On the surface, Lord of Illusions has very little to do with the Hellraiser franchise. One is about a shrewd detective in way over his head among supernatural nonsense, while the other is all about Hell. But what if I were to tell you that they take place in the same universe? Because that’s absolutely the case, straight from Mr. Clive Barker himself. So this film actually does fit into this year’s October themed event, The Hellbound Halloween! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Lord of Illusions–based on the story The Last Illusion–opens with a group of people barging into a cult compound in an attempt to rescue a little girl from the evil sorcerer Nix (Daniel von Bargen, who I know as Commandant Edwin Spangler from Malcolm in the Middle). Nix is shot by the girl and bound by Nix’s old protégé, Swann (Kevin J O’Connor, AKA Beni from 1999’s The Mummy), leading to the leader’s death. 13 years later, one of Nix’s followers, the incredibly queer coded Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman) is killing off the people who killed Nix, trying to find where his master was buried. Swann has turned the dark magic he learned into becoming a successful stage magician and is married to a woman named Dorothea (Famke Janssen, AKA Jean Grey from X-Men). In comes private eye Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula), who previously had exorcised a possessed kid and probably didn’t want to jump immediately into another paranormal case. He’s got no magical skills as of this movie, separating him from your John Constantines or Harry Dresdens. Wait, is Dresden based on D’Amour…? Anyway, mysteries unfold as it’s revealed that Swann faked his death to avoid Nix, and Dorothea was the little girl from the opening. She met her husband when she was 12? Gross. Good thing they’re not married for love, I guess. Anyway, Nix gets resurrected, which could spell the end of the world. Swann dies in the process of killing Nix again–this time most likely for real–and the movie ends with D’Amour and Dorothea surviving. But this is a neo-noir film, so we know they can’t end up together.
So before I get to the Hellraiser connections, I want to talk about how gay this movie is. But, you know, in a kind of subtle way (if you’re completely blind to that sort of thing). Butterfield spends most the movie dressed in skintight, gold pleather pants with a tight black shirt. That’s a queer icon, right there. And while Nix never really shows any obvious gay tells, his rant to Dorothea about how he and Swann–who again, was in essentially a non-romantic marriage–were supposed to be together is… well, you can read it for yourself:
You shouldn’t have taken [Swann] away from me! We were going to be together when I finished with the world. We were going to keep each other company in the dark! But I’m on my own. We’re all on our own. The grave is lonely, but living is worse.
Gaaaaaaay… So incredibly gaaaaaaay.
So the cenobites. In 2015’s The Scarlet Gospels, Barker wrote about Harry D’Amour having a run-in with the Hell Priest, who goes by “Pinhead” in the later Hellraiser films (again, Barker hates that name). But I didn’t read that book, and instead read the Boom! Studio Hellraiser comics. And they were… a lot. Brace yourself! Shit’s gonna get weird!
Bored with being the leader of Hell, Pinhead plays 3D chess with Kirsty Cotton, who has been destroying puzzle boxes with other survivors of the cenobites for decades. He eventually gives her an offer: he will regain his human form and she’ll take over ruling Hell in his place, thereby allowing her to bring back the friends and loved ones–including her fiancé–that the cenobites have killed. She accepts, but this was all part of Pinhead/Elliot Spencer’s evil plan. He makes a deal with a demon unrelated to the Labyrinthian Hell and Leviathan, and yadda yadda yadda, he now has godlike powers and rules an army of tortured souls that escaped from Hell to Earth. Leviathan is also dragged to Earth, and Spencer’s plans are foiled only thanks to Hell Priest Kirsty, Tiffany (the previously mute girl from Hellbound: Hellraiser II), a jilted Female Cenobite, Harry D’Amour, and the comatose body of Spencer’s incest daughter. It’s… a thing.
So that’s it, right? Spencer is defeated and the story is over? Well… not quite. The Hellraiser comic was over, but the story continued in Hellraiser: The Dark Watch. Spencer and Kirsty were trapped in a memory bubble by Leviathan, leaving D’Amour as the new Hell Priest. He thinks Leviathan is building an army to attack Earth–the portal between Hell and Earth is still open–in order to bring about the end of days, but things are of course more complex. Turns out there are several Hells, with Butterfield being from a different one. Oh, yeah, he was a demon in The Last Illusion. Now empowered by Abbadon, Spencer is leading those demons to assault Leviathan’s Hell because it’s actually Abbadon’s plan to take over Earth. A second Hellish invasion happens, but is stopped when Spencer agrees to Leviathan asking him to become the Hell Priest once again. Why? I have no idea, and a lot of people think the end of that comic is super weak. Anyway, Kirsty and Harry are returned to their human forms, but Pinhead basically does that “I’ve got my eyes on you” motion to them both. Oh, and he kills Kirsty’s fiancé. Sure, why not after everything she did to get him back.
Where was I going with this, again…? Right! So Harry lives in the same world as Pinhead, just encountering demons from a different Hell. Clive Barker’s own expanded universe. Interesting concept, mixed execution. But I did enjoy Lord of Illusions! Almost forgot that’s what I started all this with!
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