If you love Stallone’s bonafide action films, then Cobra is absolutely one of his signature outings. It also has an interesting origin. It originally started out when Stallone was cast as the lead in Beverly Hills Cop, but instead of the action comedy we got with Eddie Murphy, Sly did rewrites to essentially change Axel Foley to Marion Cobretti. When he and Paramount couldn’t agree on this, they parted ways, and Cobra was born. This is also an adaptation of the novel Fair Game by Paula Gosling, which was the basis for a William Baldwin film in 1995 of the same name. I’ve never seen that film, but this one, it is a really damn good one.
Lt. Marion Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) is a one-man assault force whose laser-mount submachine gun and pearl handled Colt 9mm spit pure crime-stopping venom. Cobretti finds himself pitted against a merciless serial killer called the Night Slasher (Brian Thompson). The trail leads to not one murderer but to an army of psychos bent on slashing their way to a “New Order”- and killing the inadvertent witness Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen) to their latest blood spree. Fortunately, Cobra is her protector intent on bringing down these brutal maniacs.
Very notably, Cobra was helmed by director George P. Cosmatos who also did Rambo: First Blood, Part II and the absolutely amazing Tombstone. Under his skills, this is an excellent action movie! Primarily, the quality of the cinematography and editing is amazingly superb. I see a lot of good quality films of this sort on the filmographies of the editors and cinematographer that prove to me that this was not a one-off shining moment. This film does have a gritty style with a strong sense of mood and atmosphere for the urban environment. I took special note of just how well visualized this film was, which would have turned out very generic in much lesser hands. With Cosmatos, Cobra has real bite and punch. He also executes the high tension and suspense sequences with remarkable ability. The parking garage scene where the Night Slasher is stalking Ingrid is a gorgeous example of this.
The Cobretti character is surprisingly understated in most cases. Sure, when he’s in the heat of action, he’s bad ass and intense, but outside of that, Stallone plays it cool. He’s calm and collected handling urgent scenarios with confidence and sharp action. Stallone also brings his usual heart and charm, adding a little charisma and levity to Cobra, but overall, he’s a hard edged cop that’s ready to kick ass at a moment’s notice. The entire look of Cobra with the five o’clock shadow, black overcoat, mirror aviator glasses, and the wicked cool 9mm just certifies the character as awesome. Its not a character that jumps off the screen, but with that great look and a couple of cool one-liners, Marion Cobretti drives forward an entertaining film.
Brigitte Nielsen might be regarded very poorly today, but early in her career, she was particularly good. Her performance as Ingrid is soft and gentle in the most part, but she also handles the terrified moments in the film exceptionally well. Not surprisingly, she and Stallone have real good chemistry. They would later marry and divorce within a few years. Here, you can see their real life affectionate for one another shine through on the screen making for a heartfelt connection that adds more depth to both characters.
The use of Brian Thompson as the Night Slasher, our main villain, is just right. I honestly have never felt he was a particularly good actor outside of his powerful physical presence. However, the script and Cosmatos wisely utilize his imposing figure and psychotic killer look instead. He has extremely little dialogue until the climax where he monologs his creed about his New Order, and he does an exceptional job with this dialogue letting his deep voice carry its weight.
And I love Andrew Robinson in everything I’ve seen him in. He beautifully plays the smarmy Detective Monte who likes to throw his weight around, and dig his ego into Cobretti like a thorn in your side. You can’t wait to see this guy get what’s coming to him by the end.
By no doubt, there is a lot of excellent action here. Stallone gets plenty of chances to get physical with some hard edged fight scenes. Then, there’s an adrenalin pumping car chase with some great car stunts and rapid gunfire. Add in some tense, scary moments of Ingrid fighting for her life from the Night Slasher, and you’ve got a very intense, exciting action movie from a director who just knew how to film it with masterful vision. The editing on these action sequences is so perfectly tight. This is especially exemplified in the amazingly dynamic shootout and chase sequences that kick start the climax. The rhythm, pacing, and impressive choice of angles are just excellence on display. Cosmatos was a brilliant action sequence visionary, and everything in that climax is bad ass and awesome. It starts out hard and fast, and then, gets tough and brutal inside the industrial factory. The final confrontation between Cobra and the Night Slasher is really damn good. This is a great, tense, climactic moment that Stallone and Thompson play dead-on-the-mark in this fiery, industrial setting aided by the excellent cinematography and Cosmatos’ razor sharp direction. It’s wicked cool.
