Lord of Illusions (1995)

There are only a handful of authors I can think of that successfully made the transition to directing, even if it was their own material.  Michael Crichton managed to make that transition with a number of critically acclaimed and memorable films, including Westworld and The Great Train Robbery.  Stephen King tried with Maximum Overdrive, which is a guilty pleasure of mine, but wisely has kept away from the director's chair sense.  Clive Barker, though, had some natural talent.

Unfortunately, Hollywood didn't see it that way.  I don't blame Barker for giving up directing as it seemed that any movie he made resulted in both a fight for budgets and to even release the film he created.  Hellraiser was the one he seemed to have the most control over despite it being his first, while Nightbreed eventually resulted in Barker having to release the version he intended after it was heavily cut and re-edited.  Things didn't get much better for Lord of Illusions, his final film that he directed, and an adaptation of his story "The Last Illusion". 

Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula) is a New York detective who has recently gained notoriety for assisting in the exorcism of a child.  While known for occult cases D'Amour is not above doing work for money, and agrees to go to Los Angeles to trail a guy that may be committing insurance fraud.  While trailing him the man goes to see a fortune teller named Quaid (Joseph Latimore).  Unfortunately, Quaid has just been visited by a man named Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman) and his skinhead partner.  The death of Quaid leads D'Amour to a popular illusionist named Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor).

In 1982 Swann had led a number of ex-cult members against their leader Nix (Daniel von Bargen) in order to rescue a young girl (Ashley Tesoro) meant for a sacrifice.  While they were able to disable and bind Nix they weren't able to kill him, and Butterfield is on a mission to find where Nix is buried and bring him back.  D'Amour, though not intending to get involved with another occult case, is hired by Swann's wife Dorothea (Famke Janssen) to look into what is going on.

Scott Bakula is a strange choice for a lead as he was not known for feature films.  At the time he was best known as Sam, the lead in the television series Quantum Leap.  That said it was a strange choice for Clive Barker to make a film based on a character largely unknown outside of his fan base.  Still, Bakula pulls off the character, portraying him as a man who haplessly gets involved in the occult no matter how much he tries not to.  It is a detective story, and there is some noir influence, but Bakula never goes into playing D'Amour in a clichéd genre fashion, nor does Barker have him do so. 

Kevin J. O'Connor doesn't excite much as Swann and, despite being key to what is going on, the character doesn't do much either.  Same could be said for D'Amour, as he is usually reacting to things that happen to him, but even he is more integral than Swann.  The villains shine, with the androgynous Butterfield being quite vicious and Daniel von Bargen chewing every line of dialogue whenever Nix is on screen. 

Lord of Illusions is also pretty much a straightforward film without the dreamlike style of some of his previous films.  It does creep in occasionally, but he keeps things on the straight and narrow, which may have been why it didn't do too well when it was released.  I was probably one of the few people who saw it in the theater when it came out though it had a pretty decent campaign.  Part of the problem was Nightbreed didn't, and unless one was a Clive Barker fan there might as well have only been Hellraiser.

One obstacle to watching it now is that it heavily used computer generated effects which were still rather primitive.  This makes for some severe contrast between things like the playing card man in Swann's house and the makeup Nix has toward the finale.  It also means some of the stranger parts don't translate as well as they should because the effects are not convincing and, honestly, I can't remember them being convincing back then.  That playing card man looks way too much like the stained glass knight in Young Sherlock Holmes

Of Barker's three movies this is the least interesting, but it is still watchable and has many memorable moments.  I'm not able to find if he intended Bakula to continue in the role but, if he did, the low box office turnout put a damper on that.  Since then Barker has gone back to novels and comic books, leaving it up to others to bring his stories to the big screen. 

Lord of Illusions (1995)
Time: 109 minutes
Starring: Scott Bakula, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O'Connor, Barry Del Sherman, Daniel von Bargen
Director: Clive Barker



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