Friday, October 09, 2009

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Taste the Darkness

In what is supposed to be a key "dramatic" scene in Clive Barker's 1995 flick LORD OF ILLUSIONS, a magician who has been dead for 13 years is resurrected from his earthen grave in the Mojave Desert. As nice as this resurrection might be, time would've been better spent injecting some life into the dull, dull, deathly dull script.

On paper LORD seems like a fun concept, although HBO's CAST A DEADLY SPELL with Fred Ward and David Warner did it earlier and better. (Surprisingly, SPELL is nowhere to be found on DVD. Too bad.) In this case, Scott Bakula (who celebrates his birthday today) stars as Harry D'Amour, a hard-boiled private investigator from New York specializing in occult cases. During a gig in sunny California he becomes immersed in a case of occult cover-up, marital infidelity, and some good ol' creepy goings-on. Sounds okay, right? Too bad it comes off like a drawn-out episode of Tales from the Crypt or any of a zillion other post-Twilight Zone horror anthologies.

Despite the good ideas at its core, LORD's execution is wrong from just about every angle. Bakula, never a great actor in my book, is pushed far beyond his talents with this role. Every hard-boiled line or action is tired and telegraphed, and his limited range of emotion rivals that of Craig Wasson and Nick Cassavettes. Famke Janssen is nothing to write home about either, phoning in a performance as the wife deserted by her magician hubby. Frankly, it's unfair to single these two out – everyone else is either uniformly bland or under the delusion that they're in a handful of other flicks.

Barker – returning to the director's chair for the first time since 1990's underrated NIGHTBREED – fans wildly on this outing. His reliance on the ritualistic cult nonsense is tiresome and we get a Wes Craven-like overuse of the dream/reality "shock" – the single most overused horror cliche of the last 20 years thanks to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.

This would be Barker's last time behind the camera for more than ten years, though he'll return for 2011's TORTURED SOULS: ANIMAE DAMNATAE, based on the graphic novel he wrote for Todd McFarlane's line of horrific action figures. After the unexpectedly entertaining mix of sex, sweat and gore featured in HELLRAISER and the aforementioned NIGHTBREED I suppose I was expecting more from this blend of the occult and hard-boiled detectives genres.

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