Further showcasing that this is an 80’s movie is the rock soundtrack. It starts with a sweet montage sequence fueled by “Angel of the City” by Robert Tepper, who also contributed “No Easy Way Out” for Rocky IV. We then get a couple of other tracks that are catchy, upbeat, and energizing to the vibe of the movie. This helps keep the film lively and little more memorable. The actual score by Sylvester Levay here serves its purpose right fine, but doesn’t standout as anything exceptional.
Cobra is a fun, entertaining, exciting film packed with action. It has a moody, serious tone with the door comfortably open for levity, but it never gets especially cheesy. This is a really good action movie that will satisfy even today. The standard fare script by Stallone is entirely elevated by George Cosmatos’ stylish directing talents. Cobretti himself is not all that fascinating as it’s the attitude and look that sets him apart including the cobra emblem Colt 9mm and the custom 1950 Mercury. It’s not a character that puts a challenge on Stallone, but he likely enjoyed the experience. I certainly would have enjoyed seeing a sequel, but this was also a time where Sylvester Stallone’s ego started swelling a lot. So, I can imagine there could have been some behind the scenes conflicts. Regardless, check out Cobra! It’s a solid piece of action cinema!
This has become a very well known version of Halloween 6 to fans over the years, most deeming it superior to the theatrical cut. It has never been officially released by Dimension Films, and can only be found in bootleg form on both VHS and DVD. Today, you can actually find the full cut freely on YouTube. Among other things, the altered ending is also due to the passing of Donald Pleasance following principal photography, but that was hardly the catalyst for the extent of these changes. As explained in the review of the theatrical version of this film, Halloween 6 was turned into a mess of a film in post-production following poor test screening reactions and severe creative differences between director Joe Chapelle and the film’s producers. Thus, this version of the film was dubbed “The Producers’ Cut.” Suffice it to say, there are distinct and dramatic differences between this version and the theatrical cut.
The setup and premise for the film remains basically the same as the official theatrical release, but this cut follows a slightly different chain of events. There are alternate death scenes with some happening later in the film, allowing characters to survive longer than in the theatrical version. One of those is that Jamie Lloyd is not killed by Michael, but rather, dies in the hospital later on by the hands of the Man in Black. This adds back scenes of Loomis and Wynn in the hospital that better explain how Tommy runs into Dr. Loomis there. Overall, the film gives more time to developing the relationship between Doctors Wynn and Loomis. Right from the start there is an extended introduction scene, and as the story goes along a different chain of events, there are more scenes of them together which build them into a stronger, more prominent part of the plot. More foreboding seeds are planted towards the rune of Thorn as well.
Music cues are also different in mostly eliminating the false scares throughout the film, and you will find no trace of wailing rock guitars anywhere. The score is more in the traditional Halloween style with a focus on atmosphere and tension. A definite difference from the start is Donald Pleasance doing the opening narration instead of Paul Rudd’s Tommy Doyle. We also get a flashback to a never used, never seen ending to Halloween 5 where Jamie, portrayed by Danielle Harris, is abducted by the Man in Black. Of course, where this version of this film departs from the theatrical version is more in the final act. I won’t go spoiling much, but everything after Tommy and Loomis are knocked unconscious is almost completely different. The film follows through on the occult aspects it establishes instead of the nonsensical genetic cloning swerve the theatrical outing offers. Several scenes throughout the final twenty minutes were re-shot with a heavily revised script, leading to the more ‘by-the-numbers’ ending we eventually got. The Producer’s Cut ending is less action-oriented, and more plot centric using the idea of the runes to cancel out Michael’s own power to allow for a potential escape for some.
I believe this version is a definite improvement over the theatrical cut. The film follows its own logic throughout whereas the theatrical cut veers off track, essentially disregarding the development of the story at the start of the final act. The Producer’s Cut retains a consistency and continuity within its own story, and with its predecessors. While it requires the story to delve further into bizarre territory, it seems more satisfactory. More importantly, it is all rather well explained through the course of the overall film. This is mainly done by Tommy, but in the final act, Terrence Wynn goes further in depth about the motives behind it all. The film doesn’t envelop itself in clichés or formulaic horror film scenarios building up to or during the film’s conclusion. It presents a climax and ending which respects the development of the story, serves the tone and themes appropriately. It also leaves a much clearer opening for a sequel with a definite storyline to follow down. Unfortunately, this storyline and its continuity were shelved and ignored by the makers of the subsequent sequels. While I would’ve liked to see such a proper continuation, I don’t believe it would’ve been successful. Any non-fans would be turned off and lost with such a continuation. This is merely by the fact of long-stretching mythology and continuity that newcomers would be unaware of. Of course, this would allow for even lower box office numbers. I’m sure the death of Donald Pleasance wouldn’t leave much confidence in the franchise’s future along this path, either.
