Lord of Illusions (1995)

The recurring motifs of magic and BDSM that have been hallmarks of Clive Barker’s artistic output since the 1980s are on full display throughout “Lord of Illusions,” but what seems to be missing is perspective and context. Perhaps Barker was simply too emotionally close to his own literary source here that he forgot to let his audience in on the setup, but the movie just sort of… starts. It takes a while to piece together exactly what’s going on for the first half, which seems to be by design in a bastardized, light film-noir kinda way, but there aren’t enough interesting characters onscreen to get the audience engaged. So by the time the overstuffed, needlessly chaotic plot really gets going, you’re always playing catch-up and trying to remember why any of it matters. All of that aside however, there’s no denying that “Lord of Illusions” is fascinating in a low-key way: Barker must have had terrific pull in Hollywood to get this off the ground, but this has no mainstream or cherubic appeal whatsoever; it’s a dark, hyper-intellectualized and deliberately off-putting detective story with experimental special effects and flashes of dark, malicious inspiration here and there. Scott Bakula makes the most of his underwritten role as Frank D’Amour (a recurring protagonist in Barker’s novels) and he looks great doing it, but his co-stars don’t fare quite as well (in particular Kevin J. O’Connor, who is totally miscast as an allegedly charismatic magician, and J. Trevor Edmond, who seems to be playing Jack McFarland as Buffalo Bill). So, worth watching for the experience overall, but it’s not exactly a masterpiece.

Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)

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