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  Lord of Illusions Now That's Magic
Year: 1995
Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O'Connor, Famke Janssen, Daniel von Bargen, Joel Swetow, Barry Del Sherman, Sheila Tousey, Susan Traylor, Vincent Schiavelli, Wayne Grace, Johnny Vencour, Jordan Marder, Billy McComb, Lorin Stewart, Barry Shabaka Henley
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Thirteen years ago, a couple of vehicles drew up outside a house in the desert and four gun-toting people emerged. Inside, the target of their ire was holding one of his ceremonies, Nix (Daniel von Bargen), a magician who claimed to be a master of all magic and whose powers were only growing stronger the further he delved into the unearthly source of his abilities. He also had a young girl, Dorothea, chained up in a room guarded by a mandrill, planning unspeakable practices towards her, so when Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor), a former pupil, arrived with help, it was as much to stop those as it was to kill Swann...

Clive Barker may have enjoyed great success with his writing of novels and short stories, but when it came to adapting those for the cinema, things didn't exactly go his way. He had started filming his stories in student films, making him the first director outside of gay porn to capture himself dancing, naked and sexually aroused for his camera, but the mainstream was not ready for that kind of business, so when it came to his next big project, Hellraiser concentrated on the horror side of things. It may not have been perfect in its realisation, but it did open up a grand new vista for Barker where his uncanny imaginings would be given free rein as visual provocations.

Well, that was the idea, but as it turned out he only got to direct two more movies, and both of those suffered from outside forces tampering with his vision, ironic perhaps when the fact that adaptations of his work by other hands in the eighties was what had encouraged him to start directing in the first place. Nightbreed notoriously was recut against his wishes, and the promise of a trilogy based on it went out the window swiftly after, then the same thing happened to Lord of Illusions, which he had based on a short story featuring his recurring character Harry D'Amour, sort of a Raymond Chandler-esque private eye of the sort John Constantine was in the contemporary Hellblazer comic series.

After being frustrated yet again, Barker gave up directing, but even in the director's cut released some time after the theatrical cut flopped it was clear this was his weakest feature. The problems with his written fiction were more apparent here, that elaborately esoteric world-building which you either plunged yourself into and revelled in or rejected as far too much trouble to bother with one damn fantastical dreamlike sequence after another and a whole bunch of funny names to remember. Another problem was that as D'Amour, Scott Bakula was a curious choice: you could see Angel Heart-era Mickey Rourke as the character, or someone far more hardboiled, but Bakula, then best known for "Oh boy"-ing on TV's Quantum Leap, was not the actor to suggest a sepulchral dark side.

When we catch up with Swann in the present (i.e. 1995), he is a world famous stage magician which as presented here makes him look like a one man Siegfried and Roy or a camper David Copperfield, not the sort of thing to indicate an awesome supernatural power. Anyway, D'Amour gets involved with investigating his case when a trick apparently goes wrong, killing Swann in the process, and falls for his widow who happens to be Dorothea all grown up, now played by Famke Janssen, which in turn gets him mixed up with the Nix cultists who wish to resurrect him from the exile Swann placed him under (meaning he killed him and screwed a mask to his head). This is fine as far as it goes, and Barker's commitment was admirable, but as too often it grew too wrapped up in itself with a sneaking suspicion of self-impressed setpieces, including some truly awful computer graphics. Even if Barker had had an enormous budget to work with, you can't see what he would film being as lavish as that fertile imagination of his. Music by Simon Boswell.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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