Today the Cinema Temple returns with a review of Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions (1995)
The film opens in 1985 at a cult retreat out in the Mojave desert. Here a man named Nix has taken up the moniker of The Puritan and plans to use his all to real magical powers for some vague evil. But before he and his cult can engage in whatever child sacrifice shenanigans they were planning, a group of ex-cult members led by a young man named Swann show up with guns and the intent to end Nix’s evil. They succeed in riddling Nix with holes and binding the demonic power within him, but cut to the modern day of ’95 and his dark power begins to rise again. In the present we follow Harry D’Amour, a recurring character of barker’s who is something of a noir style private detective everyman hero, with a propensity for getting wrapped up in the occult of course. He comes down to Los Angeles hunting a case of tax evasion but quickly forgets that boring line of inquiry when he comes across a murder at a magic shop. One thing leads to another and soon D’Amour meets Swann, who has parleyed his knowledge of real magic into a career as an insanely popular illusionist. No sooner do the two cross paths does Swann die in a freak stage accident, leaving only a young grieving widow to help D’Amour uncover the clues and stop Nix from rising before it is too late.
I have briefly mentioned my affection for the Weird Fiction of the 90’s and early 21st century before, a genre of which Clive Barker is a standout master. But what is Weird Fiction? many have tried to define it only to leave many more confused. I say it lies at the crossroads of all speculative fiction, combining a contemporary pulp style with elements of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. The foundation of Weird Fiction does not lie in the traditions of these literary genres though, it lies in ideas of modernity. Weird Fiction is created when a writer realizes that the original fantasies were methods of exploring contemporaneous issues while stretching the imagination to shock and amaze with fantastical new ideas, then takes this and applies it to the modern zeitgeist. But this is not enough to truly pin down Weird Fiction, the final piece, I believe, is a Joseph Campbellian love of, and deconstruction of common mythological themes and symbols, which brings us to the subgenre of this particular film, the urban fantasy. Urban fantasy takes place in our world but the Merlins and John Dees of the world are still around, working magic while sporting trench coats and a .45.
To this world Scott Bakula, who plays our lead D’Amour, fits right in. While he goes for an antiquated noirish style of performance, Barker keeps it in check and remembers the purpose of that distinctly American fantasy, that it was relatable. Barker apparently wanted to use this to create a horror franchise centered around the protagonist instead of the antagonist as is common and while there are no sequels, his hero focused approach does lend for a unique tone to the film. It’s just not quite a true horror film to me, not that this is a bad thing, the film feels more character driven than scare driven and the horror all seems natural for the L.A. gothic atmosphere. Still, I think this is a fascinating movie with a great story, no need for overwrought thrills and excitement, Barker delivers something a little more literate yet still steeped in the traditions of American cinema. 5/5