I don’t see a real point in reviewing the acting since the quality of the performances don’t change from one cut to the other. Rarely, if at all, does an alternate take appear, and it’s more a fact of extended and additional scenes appearing throughout. Although, aspects of the editing should be addressed. Whereas the theatrical version is far gorier than previous Halloween films, this cut removes a good deal of the gratuitous bloodshed. This helps to put it back on track with the other Michael Myers outings, and much like with Alan Howarth’s score, keeps the horror focused more on atmosphere and suspense than on shock gore value. I believe both cuts of the film were done by the same editor, Randolph K. Bricker, and so, the quality of the editing is quite consistent between both versions. Of course, without a doubt, the story flows much better in this version. This is probably because there’s more story here to work with between various characters. Even the timeline alteration of Jamie’s death offers up a well-timed plot turn, and a slightly tighter pace about one-third of the way into the film. It also keeps the idea of the Man in Black alive where he’s barely present in the theatrical cut. Also, bare in mind, the Producer’s Cut was put together first. So, the theatrical version’s gratuitous gore was all added in later, but still, several small character moments were excised in the theatrical version. In regards to the Strode family turmoil, while they are nice touches, I don’t think either cut is exceptionally better or worse because of their presence or absence. Still, it helps to give an extra touch of depth to one or two characters.
I can honestly say that I do find more enjoyment in watching this version of the film, but watching a multi-generational bootleg copy, no matter what lengths skilled fans go to improve the experience, is not something I would do often. I really feel that if Dimension Films had any intention of releasing the Producer’s Cut officially on a properly mastered DVD or Blu-Ray release, they likely would have done it already. Still, it is an investment in time and money, and there’s no guarantee that they still have all the necessary elements to present the complete film. Sometimes, audio tracks or film elements are lost. Beyond that, who knows what condition the master print is in. I’m not saying these are absolute certainties, but there are numerous factors to take into consideration. Of course, if they don’t show the initiative, we’ll never know. Regardless, if you ever have the opportunity to view this version of the film, I believe it is worth your while if the more occult aspects of the story intrigue you. Like I said, it’s readily available on YouTube, for the time being, so it costs you nothing to give it a look.
The early-to-mid 1990s were generally not a good era for horror films. The slasher craze of the 80s was dead, and the few surviving franchises were really limping along, creatively and/or commercially. Now in the hands of Dimension Films, who had already begun tarnishing the Hellraiser franchise, Moustapha Akkad pushed forward with a sixth installment in the Halloween series. It would explore the origins of Michael Myers, and follow-up on the events in The Revenge of Michael Myers. It had good beginnings, but what could’ve been a very solid and satisfying film for certain fans, turned into a real mess with an obscured potential. It just goes to show that certain franchises shouldn’t be given to certain studios.
Following six years later, much has changed for our familiar characters. Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) has retired after suffering a stroke during his last encounter with Michael Myers. Almost everyone believes that Jamie Lloyd and Myers died that night. Although, it is October 30th, 1995, and things are about to change further. In actuality, Michael survived, and Jamie (J.C. Brandy) has been held captive by the Man in Black and his cohorts all this time. Jamie has since been impregnated, and is now mother to a newborn baby boy. In an escape attempt, Michael pursues her relentlessly. Meanwhile, shock jock Barry Simms (Leo Geter) holds a radio broadcast about the return of Halloween to Haddonfield, and one of his callers is a panicked Jamie Lloyd, calling out for help. Among those listening are Tommy Doyle (Paul Stephen Rudd) as well as old friends Dr. Loomis and Dr. Terrence Wynn (Mitch Ryan). Of course, it is not long before Michael claims his niece’s life in quite a gory fashion. While the child is lost to The Shape, Tommy soon tracks the baby boy down, and chooses to protect him. Loomis & Wynn soon join the hunt for Myers, but ulterior motives loom in the shadows for some. Meanwhile, relatives of Laurie Strode – including Kara (Marianne Hagan) and her young son Danny – now occupy the old Myers home, and are in danger of Michael’s boundless evil. Tommy, quite obsessed with the truth about Michael Myers, believes he has discovered the origin of his evil, but how this version of the film progresses, it eventually becomes irrelevant.
