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John Ary's Aint It Scary Reviews #8 Of 31!! Clive Barker's LORD OF ILLUSIONS!!


John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews.  Today a private eye takes on a master of the dark arts with a horror mystery set in the 90s.


Clive Barker attempts to marry film noir with his own unique brand of demonic horror.  The result starts off as a promising mystery full of dark witchcraft and spells, but slows down into a plodding action film as Scott Bakula takes on The Lord of Illusions.  

While on a routine insurance fraud case in L.A., supernatural detective Harry D’Amour gets sidetracked when stumbles upon the murder of a fortune teller.  The killing is somehow connected to a world-renowned magician that maybe using actual magic to power his illusions.  Through his investigation D’Amour unweaves a murderous plot that could mean the end of the world.

The movie starts off very strong with an opening sequence that incorporates some excellent special effects, a creepy atmosphere and the basis for an interesting bad guy.  The main problem is the story’s structure.  There isn’t much mystery in this mystery.  We pretty much have everything figured out by the end of the second act.  When we get to the big climax there aren’t any interesting surprises left.  By then it becomes an excuse to show off more special effects shots, most of which are a rehash of effects we saw from earlier in the movie.  It devolves, moving away from its film noir/horror setup into a boring action movie with Scott Bakula constantly getting thrown around by the main bad guy and his henchman.  It goes from pretty cool to pretty boring over the course of its 120 minute run.

Visually, it’s a nice time capsule from the mid-90’s.  The special effects probably looked fantastic for the time period, but now, especially watching it in HD, they look a bit archaic.  One thing you can usually count on with Clive Barker is great make-up work.  He delivers here with an excellent character design that is disgusting and fascinating to look at all at the same time.  Maybe the most distracting thing in the movie is Scott Bakula’s clothing choices.  Was the costume director colorblind or is that how suave detectives dressed back then?

The characters were a mixed bag.  I’m a Scott Bakula fan.  When he’s playing a nice guy like on Quantum Leap or Necessary Roughness, he comes off a sincere and empathetic.  Unfortunately the dark tone of the film doesn’t really suit him.  He just doesn’t feel right as a hard-boiled detective who has literally seen hell personified.  On the other hand, Barry Del Sherman perfectly sets the tone with every scene he appears in.  As Butterfield the henchman, he’s vile, shrewd and dangerous... the kind of bad guy you appreciate.

Lord of Illusions does a few things right, but it loses its way by trying to walk the line between detective pulp and supernatural horror.  In the end, it does neither particularly well.  At least Clive Barker brings a few of his signatures along for the ride... a devilish bad guy, plenty of gore and the feeling that at any time an important character (other than Scott Bakula) could die in an vile awful way.  

Lord of Illusions is currently streaming on Netflix.  It’s also available on DVD here.


Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as a bunch of stereotypical high school kids from the 80’s spend a night in a haunted mortuary.

For more video news, reviews and interviews subscribe to the AICN Youtube channel and follow me on Twitter.


Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 8, 2012, 8:24 a.m. CST

    This is another pretty mediocre movie.

    by Smerdyakov

    Johns not improving his batting average.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 9:02 a.m. CST

    There is one detail in this movie i loved:

    by albert comin

    There is a moment when D'Amour has to shot out a video camera to turn it of. Now, in most moive,s the hero only has to point and shot and hits right on. In this movie, he has to shoot like 3 times to finally land a killshot. It's quite a nice moment of realism in the middle of all the fantastic stuff. And i think Scott Bakula plays darker and grittier well. His achievements in good people acting might reflect who he is in real life, by all admissions a truly nice guy. But he's talented, he can do more then that, thank heavens. Also, it has a pre-Goldeneye Famke Janssen and an almost unrecognizable Kevin J. O'Connor as the pivotal character that kicks out the whole plot, such things shouldn't go unnoticed.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 9:27 a.m. CST

    George Costanza's Boss

    by Jesusbeater

    Just couldn't shake it.Every time I looked at the bad guy,I kept getting reminded of Mr.Kruger and couldn't take him seriously as a villain.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 9:28 a.m. CST

    Wish this had been the start of a series

    by Flippadippa

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 9:29 a.m. CST

    lmfao ending.

    by vulturess

    just give the big bad the flush down the toilet to hell. happy ending for everyone.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 9:37 a.m. CST

    Barker's work simply doesn't translate to film

    by 2for2true

    And don't bring up Hellraiser... one good character does not a great movie make. I've found that the more B-grade his films go (Rawhead Rex, etc.) the better they are. The sad thing is that Barker is probably the most eloquent horror/fantasy writer living today, yet his best works (Imagica, Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show) are considered unfilmable by most directors and production companies who have considered them. Even Disney backed away from his Abarat series when they realized the depth of detail needed to pull it off. I consider myself one of Barker's biggest fans, and it kills me to know I'll never get to see his greatest works on the big screen. Maybe for the best...but I'd love to see what Peter Jackson could do with Imagica....

