Clive Barker is widely regarded as one of the all-time masters of horror. It may seem weird, considering that most of his novels have been some form of fantasy. But on screen, he has definitely earned the title, being the creative force behind projects like Hellraiser, Candyman and Nightbreed. Of the three movies that Barker has directed, Lord of Illusions is the least known, despite just recently being released as a deluxe edition Blu-Ray from Scream Factory.
But now is the time to get familiar with Lord of Illusions. Because in a little over a month, Barker will release his long-anticipated novel The Scarlet Gospels. This is known mostly for being the book that will bring an end to the Hellraiser franchise. And while just about anyone familiar with horror is familiar with Pinhead, most people don’t know the book’s actual protagonist, Harry D’Amour.
D’Amour is an occult detective who has appeared in numerous Barker short stories as well as the novels The Great and Secret Show and Everville. He is also the main character of Lord of Illusions. The movie is written and directed by Barker, who ensured that Scott Bakula’s portrayal of the character was spot-on.
It’s a very different kind of thing from compared to Hellraiser and that also makes it important for fans to see before reading Scarlet Gospels. Naturally, there will be a contrast of tones with both Pinhead and D’Amour being such prominent characters in the novel.
On its own, Lord of Illusions really is a good movie, taking drastic liberties with the short story on which it is based to break off and tell its own stories. D’Amour is in LA investigating an insurance fraud when he is caught up in the tragic death of renowned magician Philip Swann.
His wife wanted to hire Harry, believing that someone was going to murder her husband. So he naturally believes that the death may be more than an accident. He is right, of course, and winds up dealing with an ancient magic cult, intent on resurrecting their former leader Nix—who named himself the Puritan before death.
Clearly, Lord of Illusions is inventive and complex. Because of that it may be hard to follow the first time, but the richness and complexity is one of the best things about it. It’s pure Barker, weaving magic flawlessly into sex and death and exploring the ideas of the aging body and immortality. The Puritan is a very Manson-like leader. Some of the scariest scenes are not fantasy-based, particularly the montage where the former cultists murder their families and loved ones when they receive the note that it is time to come back.
There’s a strong element of fantasy to Lord of Illusions, but it is horror to its core. Scott Bakula is great as Harry, one of Barker’s most important characters throughout his entire breadth of work. With the recently released Blu-Ray, which is incredibly well put together, as well as the upcoming book there has never been a better time to rediscover Barker’s last directorial feature.
The Blu-Ray has also been meticulously put together, restoring most of the cut footage in the form of a revised Director’s Cut. It’s also loaded with features and a new transfer to boot. D’Amour hasn’t appeared in Barker’s fiction for years, so one will probably only need a basic introduction to the character beforehand.
The movie is definitely the easiest way to do this, and Barker has confirmed that Bakula’s D’Amour will influence the character featured in the book, as much as Bradley’s performance impacts the Pinhead in the upcoming tome. Hellraiser fans are understandably excited for Scarlet Gospels, but if you’ve only ever seen that franchise then you’re only getting half of the story going in.