It is rather easy to see how this entry in the series failed to be a serious success. The main factor is that, after poor test screenings, Dimension Films ordered the third act to be re-shot and much of the film to be re-edited to be a much less intelligible story. However, the original version survives in the bootleg market as “The Producer’s Cut.” In this, the theatrical cut of the film, there’s much left to be desired regarding the plot. What begins as a supposed occult plot surrounding Michael eventually takes a sharp swerve towards some form of genetic cloning, and all things occult are bafflingly washed away. The film also goes for a lot of cheap, false scares which only degrade the quality of the film. Re-casting or dispatching with the character of Jamie Lloyd didn’t win any fans over either. However, Danielle Harris did not like the script, or what happened to Jamie in it. So, she passed, forcing the role to be given to another actress who did a fine job, but the re-casting does affect the impact of what does happen to Jamie here.
What I do enjoy a great deal about this film is what many don’t like – the entire Thorn / occult plotline. Many despise it, but it’s much the same as I like Jason Goes To Hell. It offers up a better explanation than just “he’s evil.” Evil alone doesn’t make you immortal and impervious to injury or pain. There has to be a reason, and after a while, you need to add something more to the stalk and slash formula to keep it interesting. Whether it succeeds or fails depends on how well the explanation is integrated into the established mythos. For me, I think screenwriter Daniel Farrands did a very exceptional job tying all the little bits and pieces scattered throughout the films into a credible storyline. While the entire Thorn mark on Michael in Halloween 5 was purely random, trying to give Moustapha Akkad some thread to continue with into the next sequel, I find it is quite a valid revelation. Like it or not, John Carpenter did set this up, partially, years ago. When filming additional scenes for the network television broadcast of the original Halloween, he introduced the plot twist that Laurie was Michael’s sister. He also introduced the idea of Michael being linked to Samhain in his and Debra Hill’s script for Halloween II. Despite which belief system you categorize it under, Samhain is directly linked with an array of paranormal and supernatural events and rituals. All of which involving the relationship between the living and the dead. Therefore, while none of this origin came from a singular stream of consciousness, it all eventually fit together with perfect logic. If for nothing else, in my honest opinion, it’s a better and more creative origin for Michael Myers than what trash Rob Zombie tried to feed us. I don’t believe in making evil incarnate a sympathetic figure. You shouldn’t feel sorry for evil, but you should respect its power and legacy. The one person who survives throughout these films is the one who respects and never underestimates the evil that is The Shape, namely Dr. Loomis.
The film has a solid setup giving us plenty of mysterious and haunting elements that create suspense. Having the Man in Black haunting Danny Strode was handled nicely, and created a driving plot element which passionately involved Kara Strode. She’s not being randomly stalked. She is fighting for the safety of her son, and thus, naturally forms an allegiance with Tommy Doyle. Bringing back a character from the original film, and developing him down this path is something I’ve always strongly enjoyed. He could’ve been the Halloween franchise’s allegory to Tommy Jarvis from the Friday The 13th films – a young protagonist who has dedicated himself to understand the evil that once stalked him, and seeks to destroy it, once and for all. Doyle is very smartly handled in this story giving the character enough weight to bring credibility to everything he says. Just as how Dr. Loomis could come off as very preposterous if wrongly cast, the same goes for Tommy Doyle. Where Loomis has always brought a dreadful urgency to the plot, Tommy brings a scary vibe of mystique as he explains the truth of Michael Myers. The addition of Dr. Terrence Wynn mixes both of those into a heavy, frightening threat, regardless of which cut of the film you view.
