Lord of Illusions (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

If Clive Barker is credited as the writer and director of a film based on one of his own stories, you can bet that it will exhibit some twisted and truly inventive thinking, as well as the visual imagination necessary to create his gruesome world. Lord of Illusions, along with Nightbreed and Hellraiser, is one of three such films made between 1987 and 1995. It was directed by Barker from his own screenplay, which was in turn adapted by Barker from his own short story, "The Last Illusion".

The story begins as a black magician named Nix, a man who is trying to achieve immortality and the destruction of humanity through the black arts, is defeated by several of his former students, who imprison him in a bizarre iron mask and armor, then bury him deep underground.

That was the prologue.

The real story takes place thirteen years later, when some of Nix's disciples want to resurrect him from his grave. This proves to be immediately threatening to the students who had defeated him, because they know that if the Nix-man comes back from the grave, he's going to be in one foul mood, and will exact a terrible revenge on those who placed him underground.

The leader of the plot against Nix so many years ago was his most powerful disciple, who is now working as a magician, performing at The Magic Castle and the Pantages. His audiences think he is a master illusionist and showman, ala David Copperfield, but a few close associates know that his illusions are not illusions at all. He really can levitate, for example. He can actually perform magic because he stole or acquired some of Nix's vast powers.

The twist in the story is that the disciple and his wife, who was another participant in the plot against Nix, have hired a private detective. Why would they need a "regular Joe" kind of private dick in the timeless battle against the forces of evil? This detective, Clive Barker's Harry D'Amour, who appeared in three of Barker's stories ("The Great Secret Show", "The Last Illusion", and "Everville"), is quite similar to Dennis Wheatley's Duke de Richleau, in that he specializes in cases that involve the black arts in some ways. Although his clients' true motives are masked in this case, the detective comes to understand that his real job is to prevent the remaining cultists from resurrecting Nix or, failing that, to help the good guys destroy Nix.

The addition of the private detective may have had its value, but it also created some problems in the film:

1. It took the focus of the film away from the fantastical characters (Barker's strength) and toward the boring Joe Sweatsock detective and his pedestrian romance with the disciple's wife.

2. There really was no good structural reason to add the private eye, as opposed to focusing directly on the disciple and his wife. Normally the audience gets to solve a mystery along with a movie detective, but many aspects of this case were puzzling only to him, since the audience knew many of the secrets from watching the prologue. As a result, the audience spends a lot of time waiting for him to catch up.

3. The private eye started out in L.A. on a completely unrelated case, which again diverted the film away from the basic supernatural storyline and toward a routine surveillance of a guy who embezzled some money and partied with some everyday hookers.

If you've seen and liked Nightbreed and Hellraiser, the odds are pretty good that you'll like Lord of Illusions, but maybe not as much as the other two. I like Nightbreed and Hellraiser a lot, and I didn't think that Lord of Illusions reached the same heights (or depths) of depravity and creepiness. Compared to those other two films, more of Lord of Illusions takes place in the real world, with grounded, normal characters like the detective. I suppose an important measurement for the effectiveness of Barker's films is the number of times viewers scrunch up their faces in disgust or turn away altogether. This film provokes a few such moments, but not as many as Barker's other efforts. Still and all, I found it fascinating and fun.


  • Famke Janssen does a sex and apres-sex scene in which she is topless, but with her nipples always hidden from the camera by convenient hands, or shoulders, or elbows.
  • Two prostitutes are seen topless.
  • One topless female cultist is seen in the deleted footage.
  • There is full frontal and rear nudity from a male cultist.

DVD info from Amazon

  • full-length director's commentary

  • unrated director's cut

  • deleted scenes

Say, that guy Nix represents the pure evil of which mankind is capable. I wonder if he is supposed to represent Nixon.

Geez, I hope nobody is trying to resurrect HIM.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 3/4.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed $13 million in the USA.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Solid genre fare, although Clive Barker almost represents his own genre. This is creepy, sometimes nauseating, over-the-top fun for Barker fans. It is generally considered a hit by genre reviewers, and not by mainstream critics, but that generalization is not universally true. Roger Ebert, for example, did enjoy it and awarded three stars.

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