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 9:40 a.m. CST

    I like this movie. It's got Mr. Krueger and Count Bakula

    by phifty2

    As far as having no mystery by the end of the second act, I never thought about that so I guess it doesn't bother me. Good set pieces, dialogue, characters (Butterfield, D'Amour, Swann), and fx. At least it was something original. Well somewhat. Isn't there a movie where Fred Ward pays Lovecraft as a P.I.?

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 9:44 a.m. CST

    And I always liked the scene/s of the cult members...

    by phifty2

    ...killing their families without a thought when they get the call to return. Then they all end up embedded in the floor. Karma.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 9:46 a.m. CST

    Fred Ward Movie, the Last Illusion

    by Gislef_crow

    The Fred Ward movie was Cast a Deadly Spell. Far superior to this. Sadly the movie ruined what was a perfectly good short story, The Last Illusion (one of my favorite Barker shorts), and padded it out to two hours to make it a theatrical product.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 9:54 a.m. CST

    Serious Fun

    by Micah

    This was a great and scary ride in the early nineties. It is such an evil movie that it is fun to watch. One of the best Barker on screen for sure.

  • discover that he was full of lies.

  • fuck no. he has already ruined Tolkien's work..

  • The guy's a hard man to kill. Even he can't do it.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 11:35 a.m. CST

    I was in this!

    by dr geek

    No, really. We drove down from SF to LA to be extras in the audience in one of the illusionists shows - with the swords and all that. We got to "meet" Clive. It was cool - well, as cool as sitting in the audience to a show that does not exist for 8 hours can be.

  • D'Amour would be good for a TV show. Cable though.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 1:07 p.m. CST

    Saw this in the theater. Walked away disappointed.

    by adeceasedfan

    There were several 90's horror films that had a similar effect on me. I'm looking at you The Dark Half. If I could get my money back, I could've bought that Sony Discman that I always wanted. BASS BOOST!

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 1:07 p.m. CST

    Saw this in the theater. Walked away disappointed.

    by adeceasedfan

    There were several 90's horror films that had a similar effect on me. I'm looking at you The Dark Half. If I could get my money back, I could've bought that Sony Discman that I always wanted. BASS BOOST!

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 1:32 p.m. CST

    I saw this at a free pre-screening

    by sideway

    and I still thought I got ripped off.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 3:05 p.m. CST

    no matter how you feel about this picture, you gotta admit

    by Monnie Knapp

    That mandrill kicks ass! That vicious bastard should've been the mastermind of the entire sordid caper.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 4:55 p.m. CST

    I agree with the review.

    by MaxTheSilent

    Bakula just doesn't have the presence to do D'Amour justice. He's the white bread TV guy. And the movie has that over-lit 90's look that every movie had before Fincher made it okay to have deep blacks and negative space. Also, the best movie with Clive Barker's name on it is still CANDYMAN.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 6:04 p.m. CST

    Linking to previous installments

    by Manaqua

    Hey John, any way to link to previous installments of this column at the bottom of each one? Be VERY helpful in backtracking ones we miss! I hope so! God stuff! Cheers!

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 8:51 p.m. CST

    The Last Illusion

    by skellngtn

    is possibly my favorite tale from the Books of Blood. When I heard there would be a movie based on the D'Amour tale, I was psyched. Then, in the theater it was all just a Manson family style cult in the desert with no demonic beasts floating down the street. It was just OK and that pissed me off back then. I had such high hopes...still, the D'Amour vs Pinhead thing'd be cool...if it ever comes out.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 12:52 a.m. CST


    by MaxTheSilent

    It seems like THE SCARLET GOSPELS has become the 'Chinese Democracy' of the book world.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 7:49 a.m. CST

    Is anyone hotter than Famke?


    No. No-one is hotter than Famke.

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 12:09 p.m. CST

    It was ahead of its time...

    by nicegoogly

    To a certain extent. Without a film like this, Constantine (even as a fan of Hellblazer, I liked it) was able to get made years later. There was nothing like it at the time. Supernatural detective...awesome. I agree with sekkngtn, I would love to see someone that take on the Cennobites than just two cute chicks...

  • Oct. 9, 2012, 12:09 p.m. CST


    by nicegoogly

    Odd thing is, 15 years later, Bakula could still pull this character off.

  • Oct. 21, 2012, 2:19 p.m. CST

    I think they borrowed the wardrobe from Dean Stockwell

    by tangcameo

    ...or borrowed whoever designed Stockwell's suits for Quantum Leap.

  • Oct. 25, 2012, 4:45 p.m. CST

    One of my fave's from the 90's

    by 88keyz

    This along with The Resurrected, In The Mouth Of Madness and Event Horizon are probably my favourite 90's horror movies. Keep in mind these were coming out at time when movies like Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer were ruling the horror box office.