While all the Strode family drama was quite unnecessary, it at least has some bearing on the story and the characters. It creates enough emotional turmoil for Kara which makes her more vulnerable and emotionally open for an audience to connect with. However, on the down side, I definitely get that John Strode is not meant to be likeable in the least, but he actually comes off as far too stereotypical, dumb, and tiresome. He’s a dull thud of a character that I just wanted to be rid of, and if the film spent less time with him, I would have been perfectly all right with that. That is really the only character which fell flat for me. Actor Bradford English just didn’t seem like a very solid fit for this role, and does little with it for anyone to take him very seriously. He comes off like a bull-headed buffoon. Even the crass shock jock character of Barry Simms is vehemently unlikeable, but he’s supposed to be, and Leo Geter hit the role perfectly on the mark.
Now, what further drives this away from the tone of a Halloween film is the excessive gore. The splatter level here is more akin to that of a Friday The 13th film. The Halloween films have, generally, been more focused on atmospheric horror than shock gore. I can only fault director Joe Chapelle for a good measure of this. He was the one Dimension Films called on to re-shoot sequences for Hellraiser: Bloodline. Thus, essentially butchering everything that film had left going for it after the Weinstein’s kicked Clive Barker and original director Kevin Yahger off the project. He’s clearly not a filmmaker who strives to fight for his vision or establish his own identity. He does what the studio wants him to do, even if it means butchering his own film or someone else’s. Chapelle also perceived Donald Pleasance’s performance as “boring,” and cutout several of his scene from the film, further showing Joe Chapelle’s lack of sense for good talent. Clearly, there was a good movie under all these re-shoots and re-edits that Chapelle deserves some credit for, but he really loses a lot of that credit and respect due to his track record with this film and others.
Fortunately, the acting rises far above anything that might be lacking in the director’s chair. Donald Pleasance, as always, delivers what had always kept this film series so unique. He provides a dramatic and emotional weight which brings an honest credibility to the film, despite what strange turns it might take. Paul Rudd and Marianne Hagan bring equally real and solid performances. Rudd fashioned a definite eerie quality for Tommy making it quite apparent that he’s had a weird time of it since Halloween, 1978. I always find myself especially intrigued by his character, hoping that a subsequent film would follow him in more depth, but that really became a dashed hope. Beyond just the change of direction in the franchise, Paul Rudd emphatically made it known he’d never work with these filmmakers again. He signed onto what was supposed to be a high caliber suspense film, but the studio ultimately decided to take the low road. That being said, aside from my previous comments, there’s hardly a weak link amongst the cast. Mitch Ryan was a welcomed addition adding some extra strength and stability. He does an immensely effective job in his plot twisting role as Terrence Wynn.
Lastly, George P. Wilbur returns as The Shape. He previously took on the role for Halloween 4. The performances are about the same, but he gets to do more walking here. You see more of his movement, but it doesn’t have that natural fluidity that Nick Castle had in the first film. It seems everyone who portrays Myers always tried to emulate the robotic and rigid performance of Dick Warlock. I cannot explain this approach as I believe Castle’s more natural movement made Michael seem more eerily human, and in a way, more frightening and relentless. He seemed to move with more purpose, more determination, and thus, showed he was more motivated.
Alan Howarth, a frequent collaborator of John Carpenter’s, and the man responsible for the scores of Halloween 4 & 5 returned here. He takes things in a different direction this time out. This is a much heavier score with the synthesizers regularly slamming into the soundtrack with a more overbearing presence, at times. The familiar themes of the series have a more atmospheric or polished synth sound, which I do enjoy. It gives this film more self-identity that works, but there are undesirable elements of this score. The music in the climax is overwhelming with shredding electric guitars in a very 80s pop-metal style. It’s like a second rate Eddie Van Halen wannabe took over the scoring job on the film and did a terrible job at it. This is not scary or suspenseful. It’s just obnoxious Now, this is something exclusive to this cut of the film. It was another decision made by people less interested in creating a coherent and effective horror film, and more interested in just making whatever’s going to give them one extra dumb dollar – even if only makes the film worse.
Thankfully, the film is shot very well, in most part. The cinematography has a serious approach with focus on dramatic weight and eerie atmosphere. The lighting creates some uneasy moodiness. The bleak visuals create a sense of foreboding and unease. You get the feeling all the way through that this is a film that is taking itself seriously with intense, unrelenting horror, and a storyline that’s supposed to have dire consequences. I really love how the film was shot. It takes the blue tones of the first and fourth films, and adds an extra layer of depth and grit to enhance the more grim tone of this film. I give much praise to cinematographer Billy Dickson on this production.
