Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lord of Illusions


Things are really starting to come together for my triumphant return to Broadway, replacing Hugh Jackman in the retitled The Girl From Oz. I've gone out and ordered a whole lot of new Bob Mackie creations for all of my song and dance numbers. Hugh might have been satisfied with a selection of Hawaiian shirts but I must have something more form fitting and flattering. As a matter of fact, Ania, my private dramaturg and playwright, is busy completely reconstructing the piece for me. We've decided to jettison the Peter Allen character all together and focus instead on a true international Australian singing sensation, Olivia Newton-John - a real girl from Oz. We're going to trace her rise from obscurity through top forty fame, those fabulous seventies musicals, to wife, mother and retail queen. It's going to be amazing. The preliminary sketches for the Xanadu number alone will make everyone forget that pesky chandelier down the street.

In terms of costars, we tried to get John Travolta to play himself for the big act one Grease finale, but he was afraid that doing a musical might make his public think he was homosexual and he turned us down. We've had to settle for his brother, Joey. I'm trying to pin down just the right young superstar to play the part of love interest Matt Lattanzi. I've been told Reuben Studdard is very interested. Normy, who has all sorts of musical talent, is busy arranging Have You Never Been Mellow and Physical as major tap numbers for me and the chorus boys, who have these absolutely darling little leotard and leg warmer outfits for the latter as we set it in a dance aerobics studio.

I've barely had time to catch my breath, much less keep up with my important calling as cinema taste maker to the stars, but I did manage to have a little down time this past week. During one of the rare quiet moments, Normy and I snuggled down in the home theater and caught the 1995 Clive Barker film, Lord of Illusions on one of the lesser cable channels. Clive Barker first surfaced in the 1970s as an experimental film maker and visual artist, working with images of suffering and evil.  He later made his mark as a novelist and, in the 1980s, turned to Hollywood with such quirky variations on the horror film as Hellraiser and Candyman, both competent little 'B' horror/thrillers.

Lord of Illusions centers around a New York private detective, Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula), who specializes in investigating the occult, as he heads for Los Angeles for some routine case work. He soon becomes involved in a web of intrigue involving members of a doomsday cult, headed by Nix (Daniel von Bargen), whose strange powers are conveyed by an odd prologue, set some years previously, that seems to cross Helter Skelter with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Nix who has superhuman evil powers has been imprisoned in some sort of metal face mask by some renegade cultists led by Philip Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor). Swann, who seems to have obtained some of Nix's magic, has become a David Copperfield like stage illusionist, better than his peers as he has actual magic at his disposal. When his latest illusion goes wrong and he is killed onstage before a horrified audience, his not so grieving widow (Famke Janssen) wants answers and D'Amour is soon learning the difference between the stage magic of illusion and the terrors of real magic as he infiltrates the cult and tries to prevent Nix from returning and wreaking evil on the land.

As the above summary would indicate, the film is a horror fantasia which places image and theme above plot and character. Barker has always been interested in the odd juxtaposition of visual elements or words that give the viewer a sense of unease. His characters seem to embody both the agonies and the ecstasies of physical suffering and always seem to be dancing on the edge of sex acts as they're being eviscerated in increasingly nasty ways. As is usual in his films, he ultimately fails in being truly terrifying by going too far and showing too much. The minute we get a graphic visual image of something, the power goes away as the suspension of disbelief weakens slightly. The more we see of Nix and his followers, or the more blood that flows across the screen, the less we're scared. He does find some ways to use his weird visual sense effectively, especially in the design of Nix's desert lair with Barker's own creepy paintings on the walls.

The performances are competent. Bakula is charmingly sexy in the role of the rumpled detective of the silly name. He's able to take what he's given and create a credible hero. Kevin J. O'Connor, one of the better character actors working these days, also has some good moments although his character is somewhat underwritten and some of his motivations remain murky at best. There's also some fun work by character stalwarts Joel Swetow and Vincent Schiavelli.

While I can't say that Lord of Illusions is a good film, it's usually entertaining and has some interesting ideas. Save the last fifteen minutes for your trips to the bathroom or to make more popcorn in the microwave as the final showdown is somewhat lackadaisical in its execution with tension evaporating rather than building through the sequence.

Demon exorcism. Gratuitous dead chickens. Fire juggling. Human/animal part constructions. Falling swords. Dragon spitting. Gratuitous mutilated psychic. Flaming foyer. Mental patient versus motor vehicle accident. Muddy cultists.

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