Clive Barker, 1995
Starring: Scott Bakula, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O'Connor, J. Trevor Edmond
I haven't really thought until recently about how big of an impact Clive Barker has had on me. It seems obvious, but I was growing up and discovering horror around the end of his major burst of film work. Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Candyman, etc. I was old enough to be scared by his films and fiction, which is something I can't say of many people other than David Cronenberg. And fortunately my dad is a huge Clive fan (yes, we're on a first name basis), so he was an artist on the edge of my consciousness much earlier than he otherwise would have been.
Lord of Illusions, for some reason, is a film I didn't get around to seeing until recently. I'd heard a lot of mixed things about it and it just sort of slipped under my radar. I was pleasantly surprised. It's a flawed film, but definitely belongs in the Clive canon. Written, directed, and co-produced by him, it has many of the pleasures of his earlier works -- tortured protagonists, sexual menace, monstrous humanoids, and the thirst for forbidden knowledge. It also has beautiful set pieces and cinematography. Lord of Illusions is along the lines of the some of the later John Carpenter films in the sense that it's flawed, but remains dark, creepy, and fun. ...And it has SCOTT BAKULA. I don't know how I missed that Bakula was in it, but I love him thanks to hours of Quantum Leap in my childhood.
Lord of Illusions is based on Clive's short story "The Last Illusion" from the Books of Blood. Down on his luck private eye, Harry D'Amour, is hired to go to L.A. and track down some insurance fraud. Instead, he gets mixed up in the world of Swann, a famous illusionist, and stays to investigate Swann's apparent death when one of his illusions goes horribly wrong. He also wants to nail Swann's wife, the young and very hot Famke Janssen. It turns out that Swann was using real magic in his illusions, which he learned from a scary magician/cult leader named Nix. Nix lost control and Swann was forced to kill him. As you might imagine, some of Nix's old followers hatch a plan to bring him back and let him wreak havoc and revenge.
I would definitely recommend Lord of Illusions to all Clive Barker fans, but don't set your hopes too high. It's not Hellraiser. My chief complaint is that the film tries a bit too hard with the magic and the special effects are not advanced enough to catch up. Barker does a great job combining film noir and the supernatural. There are a lot of similarities between Lord of Illusions and Angel Heart. The Harry D'Amour character, strangely, is also almost exactly like an American John Constantine from the Hellblazer comics. Coincidence? I have no idea.
I'm reviewing the director's cut, which you should make sure to see. It's 11 minutes longer than the cut-to-shit theatrical release and contains one of the best and most chilling scenes in the film. The former cult members resurface, dispassionately kill their families, and set out to the desert to welcome Nix's resurrection.
On a final note, I think one of my favorite things about Barker's films is that they are pretty well critically received and remain genre films with a toe in the mainstream, but they also have unabashedly gay elements. I'd love more of that across the board in horror, which tends to be a genre steeped in normative heterosexuality. For instance, it's a breath of fresh air that one of Lord of Illusion's characters -- Butterfield, played by a fantastically reptilian Barry del Sherman -- wears gold snake-skin pants.