Generally, I feel this version of the film is less fascinating than its bootlegged counterpart. Based on its own merits, the film boils down to a mindless slasher with a messed up plot progression which ultimately negates itself. While it does have strong acting and solid production values, the studio heads botched it all up to cater to stupid fourteen year olds who wouldn’t end up being able to see the film in theatres anyway. The whole film seems meant to build up towards answers and revelations regarding the origin of Michael’s evil. Sadly, it’s all thrown out to introduce a new ending which makes no sense, and doesn’t bother to explain itself. I’m not one who demands that all mysteries be solved, and all questions be answered thoroughly and definitively in a film, but things need to make some degree of coherent sense. Simply said, the fact remains that this ending does not fit to this story. It washes away all plot points and hints at answers the film establishes, and introduces brand new ones which come to no light. It’s a cliché, shallow, and hollow conclusion to a film which laid the seeds for so much more. Satisfaction, at least for me, does not come from this version of Halloween 6.
While I have only ever seen two films directed by macabre horror writer Clive Barker, he is actually one of my favorite filmmakers. Hellraiser was the first reason, but this film, Lord of Illusions, is the biggest reason. Released in 1995 in the midst of a bad stretch of time for the horror genre, Clive Barker was ambitious in telling a film noir detective horror story. Theatrically, the film was not well represented with a lot of pertinent, quality scenes cutout for a tighter runtime, and box office was not very lucrative. I cannot find a record for the film’s budget, but I’m sure it exceeded the box office gross of $13 million. Thankfully, the home video market allowed Barker the opportunity to release his definitive director’s cut of this excellent film, and I can’t imagine anyone watching this film in any other way.
New York private detective Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) finds himself repeatedly drawn into disturbing supernatural events, much to his strong reluctance. He takes an insurance fraud case in Los Angeles as a change of pace, but soon, he finds himself in the world between illusion and true magic. The world’s greatest illusionist Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor) is killed in a graphic on-stage accident, and Harry is driven to discover the truth behind it. Hired by Swann’s gorgeous wife Dorothea (Famke Janssen), Harry delves deep into the secretive world of magic, and encounters dangerous foes including the peculiar, yet lethal Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman). What Harry uncovers is that a cult leader named Nix (Daniel von Bargen), who could perform real magic and taught Swann to do so as well, is feared to be able to defy the grave that Swann and Dorothea put him in, and will return to exact horrific revenge upon the world. What Harry D’Amour may come to realize is that death is the ultimate illusion.
The film sets a very dangerous, foreboding tone right from the outset. A series of grim images of a decrepit, desolate wasteland open the picture telling you that dark, evil forces await us. This opening sequence shows Swann and his friends confronting Nix and his followers in the Mojave Desert thirteen years prior, and sets the stage for where Harry D’Amour will enter their unsettling lives in the present day. It clues you in on exactly what horrors Nix was capable of, and why Swann and his estranged friends now fear his return so gravely. The production design of Nix’s stronghold is perfectly macabre and disturbing. It has that dead-on Clive Barker dark, gritty style with a sort of grotesque beauty. It is photographed with a generous amount of shadow using the light to accentuate only certain sections of the environment. This style carries over into all the visually darker scenes creating a gorgeous film noir style. This is just a beautifully shot movie in any condition of light or shadow. While cinematographer Ronn Schmidt doesn’t have much in the way of high profile films to his résumé, I can surely tell he had a major wealth of artistic potential when coupled with the right director.
Clive Barker magnificently proves his talent and worth as a filmmaker here. I think Lord of Illusions really is a masterpiece of supernatural noir horror. It’s a greatly intelligent film that blends two very comparable genres together in a beautiful way. The film sets up the horror elements first with that amazingly chilling opening sequence, but doesn’t really explain anything to the audience. So, as Harry D’Amour is pulled into this plot, we still have questions that need answering, and it is a dangerous path for Harry to walk to reach those answers. There are plenty of secrets that many would kill to have or to keep hidden, but Harry is an intelligent enough hero to see through the spook tactics and walls of deception to get to that truth. The moments of horror are powerful such as the flashes Harry has of the exorcism he was involved in. The sight of the stark white demon is nightmarishly striking. Dorothea also has visions of blood and death which tell her that Nix’s return is soon to come. Butterfield’s strange lackey Miller also provides much in the way of savage gore and violence. How he survives a third story fall to the pavement enhances the bizarre nature of the film’s foes. Clive Barker knew how to use film as a canvas for brilliant brush strokes. Melding so many different complex aspects of this story would not be easy to do, but he had a clear and vibrant vision which he was able to realize. Not to mention, he brought us one of his absolute best creations ever.
