Main cast: Scott Bakula (Harry D’Amour), Kevin J O’Connor (Philip Swann), Famke Janssen (Dorothea Swann), Joseph Latimore (Caspar Quaid), Wayne Grace (Loomis), Daniel von Bargen (Nix), Jordan Marder (Ray Miller), Barry Del Sherman (Butterfield), Joel Swetow (Valentin), McNally Sagal (Detective Edison), Billy McComb (Walter Wilder), Lorin Stewart (Billy Who), and Vincent Schiavelli (Vinovich)
Director: Clive Barker
Lord of Illusions is one of the very few movie adaptations of Clive Barker’s works that the fellow hadn’t completely disavowed out of embarrassment. Then again, it’s kind of hard to disavow something that he directed himself. Just like Stephen King, Clive Barker’s works have generated a long list of embarrassing turd-on-reel materials, but fortunately, this one is one of the better ones.
This one features Harry D’Amour as the central protagonist, but don’t expect any similarity to the character in Clive Barker’s stuff aside from the name. This Harry looks like Scott Bakula – always dishy, and he has worked hard to show off a nice body here – and no, no tattoos all over, no supernatural affinity, nothing. He just happens to be a PI that gained infamy for having stumbled upon a case of a demonic possession of a child, and his reputation has been in tatters since. He is currently getting all drunk and emo over that last case of his, but he perks up when he is offered some much-needed cash for a simple job: to trail a shady guy who is on the run from people whom he owed money.
That man happens to visit a fortune teller, only to flee when he finds the fortune teller, Caspar Quaid, near death with blades grotesquely piercing his neck. Harry arrives just in time to fend off two mysterious guys with worse fashion sense. Before he finally expires, Quaid reads Harry’s fate in the tarot cards and warns him of someone called “the Puritan”.
Shortly after, as Harry is about to leave town, he is approached by Valentin, the man of affairs of the world famous magician Philip Swann. Valentin calls on behalf of Swann’s wife Dorothea, who wants him to help look into Quaid’s death as well as the death of another acquaintance. Harry is immediately besotted the moment he sees Dorothea, and he may get his chance when she invites him to attend Swann’s performance and the magician dies gruesomely when his stage trick goes wrong. Like it or not, Harry is on the case.
He will eventually learn something that viewers know from the very beginning of this movie: Swann and his friends were once disciples of Nix, a man with fearsome powers and self-proclaimed chosen one who will bring an end to the world. They soon managed to flee the cult, but came back when Nix abducted a young girl for a sacrificial ritual. They managed to overcome Nix, bound him with some iron mask that would, I guess, incapacitate him for all time, and then buried him in a secret location. That girl, Dorothea, eventually marries Swann and they don’t ever speak of Nix again. Now, one by one, Swann and his friends are being killed off, and it is very likely that Nix is planning a big comeback…
Part hard-boiled detective romp and part horror, Lord of Illusions has many issues. Many of the scenes in this movie feel like they were included just to draw things out, especially the entertaining but unnecessary excursion into Magic Castle, a mansion of magical oddities owned by Swann’s archenemy Vinovich. The special effects can be on the hokey side, often reminding me of video games back in the Atari and Commodore days, and the persistent refusal of Dorothea and Valentin to divulge information that would have made Harry’s investigations so much more effective and on point can be frustrating.
However, the entire premise of this movie is fantastical and fascinating, and the movie capitalizes on this very well. The secret world of magicians is a cutthroat and ultimately dangerous one, where reality and illusions can be hard to tell apart. Combine this with the graphic violence and even gore, and the end result is a very satisfying film that serves up creepy and disgusting on a gold platter. Seriously, the scene of Swann’s magic trick going awry is not for the squeamish: it is prolonged, excruciating to watch, and just bloody disgusting in a good way. There are a few other hard-to-forget death scenes here too, so all in all, this movie delivers in the body count and graphic gore departments.
Scott Bakula is also unexpectedly solid as Harry. I was initially hesitant about Mr Bakula in a role that is unlike his usual roles, but his Sam Beckett, Occult Detective version of Harry works very well for me. Despite having some pretty bad lines to deliver now and then, Mr Bakula manages to transform Harry into a tormented, brooding, yet ultimately dependable upon to do the right thing for a hot lady. I don’t know why the movie wants him to a condescending asshole early on, though. Good thing Mr Bakula looks hot to make up for it, and Famke Jenssen also delivers the eye candy. Her role doesn’t allow her to do much, but Ms Jenssen actually goes beyond the call of duty to be expressive and vulnerable in what is essentially a damsel in distress role.
As I’ve mentioned, Lord of Illusions isn’t a great movie, but it is a solidly entertaining, gory film with a great cast and fascinating premise. As far as adaptations of Clive Barker’s works that aren’t called Hellraiser, this one is really one of the few worth watching.