This is also known as Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions, because Clive Barker likes making sure his name is on things.
Good old Clive Barker. He gave us Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Candyman, and a whole bunch of other movies not really worth remembering compared to all of his writing, video games, art, action figure line…I think you see where this is going. Barker’s done a lot over the years, so it makes sense that some of his stuff should fall through the cracks. Lord of Illusions is one of those things that never comes up in the conversation, and frankly, it’s for the best.
The 1990s was a weird time, full of all kinds of experimentation with visual effects. Guess what movie got praised for it on release? Guess what movie has effects that didn’t age well at all? At different points you’ll see CG fire, a five-polygon man, digital superimposition, and so on. It might have looked good at the time, but now it pales in comparison to the practical effects. Add this to the clean look of the camera even in a fake-looking slum house, and it’s tough to take things seriously.
Here’s how things are going. There’s a doomsday cult full of wannabe suburbanites and bondage addicts run by a magician named Nix. Another magician named Swann shows up to stop his human sacrifice and kills him. Years later, Scott Bakula winds up stumbling across the cult leader’s minions killing a dude and discovers the wonderful wide world of magic. He teams up with Famke Janssen, who was to be the human sacrifice, but Swann fakes his death. Nix’s weird snakepants-wearing henchman finds Nix’s body and resurrects him. Bakula and Janssen help Swann fight Nix in a battle to the death where neither magician survives. Bad CG occurs, and we have to see snakepants in a corset and belly shirt. Cultists have terrible fashion sense.
Yeah, Barker’s thing for bondage and sexual exploration has shown up in numerous works. It was fantastic in Hellraiser. Here it comes across largely silly. I can’t take a villain seriously who wears a vest and too-tight snakepants combo. I don’t care if I just watched him scalpel a guy to death, he looks more dorky than terrifying. Also, he’s walking around with a serious metric fuckton of scalpels. Who carries that many? And where is he carrying them in that vest?
There are other problems with the movie, in particular in how it drags. Bakula’s investigation largely consists of hanging out at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles and bugging magicians into happily talking about their secrets. I’ve been to the Magic Castle, and by that, I mean I looked at it from outside because there is no way in hell they were gonna let me inside. They wouldn’t have just let Bakula saunter on in there either, and they ain’t gonna let him break into their magic repository complete with hologram security system either. Those points aside, Bakula keeps ending up around people who keep ending up dead, yet the LAPD don’t seem to care.
Another problem we have: Bakula’s got a weird back tattoo, and he experiences weird dream sequences and flashbacks to a previous case involving an exorcism, yet we only see flashes. That was way more interesting, what the hell are we watching snakepants for?! I want to see freaking demons! I’m being let down here.
It’s not all bad. When Nix’s corpse finally gets up and walks around, it’s all practical effects, and it’s cool. I wish the movie would have been more about him wandering around as a dead guy doing stuff. As it is, we have to put up with his annoying cult and their terrible attempts at being barbers before he finally wastes them the way they should have been from the get go. Next time, cut the fat; give us zombie Nix looking awesome and hurting people internally with his magic powers. That would have been so much better.