A refugee from Hell

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I’ve never been much of a Clive Barker fan, so I never saw “Lord of Illusions” when it came out. It’s been playing on our cable though, so we gave it a try. Despite Leonard Maltin’s half-hearted endorsement (“Intelligent thriller [. . .] better than the usual genre fare, but it’s thinly plotted, and condescends slightly to its audience” it was entertaining enough and I never saw any condescension.

It stars “Quantum Jump”-er and “Star Trek Enterprise” captain Scott Bakula as a out-of-his league gumshoe and a very hot, young Famke Janssen (Jean Grey of “X-Men” ) as the damsel in distress. The plot, which involves cults and real magic, has several Howardian elements, which makes me wonder if Barker is a fan.

At the start, two cultists murder a mystic, and one of them has filed teeth (not that that necessarily owes anything to Howard’s “Shadows in Zamboula” — but the other one is the creepier. This is a prelude to the main plot, which involves the PI being hired to check into whatever problem is haunting an illusionist, who then apparently dies in a stage accident. He has been hired by the sultry wife/widow whom he promptly bangs. What the illusionist feared is a man who has been dead for over a decade –a man who taught him that magic was real. In a very creepy sequence with echoes of Acheron, this dead sorcerer is brought back to life by his faithful cult.

For our P.I. hero, who seems not too far removed from Howard’s River Street, handgun fire is a hearty incantation, but in the end, it is the borrowed power of a formerly subordinate mage (the illusionist, not actually dead after all, but now getting there) who tried and failed to stem the black master’s evil — as in “People of the Black Circle” — that lets our braver and more determined hero throw the sorcerer back down to hell, in a sequence that relies on flashy special effects to the detriment of good storytelling. Still and all, a very interesting film.