The year is 1982, and a man called Nix has gathered his cult members in an old house in the Mojave Desert. His disciples refer to him as “The Puritan”, and he’s got real magic powers. He plans to sacrifice a young girl, and convinces his followers that this will save the world and grant them wisdom. At the same time, a group of former cult members are driving through the desert in order to stop him. Among them is Philip Swann, who ends up being attacked by Nix’s magic but is then saved by the young girl who manages to shoot Nix through the heart with Swann’s gun. Of course, this isn’t enough to kill the guy, so Swann takes a hellish-looking iron mask and fastens it on Nix’s head in order to “bind” him and his powers. Apparently, he then dies, and his body is buried in the desert. Fast forward to present day, which is thirteen years later, we’re in New York City where a private detective named Harry D’Amour is investigating occult cases, including an exorcism case which shakes him badly. During a new investigation which is supposed to not have any occult-related cases, he still ends up in a messy attack on a fortune teller which warns him that “the Puritan is coming”, hinting that Nix may return from the dead. The fortune teller dies before he can reveal anything more. Then, he gets hired by a woman named Dorothea, who is Philip Swann’s wife. Swann now works as a famous stage illusionist, and she fears for her husband and wants D’Amour to investigate if he’s being targeted. He’s invited to Swann’s next magic show, which then goes terribly wrong…and that’s just the start of D’Amour’s descent into a world of magic and madness.
Lord of Illusions is a neo-noir supernatural horror film from 1995, written and directed by Clive Barker. It is based on one of his own short stories, named The Last Illusion, which was published in 1985 in Volume 6 of the anthology Books of Blood. The movie stars Scott Bakula as the private detective D’Amour, and Kevin J. O’Connor (Swann) and Famke Janssen (Dorothea), the latter two both starring in Deep Rising from 1998. While Clive Barker kept many of the elements from the short story, he made enough changes so it’s practically a new story, which was apparently met with mixed opinions from the readers of his original work.
Those familiar with Clive Barker’s work knows that he’s most known for Hellraiser, and that his stories often range from traditional horror to dark fantasy and sometimes even comedy. A recurrent theme is how seemingly ordinary people end up in situations that are either supernatural or violent/mysterious in some kind of way. The stories can often be morbid and disturbing, and while some of them are more fun than unsettling, there is one story of his that really stuck with me, and that’s In the Hills, the Cities which was published in the first Books of Blood volumes. It was also published in the comic anthology Tapping the Vein with haunting visuals by John Bolton. His most famous work to this day is still Hellraiser, which was based on his short story The Hellbound Heart. A remake was also made in 2022, directed by David Bruckner.
Lord of Illusions is a movie that is nowhere close as renowned as Hellraiser, however. And it’s definitely more of an odd film, and thus destined to bounce off the radar for a lot of people. It’s a shame, though, as it really offers a nice blend of neo-noir with cosmic horror. A masterpiece it ain’t, but it’s still damn entertaining. The movie starts off with a bang, giving us a glimpse into a crazy cult leader’s world and his brainwashed followers, and a fight which ends in a brutal scene. While there are some parts in the film that move along a little slowly, it doesn’t really let up from there as we’re being presented with a steady delivery of action, murders, magic and insanity. There’s a few twists and turns underway as well, and some decent gore. Most specifically it’s got style; it’s pleasant to watch with a lot of intriguing scenes and settings like the creepy decrepit house in the desert and the magician’s victorian mansion for example. As for the movie’s special effects, there’s a range of the good to the pretty outdated. Some of the death and gore scenes are fairly well executed with believable effects, while some of the otherworldly elements looks like something from a Nintendo 64 game…but honestly, that’s part of the fun, and adds to the overall peculiar atmosphere of the movie.
So all in all I think that Lord of Illusions is a fun spooky ride, providing a bit of mystery and a lot of dark magic. It was the last film Clive Barker directed, and it may not be Clive Barker at his best, but it is definitely enjoyable.
Writer and director: Clive Barker
Country & year: US, UK, 1995
Actors: Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O’Connor, Famke Janssen, J. Trevor Edmond, Daniel von Bargen, Joseph Latimore, Sheila Tousey, Susan Traylor, Ashley Tesoro, Michael Angelo Stuno, Keith Brunsmann