I really love the Harry D’Amour character as portrayed by Scott Bakula. He is endlessly fascinating to me. A hardened private investigator who gets caught up in all manner of supernatural danger is so ripe with potential. The fact that he is reluctant to be wrapped up in this world, but is inevitably drawn to it makes for a great character dynamic. He’s a man that has subscribed to many faiths in his day, possibly to attempt to find answers or solace for the evil he has faced. It shows he’s a man of a wide open mind, but not without his skepticism. True to being a detective, he accepts nothing purely on face value alone. He has a probing mind with a keen intellect that makes him an interesting hero to follow. He’s intent on unraveling a mystery in a world built upon secrets. Scott Bakula gives a warm, soulful quality to D’Amour that comes to life opposite Dorothea. He also shows Harry to be a capable and confident man of action making him a very well-rounded character. He’s smart and perceptive as well as having a good heart that contrasts the darkness he’s engulfed in. Bakula did research the role, and helped add in more traits of what Barker had previously written for the character. The tattoo on Harry’s back resulted from that research and collaboration. Scott Bakula does an excellent job with this role that I wish fortunes could’ve allowed us to be exposed to beyond this film, but nothing is ever truly impossible. One can still hope for another prime opportunity to arise for Bakula and Barker to reunite.
When Clive Barker saw the headshot of Famke Janssen during casting, he knew he had found Dorothea. Her air of class and elegance truly shines through in this role. When Harry first sees her its in the golden late afternoon sunlight, and she couldn’t be more captivatingly beautiful. She easily captures Harry’s heart, and that leads the two down a very passionate path. Bakula and Janssen have a seductive chemistry that is captured magnificently by the camera. Their love scene is gorgeous. I like the fact that Lord of Illusions came just before Famke became a villainous Bond girl in GoldenEye. Thus, it gives Barker some special credit for recognizing her talent and beauty before her breakout role. As Dorothea, she is both vulnerable and strong creating a fine mix to make her a damsel in distress, but not one that’s afraid to fight for herself when the opportunity arises.
I have to admit that I love the character of Butterfield. He’s perfectly androgynous with a slinking quality that makes him very serpent like. Barry Del Sherman uses his body language fluidly as he slipped into the skin of this peculiar villain. It’s wonderfully written as a dangerous, off-beat character that one might not take seriously at first glance. However, Butterfield quickly demonstrates a lethal, sadistic quality that he uses in calculated fashion. He truly takes deep pleasure in the torturous methods he uses, and Del Sherman absorbs himself fully into that mindset. He portrays a wonderfully charismatic and juicy villain. It’s also an interesting dynamic that Butterfield aspires to be Nix’s one and only apprentice, but even Nix acknowledges that there is no one else worthy but Swann. While Swann gets to bask in the limelight of fame, Butterfield slinks his way through the dark underbelly of the world to prepare for Nix’s return, and he gets no respect for his loyalty or hard work from Nix.
Daniel von Bargen is a hell of a diverse actor that I have gained immense respect for over the years. He can do drop down hilarious comedy, but also, put in a frighteningly charismatic performance as Nix. What he does in the first few minutes of the film resonate throughout the rest of the picture. His horrific power haunts Swann, and that fear translates over to the audience very sharply. He is an awesome villain full of commanding presence and intense malevolence. The power von Bargen throws into this role is masterful creating something that could truly haunt your nightmares in terrifying fashion. He clearly had a fun time portraying this intense, chilling character.
Another amazingly diverse actor is Kevin J. O’Connor. You may know him from his turn as the cowardly Beni from Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy, or from the Patrick Swayze television drama The Beast. As Philip Swann, he gives us a very unique performance. I like how the film opens without presenting a clear hero to you. Swann is not a confident or particularly stable person, and not the type to gravitate to as a protagonist. He is very shaken by fear, and later on in life, he’s not a content man. He has fame, wealth, and a beautiful woman at his side. However, it’s the creeping knowledge of what Nix vowed he would do, defy death, that endlessly troubles him. If he can do that, Swann cannot imagine what greater terrors he could unleash. Even with all the power Swann possesses, he knows that Nix is more powerful, but most importantly, he has the will to do things Swann never would. Nix messed with his mind once, and he’s never been able to shake that. O’Connor passionately displays the depth of those turbulent emotional and psychological elements so well. He makes Philip Swann a greatly fascinating and fractured character that maintains the foreboding tone of the film.
