3 minutes) are presented in 1.33.1 full frame with Barker's commentary, as the audio remains unfinished. The content offers a small number of inconsequential moments that were wisely trimmed from the end product, primarily for pacing.
Storyboard artist Martin Mercer shares his memories of working with Barker in the newly recorded interview Drawing Boards (12 minutes). It includes a side-by-side comparison of his work with the finished film.
A photo gallery slideshow runs 16 minutes and is set to selections from Simon Boswell's score. There are character images that showcase different wardrobes and make-up as well as traditional stills from the film, promotional photos and a look at the various poster art campaigns.
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