A Pair of Scream Factories #2: Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

For our second Scream Factory pairing, well, I just couldn't leave out this essential Clive Barker film any longer.  Not that it's his only other worthwhile picture... I was pleasantly surprised with that Midnight Meat Train movie.  But this completes the trilogy of the only films he's actually directed, plus nipping at the heels of Hellraiser and Candyman, the trilogy of his best work on film.  So let's see what Scream Factory did with it.
The premise feels a little self-indulgent, but Barker manages to pull all the elements together to work more effectively than they really should.  Scott Bakula plays an archetypal NY private eye. straight out of a 40's noir, hired by a mysterious and wealthy love interest (Famke Jannsen) to come to Hollywood and "help me help my husband... I know he's in some kind of trouble."  Said husband's a celebrity magician (the comic relief guy from The Mummy and Deep Rising, here for once in a convincing serious role) who's somehow mixed up with an evil cult in league with actual magical forces.  It gets pretty convoluted, with misleading illusions, classic noir plot twists and a huge cast of characters; but Barker manages to keep it all straight.
It's actually based on one of his Books of Blood stories, called The Last Illusion, but the story here goes in completely different directions.  It's full of eye candy, traveling from one exotic location to another, including the real Magic Castle in LA.  There's an army of vicious killers, an elaborate Vegas-style magic show, overt hetero- and homo-eroticism, secret doors, a killer monkey, flying monsters, gory special effects... clearly, Barker aimed to give audiences they could possibly want and mostly succeeds.  Not that it's a perfect film.  It's a detective story where we're introduced to all the villains before the hero, so the audience is mostly just waiting for the protagonist to get caught up and figure out what we already know.  And while most of the special effects are beautifully crafted by KNB, it also suffers from a terrible case of the bad CGIs, being one of horror's earliest adapters and using throwing some awful animation in our faces for what should be the film's biggest money shots.
a frame only in the theatrical cut
a scene only in the director's cut
And I suppose I should also talk about the two cuts of the film.  There's the original, R-rated theatrical cut, and then an extended director's cut that largely replaced it on home video.  It's a solid eight or so minutes longer, and movie-censorship gives a nice scene-specific breakdown of the distinctions.  But in short, the film was clearly cut for two different reasons at the same time: length for the studio and violence for the MPA.  So the extended cut gives us a nice dose of extra bits of nastiness as well as dry "regular" scenes that enrich the story and characters.  Barker's stated, and I strongly agree, that it's the preferable cut of the film.  The theatrical cut has very little unique footage, just a few trims and frames as specific edits are different - it's mostly just missing stuff.  Frankly, I see very little reason to ever revisit the theatrical cut; but hey, if labels want to give us the option, I'll take it.
Lord of Illusions has had a surprisingly quiet life on home video.  MGM issued the DVD, which contains the director's cut, way back in 1998.  And except for them occasionally porting that disc over to another region, that's been all we've had right up until 101 Films commissioned it for blu-ray in 2014.  They put out a new HD transfer with a separate blu for each cut, and that's also what Scream Factory released State-side the same year, but with their reliably more fleshed out special features package.
1) MGM 1998 DVD; 2) SF 2014 theatrical cut; 3) SF 2014 director's cut.
Unlike our last post, the difference between MGM's DVD and Scream's BD is huge.  That might be just as much about how surprisingly poor MGM's DVD is, though, considering it's a major studio disc of a modern film ...though it is a pretty old disc.  Anyway, it has a real murky look to it, almost like a tape source (but not) except with bunch of artifacting, too, just in case you thought details weren't obscured enough.  Possibly they just upres'ed the laserdisc?  It's at least anamorphic widescreen, and free of interlacing, but the DVD is distinctly below par, giving Scream an easy win.  For their part, the box just refers to their version as an "all-new, high definition transfer," and considering how light the grain is, this clearly isn't a fancy 4k scan or anything, but it's a pretty solid HD transfer that, again, stomps all over what came before it.  Besides the obvious boost in clarity and fine detail, and cleaner digitization, it also smartens up the color, which felt a little washed in a heavy red hue.  And they tighten up the aspect ratio from 1.77 to 1.84:1 (despite claiming 1.78:1 on the case).  Oh, and for the record, the theatrical and director's cut transfers are for all intents and purposes identical, though I did spot a little more film dirt/ damage on the few moments unique to the TC than the rest of either cut,  But even there, it's just a few sporadic spots, like the black spots you can see on the upper right of that TC screenshot I posted above.

Both the MGM and Scream discs feature a robust 5.1 mix, boosted to DTS-HD on the blu, with optional  subtitles.  But Scream has also gone back and recovered the original stereo mix, also in DTS-HD, which is a very nice touch.
Scream Factory certainly topped the 101 blu-ray, which only included the old commentary; but they came up surprisingly light in the special features department for this movie.  Almost all of the extras are legacy, which certainly doesn't mean that they're bad or anything, but I think we're just used to SF cooking up more goodies, especially on their "Collector's Edition," like this one.

So yeah, the MGM has the commentary by Barker, plus a handful of deleted scenes, also with optional commentary by Barker.  He's a little stiff, but as the man so clearly behind all aspects of this production all the way back to the original short story, he has a lot of great insight to share.  They also have a text intro by Barker, an isolated music track, the trailer and an 8-page booklet.  As a former owner of the original 1996 laserdisc, I didn't notice until making this comparison that they dropped the 17-minute 'making of' featurette.
So one nice plus of the Scream disc is that they not only hold onto all the DVD stuff (except the isolated score... they dropped that for some reason), they bring back that little 'making of.'  And they dug up a substantial, hour long collection of behind-the-scenes footage, which is completely engrossing.  But in terms of newly produced features, there's just one thing: a 12 minute on-camera interview with the storyboard artist.  It's a good interview - even if you think storyboard artist doesn't rank high enough to pique your interests, I recommend giving it a watch - but that's it.  Well, that and a photo gallery, reversible cover art and a slipcover.  But for a Collector's Edition of such a high profile title, it feels like the budget got somewhat slashed.

Still, it's the best edition going and an absolute must-upgrade over the DVD, a stark difference from Bubba Ho-Tep.  And unless Barker finally makes the sequel he's been hinting at for decades, it's probably the best disc of Lord of Illusions we'll ever see.  Thankfully, it's rather good.


  1. If memory serves, wasn't 101's Director's Cut a composite of the new theatrical scan and upscaled SD footage for the exclusive bits?

    1. Yeah, or the whole DC might've been SD? I remember reading about it when it was coming out and deciding I wasn't worth it for some reason along those lines.