Starring: Scott Bakula, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O’Connor, Daniel Von Bargen, Joel Swetow
“You ever watched a man die? If you watch very closely, you can sometimes see the soul escaping. And if you’re very quick, you can catch it.” (Butterfield, Lord Of Illusions)
Liverpudlian horror author Clive Barker is perhaps best known for the film adaptations of some of his most popular books.
Hellraiser? That was him. Candyman? Yup, him too. Nightbreed? Okay, maybe that one’s not so famous but I’ve already reviewed it so fuck it, I’m mentioning it.
Lord Of Illusions is clearly less famous than other movies based on Barker’s work, but does that necessarily mean it’s any less memorable? Well, yes, frankly.
Based on The Last Illusion, a short story from Barker’s Books Of Blood Volume 6 collection, Lord Of Illusions tells the tale of Nix, a cult leader who can use real magic and plans to sacrifice a young girl as part of a ritual.
Just before he does, a group of former cult members runs in, rescues the girl and fucks up Nix, killing him and burying him deep under the ground so nobody will ever find him.
Fast forward 13 years and we join the protagonist, private detective Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula pre-Star Trek Enterprise but post-Quantum Leap), who’s sent to LA to investigate an insurance fraud case.
While there Harry stumbles on a fortune teller’s shop. Interested in the occult, Harry decides to have a peek inside but he’s attacked by a slaphead maniac, who is promptly tossed out of the window.
Harry discovers that the nutjob has been torturing Quaid, one of the group that defeated Nix all those years before. Before dying, Quaid tells Harry that “the puritan” is coming back. Guess who he’s talking about.
Intrigued to find out more, Harry starts tracking down the other members of the rescue group, most notably famed illusionist Swann, who he reckons will be able to help him investigate the circumstances surrounding Quaid’s murder.
At least, that’s the plan, until Swann dies in an accident on stage, one involving a metric fuckton of large daggers falling from the ceiling. Curious.
It’s up to Harry to figure out what in the realm of pish is going on, enlisting the help of Swann’s widow Dorothea (Famke Janssen) in the process. And if you’re thinking “bet they end up shagging”, of course they do.
By making his hero a private detective, Barker gives Lord Of Illusions an interesting vibe, a sort of cross between horror and almost film noir style (though obviously not filmed in the traditional black-and-white).
Unfortunately, this attempt ultimately falls a little flat as there isn’t enough real mystery in this story to keep the viewer interested.
It feels more like the film is going through the motions, with Harry travelling from location to location as the plot unfolds in front of him. There’s very little actual investigation going on here, it all just seems to conveniently fall into place.
When the film ditches the private dick stuff and resorts to Barker’s tried and tested graphic horror, that’s where Lords Of Illusions comes into its own.
There are a handful of gruesome scenes in here, in particular Nix’s barbaric death at the start of the film, in which a steel, spike-riddled helmet is screwed, piece by piece, onto his head.
And the final fifteen minutes, while ridiculous, are perhaps the most entertaining because it does away with the investigative nonsense once and for all and focuses on an over-the-top, effects-heavy showdown.
Speaking of the effects, they’re hilariously bad. Being a mid-90s film abysmal CGI is the order of the day: at one point a flaming body enters a house and you can literally count the polygons.
Not to mention the bizarre ‘illusion’ scenes in which, under Nix’s spell, victims endure hallucinations in which the faces peel unconvincingly off others in the room.
Lord Of Illusions is by no means the best film based on a Clive Barker story. Far from it, in fact.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t without its memorable moments, however, and as long as you don’t mind putting up with shit detective bits there’s enough silliness in there to entertain to an extent.
HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Lord Of Illusions can be found on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, both are completely free of special features. America currently only has a Blu-ray version in print but it does have a bunch of extras.
SHOW ME THE TRAILER: