Lord of Illusions: Clive Barker’s Underrated Supernatural Noir

Though Stephen King is still the ‘Master of Horror’, Clive Barker is an undeniably unique voice in the literary genre. And as a filmmaker, Barker’s directorial efforts are marked improvements over King’s one-shot directing gig, Maximum Overdrive. Behind the camera, Barker directed both Hellraiser and Nightbreed, both uniquely classic additions to horror. After Nightbreed failed to find audiences in theatres, Barker waited several years before making Lord of Illusions. Unfortunately, Barker’s adaptation of yet another of his own stories didn’t cast much of a spell on the box office. Truth be told, Barker’s third directorial effort failed to make much of an impression when I first saw it. But years later, a re-visit of an extended Director’s Cut changed my mind.

Synopsis

When private investigator Harry D’Amour heads to Los Angeles to follow up on an insurance scam case, he finds himself embroiled in a world of dark magic and illusions. During his case, D’Amour stumbles on a murder scene. Soon thereafter a mysterious woman hires him to investigate the same murder, fearing her husband, famous illusionist Swann, may be the next victim. Years ago, Swann escaped a cult, rescuing a young girl and killing the group’s leader, a man named Nix. Now Nix’s followers are re-surfacing with more than just revenge on their minds. Swann fears they may be trying to resurrect Nix, a practitioner of dark magic who called himself ‘The Puritan’.

Lord of Illusions Mixes Genres into a Wholly Unique Horror Movie

After a decade of slasher sequels, Lord of Illusions is a refreshingly original horror movie. Barker effortlessly blends what’s essentially a noir detective’s story into a twisting tale of the occult. It’s opening scene in a cult’s compound is harrowing stuff. In fact, it may be one of the better horror movie openings. From that point onward, Lord of Illusions takes us from sun-soaked LA streets into a fascinating world of magic and illusions. True, some of the movie’s special effects are dated. A few effect shots may remind horror fans of other early 90s movies like The Lawnmower Man. Yet other effects are as gruesome as anything Barker had previously committed to the screen. Most importantly, Lord of Illusions aptly shows off Barker’s morbid creativity.

Lord of Illusions takes us from sun-soaked LA streets into a fascinating world of magic and illusions.

Additionally, The Director’s Cut pleasantly surprises as not only superior but essential. In most cases, Director’s Cut don’t improve bad movies; they just make them longer. Exhibit A – the ‘Producer’s Cut’ of Halloween – The Curse of Michael Myers. And The Director’s Cut of Lord of Illusions does make it a longer movie. But the added running time only makes the story more coherent. Specifically, the extended version tells a better story while feeling even more engaging and tense. What this version of Lord of Illusions offers is an enthralling trip into the occult. In the end, the complete movie puts you in Harry D’Amour’s shoes as he plunges deeper into a dark world. The result – a movie that leaves you wanting more, even if the climax itself underwhelms.

Lord of Illusions Makes Some Interesting Casting Choices That Work Better Than Expected

Outside of Scott Bakula’s presence, much of Lord of Illusion’s casting decisions are … interesting. While the central villain, Nix, only figures into the movie’s beginning and ending, Daniel von Bargen seemed an unlikely choice. For 1995 audiences, von Bargen was still probably best known for his role as ‘Krueger’ in Seinfeld. Yet regardless of any preconception, von Bargen deftly navigates his role as the enigmatic cult leader. He’s equal parts charismatic and menacing. The performance lives up to the character’s ghastly make-up effects.

Bakula was made for the character – it’s a casting choice that fits like a comfortable pair of sneakers.

Not surprisingly, Bakula effortlessly steps into the role of private investigator Harry D’Amour. Bakula was made for the character – it’s a casting choice that fits like a comfortable pair of sneakers. He perfectly embodies the character and makes one wish that Barker had followed up Lord of Illusions with another Harry D’Amour movie. If these casting decisions pay off in dividends, character actor Kevin J O’Connor (The Mummy, Deep Rising) is a tougher sell as Swann. Arguably, O’Connor works better in comic supporting roles. His fit with the character is shaky at best. Fortunately, Barry Del Sherman is damn creepy as on of Nix’s loyal followers. And Famke Janssen is good with what little she has to work in the movie.

Lord of Illusions One of the 90’s Best Horror Movies

Without a doubt, Lord of Illusions is a movie that needs to be watched more than once to fully appreciate it. Given how unique it was compared to aging horror franchises at the time, Barker’s movie might be too easy to dismiss on a single viewing. Consider it also one of the rare examples of a ‘Director’s Cut’ that actually benefits the movie. Yes, some of its effects are dated by today’s standards. But Lord of Illusions blends noir with supernatural horror into a fascinating and completely original story. Too bad Barker never gave us more of Harry D’Amour’s paranormal adventures.

FINAL VERDICT: A 90’S MOVIE WORTH A RE-VISIT

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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