Horror review: Lord of Illusions

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 31, 1995

By Steve Newton

Clive Barker is the ultimate lord of self-delusion if he believes that Lord of Illusions—which he wrote, directed, and coproduced—is going to help the film career that took a nosedive five years ago with the nonsensical and inept Nightbreed. That flick, like Barker’s so-so Hellraiser before it, had one thing going for it—imaginative and creatively rendered monsters—but his latest doesn’t even deliver that, unless you count Nix (Daniel Von Bargen), the leader of an unholy cult who comes back to grisly life after being shot numerous times and buried for 13 years with a metal mask bolted onto his face.

Instead, Barker offers up a convoluted exercise in flimsy dialogue, lame acting, ludicrous plotting, and laughable scenes, interspersed with all the computer-generated special effects you’ve already seen in the trailer. It’s a sad day for both fright fans and the man Stephen King once prophesied was “the future of horror”.

With its origins in a novella from Barker’s much-heralded (and deservedly so) Books of Blood, the film follows the exploits of New York private detective Harry D’Amour (Quantum Leap’s Scott Bakula). Sent to L.A. on a routine case, he stumbles upon a former cult member being tortured with enough kitchen implements to stock an “amazing Ginzu knife!” infomercial. After deftly proving himself a rugged hero by tossing your typical screaming bald psycho through a window, D’Amour gets caught up in the vengeful antics of Nix’s demented followers, who want to find out where he’s located so they can resurrect his decomposed ass.

Through an unlikely string of events, D’Amour comes across master magician Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor), who is using the dark powers he acquired from Nix for his celebrated “illusions”. After one of Swann’s never-before-attempted tricks leaves him (supposedly) skewered by falling swords, D’Amour hits it off with Swann’s demure “widow”, Dorothea (newcomer Famke Janssen), in one of the most awkward romantic moments ever filmed. They start sucking face for no apparent reason other than to accommodate the sudden swell of strings on the soundtrack, drawing a chorus of snickers from the preview-screening audience.

All this frighteningly bad but totally unscary filmmaking leads to a drawn-out run-in with a disinterred Nix, during which Swann pulls off the uninspired magical feat of levitating D’Amour so that he can reach down, grab ahold of Nix’s gruesome, creature-infested head, and push him into the pit of hell—as opposed to just walking over and doing it. That climactic silliness defuses what slim chance Lord of Illusions had of making up for the rottenness of its previous 100 minutes or so.

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