The story is pure Barker and is told with a terrific noir horror feel
In Barker’s fevered imagination, where demons exist and are persecuted by humans, there is magic, real magic as used by magicians. Those with real power who tower above illusionists who just use trickery, sleight of hand and other human traits. When The Puritan, a real magician called Nix, wants to raze the world, his disciple, Swann, is the only one who can stop him; thus starts Lord of Illusions, Barker’s own adaptation of his short story, into which he pours his dark, black heart.
The story, that of New York City private detective Harry D'Amour, who has a call to the dark side and all things supernatural, finding himself embroiled in dark cults, murder, suicide, love and magic, is everything about Barker. Magic is real and dark forces are benevolent only to be corrupted by man. He tries to meld film noir with the supernatural and for the most part succeeds (at least in the director’s version) but as with most of his films (save that of Hellraiser) puts in too many ideas that can’t be fully explored; love, death, resurrection, corruption, cultism, (real) magic. And typically for his way of storytelling, throws the viewing audience right into the action without ever explaining what is happening and who we are watching. In his books this works out fine as there is time to work out exactly who is who and where it is going, but on screen it is a little jarring.
Whilst I applaud the attempt, ultimately the lack of character introduction and character arc means that you don’t really care about them. This is compounded by little or no chemistry exhibited by the main protagonists and, as such, there is not much involvement. Scott Bakula (he of the furrowed brow!) in my opinion isn’t right for the part. D’Amour requires a dark character, dirty even, someone who has fought with the devil and then had a smoke with him afterwards. And Bakula is just too damn nice for the role. On the other side of the coin, Kevin J. O'Connor playing the illusionist Swann is neither mysterious nor threatening enough to be truly reckoned with. Only the ravishing Famke Janssen shows any kind of empathy, but, as noted above, her liaison with D’Amour is not only rushed but painfully lacking chemisty.
Having said all that the story is pure Barker and is told with a terrific noir horror feel as well as some nice gore and effects (at least in the director’s version) and is told with gusto and verve that pulls the film kicking and screaming into a very watchable horror. And I love the ideas behind it; the cultist murdering their ‘other’ families, the raw power exhibited by Nix, but his all too human arrogance that leads to his downfall. Ultimately Lord of Illusions does do more right than it does wrong, and here in its director’s cut, it is even more right. It has rightly become a strong contender for cultdom and is perhaps Barker’s second best film.
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