Lord of Illusions (1995) – Clive Barker

I remember discovering the writings of Clive Barker, and how his writing actually got under my skin, and freaked me out a bit. He definitely won a fan in me, and then the film, Hellraiser, wow! And while Nightbreed garnered itself a bit of a cult following, Lord of Illusions never seemed to, which bums me out. I really like this one, the director’s cut, of course.

Throw in Scott Bakula, who I loved watching in Quantum Leap (and later, Enterprise) and as far as I was concerned, it was going to be a satisfying film. And for me, it is. It’s kind of a west coast noir, but mixing in the world of illusion and magic.

Harry D’Amour (Bakula) is a private investigator that more than flirted with the dark edges of the paranormal, having just finished a case involving an exorcism. He’s offered a case in Los Angeles, and takes it, only to find himself mired in the tropes of the genre, all doused with a supernatural flavor.

He’s been hired by Dorothea Swann (Famke Janssen) to investigate her past, whether she admits or not, and that of her husband, famous stage illusionist and possible actual magician, Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor), as some of her husband’s friends are turning up dead.

When Swann dies on stage during his final performance, Harry, who is struggling with his attraction to Dorothea, digs deeper and finds references to someone called The Puritan, and his connection to Swann, Dorothea, and the escalating body count.

It seems The Puritan, known as Nix (Daniel von Bargen) at one point, discovered true magic, had created a cult around him, with Swann as his second, until Swann turned against him, and worked to stop the evil that Nix seemed to be intent on committing.

Is magic real? Harry seems to ask that question a lot, despite the fact that his literary history suggests he already knows that. Sure, he has to be the gateway into the story for the viewer, but Harry seems to be intent on asking questions he already knows the answers to.

Perhaps he does that not only for the audience, but to keep those he is question off their guard, as if he doesn’t know as much as he does.

We race towards a final confrontation with a resurrected Nix, and Harry has to decide how close he is going to get to the darkness, and what it will mean for him.

I really do enjoy this film, the way it plays with noir tropes, the beautiful wife with a secret, the misleading evidence and misdirection to make you look one way (isn’t that just like a magic trick?) until you see the truth.

I wish we could have more D’Amour, I know he’s popped up in a couple of Barker’s stories, and played a part in the comic series that developed around Hellraiser, but I would love to see more of him on the screen.

Barker has always been able to draw me in, and his films definitely catch my attention. And who doesn’t like Bakula?

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