If the 1980s are associated with the camp slasher genre, then 1990 horror must be remembered for the introduction of some fairly horrific computer special effects, in both senses of the term.
Throughout the 90s, despite the perseverance of the 1980s VHS classics, some new movies were beginning to get the recognition they deserved. Capitalising on the ability to bring new nightmare visions to the scene via CGI, horror would trend towards a more fantasy edge, and who better to influence a range of screenplays than the master of freaky shit, Clive Barker.
‘Lord of Illusions’ is the screen adaption of one of Barker’s infamous shorts titled ‘The Last Illusion’ and begins with a group of magicians interrupting the sacrifice of a young girl in an obscene arcane ritual, and then condemning the ring leader to a sort of stasis like curse. On his way out he promises that they can never bury him deep enough, and true to his word a decade or so later, his cult works to revive him, hunting down and murdering all those involved in his imprisonment.
The plot is well thought through, if not a little bit one dimensional, with a nice balance of intrigue and spectacle. The wizard setup allows for the usual imaginative set pieces which Barker imagination crafts with a gifted consistency and the characters, well they are possibly not the strongest aspect of this movie, but they do the job. The story follows a fairly linear path, although there are several twists which seem to serve little purpose than break up the fact that this is pretty much just a collection of set pieces with little character development to speak of, certainly nothing to the extent of either ‘Hellraiser’ or ‘in the mouth of madness’ - two of my favourite Barker adaptations. Still though, despite some under-par characters the budget of this movie seemed above average which gives us some fantastic locations which really capture the spectacle of ‘the illusions’.
Speaking of illusions, the use of CGI throughout this movie is almost a parody of the film – we know it’s fake, yet it’s it is grossly entertaining to watch. Well anyhow, as an audience we are treated to a wide range of computer and prosthetic affects, some admittedly better than others; in fact they may look basic by today’s standard, but because it is all fantasy based they have aged well. I am normally a big fan of prosthetics vs. CGI gore, but in this case we don’t really see the use of CGI in this context, more in the spectral scenes where we see grotesque images, and the manipulation of body parts which couldn’t be possible in any other way. They look really cool for the most part, and give this (as with other movies of the time) its own identity. The blood effects look good, and whilst I don’t think you would call it gory per se, it’s certainly violent enough to satisfy. There are several key scenes which show up on a range of trailers over the year which when you see them will be instantly recognisable.
Overall this 2 disc release of the classic fantasy movie through 101 films is fairly definitive. Having the option of watching the pacey theatrical cut on Blu-ray or the fan-favourite director’s cut, both with fantastic image quality. ‘Lord of Illusion’s’ is a great movie, not quite as essential as say ‘Hellraiser’, but it stands nicely along side ‘In the Mouth of Madness’. Its violent, bloody and above all entertaining.