Friday, October 19, 2012

Movie Review: Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions



 I am a Clive Barker fan, though I enjoy his writing more than his movies.  This film is based on his short-story "The Last Illusion" from Books of Blood: Volume 4, which I recall reading and enjoying more than the film.

 Don't get me wrong.  The film is good, just not as good as the original story.  

 The premise of the film is that there are two kinds of magic; that of the illusionist and that of the true magician.  Both are inter-related, with some animosity apparent between those who delve into dark powers and those who only pretend to on stage for profit. 

 Phillip Swann was a member of a magical circle exploring the dark arts under the tutelage of Nix, leader of a fanatical sect.  When things became a little too harsh, Swann and others turned against Nix, stopping him from sacrificing a young girl, killing him, binding him with a metal mask screwed directly into his skull, and burying him deep in the desert.  Death, it seems, is an illusion, and Nix, though incapacitated, might find a way to return. 

I got 99 problems...
 13 years later, Harry D'Amour is sent by his employer from New York to Las Angeles to investigate a case of insurance-fraud.  It is a welcome reprieve from his "normal" cases, which seem to involve dark forces.  His last case involved a demon in possession of a young man, and D'Amour is still suffering from the harrowing experience.  While tailing his suspect, D'Amour stumbles upon a psychic who is being tortured by a couple of men seeking information about "the Puritan".  The men escape, and with his last breath, the psychic reveals to D'Amour a clue as to what is to come.

 D'Amour's picture is splashed in the papers, attracting the attention of Phillip Swann's wife, Dorothea.  Dorothea arranges to meet D'Amour in a cemetery.  She fears that something is amiss with her husband, who has become a wealthy illusionist, arguably the best in the world.  She hires D'Amour to protect her husband from whatever may be coming.

This dude does not catch a break the entire film.
 Unfortunately, Swann's newest illusion, being bound to a rotating table while razor-sharp swords are dropped from the ceiling, goes horribly wrong, and he dies.  D'Amour suspects foul play when he discovers a damaged wire in the device's mechanism.  He proceeds from their to unravel the truth, discovering Swann's connection to Nix's cult and how magic is far more real that he ever believed.

 The film is well done, superbly written with lush details about stage-magic, illusions, and the occult.  The actors, including  Scott Bakula, Daniel von Bargen, Famke Janssen, and Vincent Skiavelli were all more than up-to-the-task.  The atmosphere was also superb, with scenes shot at the actual Magic Castle in Hollywood. The special effects were, well, hit-and-miss.

She's taking the death of her husband really hard.
 The film was made when CGI was in its infancy, and at times suffers greatly for it.  Their is a scene when a specter of Swann appears and attacks D'Amour.  This specter is represented by a geometric design which folds and unfolds on the screen, and is obviously computer generated and not a part of the environment.  It would be another decade or so before production companies would actually begin to get CGI effects right, but it does diminish the film, especially when so many other examples of traditional effects were employed.

 Lord of Illusions, while neither overtly gory or frightening, has enough depth to make it entertaining.
13 years buried in the desert only to end up with an asshole in your forehead.

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