Friday August 25, 1995
Charles Manson, possessed of supernatural powers, locked in combat with Philip Marlowe and you'll have some idea of stylish horrormeister Clive Barker's latest blood-and-guts thriller, "Lord of Illusions."
It's Barker's most ambitious venture to date, and he projects a vision of evil with such implacable cinematic impact that it sustains its substantial gore quotient better than its predecessors--and even survives a number of moments of unintended humor. "Lord of Illusions" looks sensational, and it gives Scott Bakula a long overdue chance to show he can carry a big picture on the big screen.
Rugged, intelligent and sensitive, Bakula is ideally cast as Barker's New York private eye Harry D'Amour, who's hired to go to Los Angeles to track down a man wanted for insurance fraud. It looks to be a piece of cake until Harry follows his quarry into a Venice fortuneteller's parlor, which proves to be a veritable Gates of Hell.
A couple of plot convolutions later he's caught up with a hugely popular magician, Philip Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor), who promptly dies--or does he?--on stage in a misfired Sword(s) of Damocles act, leaving a beautiful, elegant but clearly haunted widow Dorothea (Famke Janssen). The attraction between Dorothea, ensconced in a vast mansion, and Harry is mutual and immediate but stays unspoken.
What Harry doesn't yet know--but we do, thanks to a prologue set in 1982 in a derelict compound in the Mojave Desert--is that she and Swann were both once in the thrall of the Manson-like Nix (Daniel Von Bargen, very scary), whose powers seem to go beyond the ability to levitate and to get into other people's heads, both of which he certainly does impressively.
It may well be that Nix has imparted to Swann genuine magical powers--that Swann is, in turn, something more than a Lord of Illusions.
The film is loaded with glimpses and portents of unspeakable degradation, and while Barker is fortunately not one to linger morbidly, he confronts Harry with a series of nasty, sadistic types who are far more evil than anyone Marlowe ever had to tackle.
Within its classic noble-knight-strives-to-save-fair-lady plot, Barker raises the question of whether, within the realm of magic, the line between trickery and the supernatural can actually blur. Barker, who uses Hollywood's Magic Castle as a key setting and source for magic lore, aptly refers to Harry Houdini in this regard.
Houdini believed that he could contact his wife after his death, but after he failed to do so, some years later Mrs. Houdini appeared in a movie exposing phony spiritualists who preyed on those desperate to contact their dead loved ones.
Like "Mortal Kombat," "Lord of Illusions" has superb production design, special effects and cinematography--plus a driving score--that capture the jolting contrasts of Southern California life in which a tasteful, seemingly secure existence of wealth and luxury and the sordid and bizarre not infrequently collide. "Lord of Illusions" belongs to Bakula, but he gets staunch support on both sides of the camera. Be sure to stay for the end crawl, during which Diamanda Galas is heard singing "Dancing in the Dark" as you've never before heard it.
Lord of Illusions, 1995. R, for strong violence and gore, and for language and sexuality. A United Artists presentation of a Seraphim production. Writer-director Clive Barker. Producers JoAnne Sellar, Clive Barker. Executive producers Steve Golin, Sogurjon Sighvatsson. Cinematographer Ronn Schmidt. Special effects administrator Diane Carlucci. Special Makeup Effects by Image Animation Int'l. Visual effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr. Voice improvisations Diamanda Galas. Editor Alan Baumgarten. Costumes Luke Reichle. Music Simon Boswell. Production designer Stephen Hardie. Art directors Marc Fisichella, Bruce Robert Hill. Set decorator David A. Koneff. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. Scott Bakula as Harry D'Amour. Kevin J. O'Connor as Philip Swann. Famke Janssen as Dorothea Swann. Vincent Schiavelli as Vinovich.