I Wrote my First Movie Review While Giving Birth to a Camera. It has followed me ever since. Please don't mind the Mess.
This review of Lord of Illusions is to remind a very special someone reading this (not you) that he/she rented this movie way back in 1996 soon after it became available for rent on VHS-
-I will now give you a chance to Google “VHS” and the phrase “available for rent”-
This very special someone just got a letter informing him/her that he/she hasn’t returned the tape and has accrued thousands of dollars in late fees over the past 20-plus years. If you don’t return the videotape soon and pay the late fee in full, the now bankrupt franchise of video stores will hire people to find you. It won’t take them long, even though you’ve managed to not pay your taxes for most of this new century. You’ve changed your name, changed your pants, even changed your gender more than once (M to F and back to M again).
But rest assured, these people want their copy of Lord of Illusions back and they will stop at nothing to get it. They know you moved to another state in 1998 and you took the videotape with you. You bounced around from job to job before settling as a horse inseminator in 2005, oddly enough, probably the last year someone actually rented a videotape.
In 2008, you accidentally stashed the tape into a closet full of horse insemination instructional videos that you produce for veterinarians and a more soundtrack laden one you make for a very special group of the viewing public that just like to watch horse insemination videos. You also include opening credits and a catchy theme song.
It wasn’t long before you became the leading producer in horse insemination videos and in 2011, you branched out into more animals. Now all the veterinarians and breeders want your videos. They make up the bulk of your customer base.
You also cater to the more fetishistic of your clientele, with flashier production background value and even local actors playing extras. By 2015, the entire world knew that if one wanted any kind of animal insemination video, you were the one to turn to.
Or at least that’s what I thought, when I placed that very special order from you and you accidentally sent me a videotape of Lord of Illusions.
Few people know the meaning of disappointment more than someone who commissions and whale fertilization video and gets a mid-90s Clive Barker horror movie in return.
The movie isn’t bad, I just wanted that whale video.
Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the video I ordered. While I’m waiting I’ll pass the time by reviewing Lord of Illusions.
Lord of Illusions opens in 1982 and were smack dab in the middle of what looks like a cult meeting. Yes, one of those cool cults where the head person wears a robe and everyone else has a Sean Hannity sycophantic devotion to him.
This charismatic cult leader is named Nix (Daniel Von Bargen) and he’s kidnapped a little girl for reasons you can probably guess like he’s going to sacrifice her or something like that.
Nix is going to sacrifice her or something like that. Nix is now calling himself the Puritan.
His followers drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago and are willing to do anything Nix says.
Nix says he knows the path to true magic, not illusions. He’s powerful enough to transcend time and even death. We’ll believe it when we see it.
Meanwhile, outside the stucco cult compound, former cult members want to kill Nix. Including a man named Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor). Swann knows how dangerous Nix is and tells everyone else to be wary of Nix’s mind powers. And his mandrill. Because any cult leader worth his salt has a pet mandrill.
Nix and Swann clash. Nix transfers some of his supposed powers onto Swann and Swann is seduced by the dark side. But before Swann does a swan dive into death, Nix is shot by the little girl he kidnapped.
Lesson: Don’t kidnap little girls for your death cult.
Swann performs a ritual that binds him to death. He then buries him so deep into the earth that no one will find him until maybe the end of the movie. Possibly before that.
The movie flashes forward 13 years later.
We meet a private detective named Harry D’ Amour (Scott Bakula). He fits every noir private eye cliché: he drinks hard, he’s divorced and paying alimony, he has a picture of Bruce Willis from Pulp Fiction on the wall of his office.
Harry’s been hired to go to Los Angeles to follow a guy suspected of insurance fraud. His name is Tapert and he likes strippers. Tapert also likes going to fortune tellers. Harry follows him to one.
Tapert rushes out of the fortune teller’s office in a panic. Harry figures out why. Said fortune teller has a bunch of knives stuck in him and is dead within minutes. Maybe he should have called Miss Cleo and he would have known what would happen. That’s a thing people did in the 90s or so I’ve heard.
Harry knows something is up and it’s a lot stranger than insurance fraud. He nixes (!) following Tapert because dead fortune tellers are a lot more fun.
Harry gets a knock on his hotel room door. Someone wants him to stay in LA and hire him for 5 thousand dollars a week. That someone is a not creepy nor suspect person named Valentin (Joel Swetow). He happens to work for Dorothea Swann (Famke Janssen). She happens to be married to Phillip Swann.
Ever since burying the Puritan into ground back in 1982, Phillip Swann has become quite the accomplished illusionist (never call him a magician).
It turns out that the murdered fortune teller was part of Swann’s crew that killed and buried Nix back in ’82. Turns out some of the Puritan’s cult are still around and seeking revenge. Perhaps a way to bring him back to life.
Dorothea hires Harry to find the other members of Phillip’s crew because they may be in danger. She also invites him to see one of Phillip’s magic shows and he’s trying a new illusion.
But Phillip’s new illusion goes very wrong and he ends up getting impaled by a dozen swords, very much in the same manner as the fortune teller. Is there a connection? And is there a possibility that the Puritan will come back to life?
What Works With Lord of Illusions
- Famke Janssen’s first major American role before Goldeneye stands out as it’s filled with more sympathy and pathos than you’d expect from a mainstream horror movie.
- The movie’s only true disturbing moments come from the members of Nix’ cult. Every time they’re onscreen is the only time the audience is truly off-balance. The things people do for love or an old white guy with charisma.
- I’d seen this when it first came out on VHS way back in the day. Seeing it again, I’m bereft that more horror movies, nay, more movies in general don’t feature more mandrills. I’d watch more mandrill-centric horror.
What Doesn’t Work With Lord of Illusions
- Clive Barker’s mix of horror movie and 70s noir doesn’t always work as LOI only sometimes functions as a horror movie and barely works as a detective story. The movie’s rarely boring, but you find yourself wondering more than once when something is going to happen.
- I know this took place in the 90s, but you still cringe a little when the black guy dies first. You find the black guy in the cast, you say to yourself, “I bet he dies first.” And then you’re right.
While nowhere near as scary or memorable as Barker’s previous director outings Hellraiser and Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions remains a passably entertaining horror movie. See it again as it’s better than you remember with muted expectations.