July 29, 2012

Movie Review: Lord of Illusions

I remember seeing Lord of Illusions in the theater way back in 1995. What I don't remember is anything specific about my experience. I seem to recall that I sort of liked it, but did not get that much out of it. Between then and now I have seen it a couple of times, but it has always been one of those movies I ever paid much mind to. Seeing it now, really for the first time I probably a decade, is like seeing it with new eyes. I like what I see, but I do not love it. So far as Clive Barker's directorial efforts go, this is no Hellraiser.

The story opens in a ramshackle home in the California desert in 1982. A man called Nix (Daniel Von Bergen) is addressing his cult of followers. Nix is a man who knows how to use real magic and he has a power over his followers, all of whom appear to be willing to follow him anywhere and do anything for him. Meanwhile, a groups of former followers are arriving outside, led by a man named Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor), a ,am Nix says,is the only one worthy of sharing his power. They come armed with guns and are determined to put a stop to Nix, who as kidnapped a young girl to sacrifice.

A struggle ensues and Nix is shot. While he is down, Swann bolts on some sort of iron mask right into Nix's skull. They then bury him where they say no one will ever find him. However, as a member of the audience we know better. No evil cult leader who appears to be killed before the story truly begins can ever be dead.

Time shifts to the then present of 1995. We are introduced to Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula), a New York City based private investigator with a penchant for the occult. A recent case involving a boy and an exorcism is alluded to. Anyway, he is offered a job in California, a case of insurance fraud. He takes it without any idea of where it will lead him.

Harry's investigation leads him to a bizarre murder by a guy named Butterfield, a former apostle of Nix, of a man named Quaid, one of Swann's crew from the prologue. This leads him to Dorothea (Famke Jannsen) and her husband, Swann. It seems that Butterfield and his strange bald follower is on the hunt for Nix, looking to resurrect the crazy guy.

Swann is now a famous illusionist, a term he uses without letting on that he knows real magic. It is the illusionists who get the big money, no one cares about the reality. The investigator, now in the employ of Dorothea to investigate Quaid's murder, attends one of Swann's performances. However, a new illusion goes bad and Swann dies onstage.

Harry follows the case as it goes deeper and deeper into the realm of magic. Who is Nix and what would his return mean? Why is Dorothea so scared? Harry keeps plugging away, undaunted by the oddities that confront him, flaming figures, fake bodies, strange denizens of a magical underworld. All of it is leading to a final confrontation between Swann and Nix.

Lord of Illusions is certainly an interesting film. It has a feel that is all of is own. It is a mash of up of horror and noir. The D'Amour character is a detective of the hard boiled variety trapped in an occult world. It is certainly interesting concept. The problem I had win I was that I wanted to know more about him. Perhaps if we had more films with him it wold have worked better. While Swann, Nix, and Dorothea, among others are really the focus with Harry being our entry into the world, Harry is still interesting and deserving of some time.

I also wonder about the timing. Why wait thirteen years to go looking for him? Also, Butterfield was there, why did he need assistance looking for Nix's burial spot? As for Swann, considering his action against Nix at the start, I would have expected him to stay away from the magic.

I liked Von Bergen's portrayal of Nix. The guy is dirty, grimy, evil, and plain bad. It is fascinating to watch his cult members react to him, that requires a high level of charisma. Really, all of the performances work well. Bakula and O'Connor hit all the right notes and Jannsen is a nicely sympathetic figure.

Written and directed by Clive Barker, he once again shows his ability to make interesting things happen on the screen. The man is a true artist who has some nightmarish vision. Look no further than that thing that Nix does to make you see people's skin peel away. There is also the very tense sequence when Swann apparently does onstage. It is a shame that this was the lat film he directed, I would love to see him get behind the camera again.


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