The supporting cast really put their all into their roles. They add to the eclectic flavor of these textured and distinct characters. Joel Swetow makes Valentin a very sophisticated but shady character. He furthers adds to the mysterious and treacherous aspects of the plot. All of the characters appearing in the Magic Castle sequence, portraying illusionists of all sorts, also really boost those spooky and colorful qualities of the film. It’s just a damn solid cast that Barker put together. There’s not a single weak link anywhere at all.
Clive Barker turned to the absolute masters of special make-up effects in KNB EFX Group for this film. Their work has been unparalleled. Whatever they do, big or small, severe or subtle, it always hold weight on film. What they did here is bring the gory and challenging imagination of Clive Barker to perfect life. The make-up on the resurrected Nix is purely, excellently disgusting, as it should be. The protrusion in his forehead is something I still cannot stomach to look at. Conversely, the digital visual effects are damn well up to standards. The early scene of Nix juggling fire is seamless and convincing, and the effect of Swann levitating a car over Harry’s head is quite well handled. Of course, I’m sure many would contend with the later scene of the apparition that attacks Harry and Dorothea late in the film, but Barker wanted it to look as it did. He did not want those effects to be dead-on realistic. He wanted a dream-like, unreal quality to them, and to a point I believe it worked. I’m sure something a little more refined could’ve benefitted the sequence better, but I generally have no criticism about it.
The film has a very strong, haunting score by Simon Boswell. It’s an excellent piece of work that regularly keeps the tension and ominous qualities present, but it also has its moments of beauty as with the Harry and Dorothea love scene. A sensual saxophone chimes in to delve into that seductive passion. The music during Swann’s stage show is marvelously theatrical. In its most climactic moments, the score is powerful and darkly operatic. Overall, it’s an immensely effective composition for a film with such diverse qualities.
Lord of Illusions has its generous share of heightened tension and frightening danger. The opening and ending sequences with Nix bring the full boar horror in all its macabre glory. In the bulk of the film, though, we have action based excitement with D’Amour, and some gory visuals that re-instill the haunting, chilling aspects of the story. This is not a splatter film with some brutal threat stalking the characters. It’s very supernatural with a more ominous threat stirring up their deepest fears. The atmosphere is very strong regularly keeping an audience on edge, and keeping them enthralled as each new layer of the mystery is pulled back. With lives being lost as he gets deeper into this and becomes more invested in Dorothea, Harry can’t just walk away. It’s a great way to wrap the hero up in the story, and drive him forward in the face of ungodly horror. Harry never gives into fear, and remains determined in even the darkest moments of the film.
The final act is powerful and amazing. It serves as the proper climax to this story which pits apprentice against master in a chilling and grotesque confrontation that still manages to keep D’Amour relevant to the outcome. It bookends the film smartly bringing Nix back in a far more chilling state than before. The disturbing cultist aspects of the movie really are driven home by this point, and have an ironic, vile pay-off here. It further sells the grave lethality and power of Nix. This entire prolonged sequence is like a slow decent into the horrific depths of hell, and there is no one better suited for the task of realizing that than Clive Barker. This ending will leave you still unsettled as the end credits roll.
If there’s one horror film that has inspired me as a screenwriter more than any other, it would be Lord of Illusions. This would be the genre I would want to play around in because Clive Barker realized it so well here. There’s a vast untapped potential for this supernatural noir genre, and this film is a prime example of that potential. Barker wrote a brilliant screenplay based on his short story The Last Illusion, and turned it into one of the best, most original and intelligent horror films I have ever seen. Thus, it is one of my favorite films of all time. This film far exceeds expectations realizing every element and aspect with amazing, top notch quality. It is only a shame that the studio difficulties Barker faced with this film caused him to turn away from ever directing another film again. Fortunately, it has not ceased him being a producer on a number of film adaptations of his written work. I think Clive Barker is one of the best masters of horror because has never let me down. If this turns out to be the final film he ever directs, no one could ask for a better final bow than Lord of Illusions.