Lord of Illusions: Unrated Director's Cut DVD Review

Written by Eric Strauss

DVD released by MGM Home Entertainment

Written and directed by Clive Barker
1995, Region 1 (NTSC), 121 minutes, Unrated
DVD released on September 29th, 1998

Scott Bakula as Harry D'Amour
Kevin J. O'Connor as Philip Swann
Famke Janssen as Dorothea Swann
Daniel Von Bargen as Nix


Lord of Illusions is an eerie tale of a man treading the line between darkness and light, and what happens when he crosses paths with another man, who walks the line between illusion and terrifying reality.

Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula, best known for TV's "Quantum Leap") is a private investigator trying to rebound from his last case — an exorcism. Given an easy, lucrative job in Los Angeles, he gets more than he bargains for when he trails an insurance fraud case to a fortune teller — and stumbles onto a murder that leads him to the famed illusionist Philip Swann and his lovely wife, Dorothea, and lands the private eye smack in the middle of what could be the second coming of a long-buried cult leader.

Bakula is a fine actor who plays the world-weary but determined D'Amour well. He is joined by several other fine actors, particularly Kevin J. O'Connor (The Mummy), who has recently appeared as the comic relief in several movies, but plays the ex-cultist Swann with haunted eyes and only the slightest evidence of his usual hokiness. Famke Janssen (The House on Haunted Hill) plays Dorothea with the right mix of vulnerability and edge, and supporting actors Barry Del Sherman (American Beauty) as the cultist Butterfield and Joel Swetow as the Swanns' right-hand man Valentin are also effective. The ever-menacing Daniel Von Bargen (O Brother, Where Art Thou) is just right in his small but vital role as the cult leader Nix.

Part noir-inspired mystery and part behind-the-curtain horror, Lord of Illusions sets its disconcerting tone early with the opening scenes involving a young Swann and his friends (including the man who will grow up to be the fortune teller) rescuing a young girl from their former companions at the desert cult. The casual nudity and sado-masochism of the cult leaps into high gear when the companions locate Nix and the girl, and bring about the apparent downfall of the cult in an event that will haunt them the rest of their lives.

And indeed, by the time D'Amour comes on the scene, the companions are reaping what they have sown — one former cultist, Butterfield, is after them and, more importantly, hell-bent on resurrecting his master Nix. When Swann's last illusion (the title of the short story upon which the movie is based) goes awry, it is up to D'Amour and Dorothea to figure out what is going on, and stop it.

As their quest continues, so too does the "something's-not-quite-right" atmosphere — from Butterfield's different-color eyes to the "Magic Castle," the hangout of California's most talented illusionists, everything about the film seems askew from the way things should be. The film is bloody, but not gratuitous, with the gore and scares adding to the tone of the film, not taking away from it. The "everyman" hero likewise is used effectively - the audience doesn't fully understand what is going on, and neither does D'Amour.

Presented in a director's cut version, the film clocks in at a shade over two hours, but uses its time effectively to flesh out characters and thus lend weight to their peril as they try to stop the man/monster who claims he was "born to murder the world."

Video and Audio:

The anamorphic widescreen image is sharp, but the colors are soft and muted to a certain degree. There is also a general dinginess to the overall film. However, during the rare bright scenes, the image is a little sharper, so perhaps this is a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers. On the other hand, the frequent instances of print damage in a fairly recent film suggest otherwise.

A film full of intriguing setpieces and tiny details is carried off acceptably, despite the flaws in the source material. There are no noticeable flaws in the transfer to the digital medium, and the lack of artifacts and edge enhancement is a definite plus.

The Dolby 5.1 audio track is more than acceptable, with booming bass in the appropriate places and use of the surrounds for atmosphere. This is hardly a reference or show-off track, but the sound and music of the film go a long way toward enhancing the film's creepy feel, and it conveys that aspect well.

Special Features:

Lord of Illusions includes a pair of nice audio extras. The first is a fine audio commentary (apparently recorded for a laserdisc) with writer/director Clive Barker. Though speaking solo, Barker seldom pauses, and offers up plenty of information on everything from effects to characterization — particularly explaining what was added to this director's cut and why he prefers it.

The second extra audio track is the isolated music score. The music by Simon Boswell is moody in the right places and aggressive in the right places and fits the film well. The downside is, as with any such track, there are long dead spots, and this has no commentary to fill them.

The disc also includes three short deleted scenes (not part of the director's cut or theatrical version) with optional commentary, only one of which adds anything innparticular to the film. Also included is the widescreen red-band trailer, which contains its fair share of gore.

This DVD was released back when MGM included eight-page booklets full of production notes, and the booklet contains its share of interesting information.


Movie: 4.5 Stars – Atmospheric and gory, but thoughtful in its way, and not for everyone's taste.
Video: 3 Stars – A clear, detailed image hurt by a softness of color and a noticeably damaged print.
Audio: 4 Stars – Effective, but unspectacular.
Features: 4.5 Stars – A good commentary by Barker and several other features of interest to fans.
Overall: 4 Stars – A solid effort from MGM for a worthy film.


Lord of Illusions is an underrated film that effectively combines the noirish elements of a detective story with the chilling elements of an otherworldly horror piece. Bakula's everyman portrayal of Harry D'Amour and Barker's eerie story and direction help draw audiences in, and as the movie's fervored cultists discover, once you are in the thrall of Nix, it is difficult to tear yourself away.

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