My Top 10 British Films – 9

The Rebel (1961)

Tony Hancock stars in his default role as a dour and downtrodden version of himself in this witty and prescient exploration of a nihilistic, self-referential and obsessively obscurantist art establishment.

Cursed with a big dream and a small talent, Hancock struggles to cope with the confines of his orderly, predictable and comfortably dull life as a junior clerk at an accounting firm, until at last his repressed inner artist finally breaks free to reshape his life forever. Fleeing from stuffy London to bohemian Paris, Hancock’s singular lack of painting talent is soon mistaken for a new and profound artistic expression as he rapidly rises to the pinnacle of European creative society through a mixture of good fortune, fast talking and the rigid intellectual conformity of an outwardly rebellious clique.

Emulated by struggling painters, courted by wealthy industrialists and pursued by their wives, Hancock’s every action and utterance is elevated to the status of profundity and uncommon insight as the aesthetic establishment both buys into and bolsters Hancock’s own delusions of greatness. As a result both his fame and resale value continue to increase not only for him, but for an ever-expanding orbit of agents, exhibitors and other hangers-on within the creative community.

Naturally it can’t last, and eventually the artistic world turns against him, declaring his work to be puerile and shallow, even though Hancock remains as reliably inept as he’s ever been. With the cycle completed, the film closes with Hancock back in his old London lodgings, having gained only a few hot meals while his agent has pocketed yet another fortune and moved on to the next creative meal-ticket.

In its own gentle yet insightful way, the Rebel is a conglomeration of Hancock’s earlier output, shining a light on a man who’s desperate to be taken seriously as an artistic and intellectual force, but lacks the background, connections and raw talent required to realise his dreams. Some famous Hancock’s Half Hours such as the Poetry Society and the Gourmet are writ large as his character struggles to realise the greatness he firmly believes is predestined, and yet is constitutionally incapable of reaching. In fact it’s this underlying theme that runs through almost the entire body of his work, making Hancock’s career in comedy and his untimely demise all the more poignant and touching, as life and art turned and turned about so often throughout his life that it was difficult to tell one from the other.

One of the things that makes Tony Hancock’s comedy so enduring is that we recognise ourselves in that simple working man who finds some small way to fight back against his crushing nihilistic existence each and every day. From the Rebel’s brilliant monologue on the morning commute to the perfectly executed choreography of the accountancy office, we lend Hancock our sympathy and support because we’ve all felt his existential agony first hand.

The foundational ideas underpinning the Rebel are as relevant today as they were in 1961, as we watch an increasingly remote artistic elite drifting ever further into conceptual obscurity, while still claiming to be the authentic voice and conscience of the human experience. Once inside that protected, moneyed and insulated clique, the stark choice between conformity and obscurity can be a powerful persuader for even the most ardent expressive soul.

The big joke running through the whole of the Rebel is that it’s not really a study of rebellion at all, but an ironic and cutting exposure of a shallow, self-absorbed and viciously conformist artistic establishment.

The Rebel provides much food for reflection in this time of great change.

My top 10 British Films – 10

Yield to the Night (1956)

J Lee Thompson directs a young Diana Dors’ compelling portrayal of condemned prisoner Mary Price Hilton in this suffocating study of banal, bureaucratic torture. Stripped of her trademark bombshell costumes and makeup, Dors looks uncommonly vulnerable as a true understanding of her plight begins to dawn as appeals fail and hope fades. Without her legendary good looks to hide behind, Dors gives the performance of her career as the fallen party girl transformed into a pale and mournful lost soul, hollowed out and shuffling around the prison grounds in a tortuous cycle of waiting and worrying as her inescapable fate approaches.

On constant suicide watch, the tension of mundane routines slowly climbs to an unbearable peak as Hilton struggles to ascribe some worthwhile meaning to her life and her final days in the claustrophobic condemned cell as she endures the agony of awaiting the noose. Eating, sleeping, smoking and playing cards with the prison officers surrounding her as the clock ticks down in that cold and spartan prison regime. The interplay between Hilton and her “matrons” is especially absorbing, as the surrounding staff struggle to balance their common humanity against their clear and inflexible judicial duties, with the invisible walls between the condemned and her handlers constantly being probed, breached and re-built as those charged with supervising Hilton’s state sanctioned demise struggle with the burden of their own individual consciences.

With nothing left to lose, Mary recounts the tale of how she came to be waiting at the scaffold, revealing a very human story of feminine jealousy, insecurity and lack of maturity, culminating in the murder of a rival for her lover’s affections. This moving and personal account is an excellent reminder that behind the headlines there is often a tragic and complex human story that all too often remains unexplored.

As Mary’s story reaches its inevitable climax, the tension of boredom becomes unbearable, forcing the watcher to almost feel sorry for the staff surrounding her as they stoically suffer and share in her psychological torture. When at last the final appeal is rejected, each tries to offer solace in her own clumsy and misguided way, while each knows there can no reprieve, no matter how much genuine remorse they believe condemned might feel.

While not exactly a fun family night in, Yield to the Night is an excellent example of the lost art of building tension through inaction. It often reminds me of the first twenty minutes of Psycho, where very little happens, yet the audience finds itself glued to the screen, afflicted by an almost inexplicable morbid fascination for every twist and nuance in a character’s complex relationships, despite already knowing how the tale must end.

Speaking of endings, Yield to the Night surely boasts one of cinema’s all-time great closing shots, as nearly everyone who watches this classic British film remarks on the that last abandoned cigarette, symbolically smouldering away through those final frames…with nobody coming back to claim it.

Yield to the Night is a hugely underrated exploration of those hidden human depths beneath both the dry court transcripts and the sensational press coverage surrounding any high profile case. Through dialogue and character development, it peels away the layers of half-truths to reveal a hugely flawed and almost childishly simplistic character doomed by circumstance, temperament and a wider societal demand for justice and retribution.

There is much food for thought in this unjustly forgotten film.

Carry On…and on…and on…

It’s that time of year again, when the nights grow dark, the lights grow bright and our favourite old movies are dragged out of the attic for their ritual parade across the Christmas schedules. We might never actually watch Die Hard, Scrooged, Mary Poppins or the Guns of Navarone, but we gain a sense of comfort and continuity from knowing that they’re still around…somewhere. These tried and tested staples are a lot like that quaint old village church we never visit, yet fight tooth and nail to protect from all manner of modern encroachments.

If current reports are even remotely accurate, then 2017 will be remembered as the year that big media and big politics were finally exposed as hotbeds of the very misogyny and predation they’ve often railed against with a screeching self-righteousness that was bound to raise suspicions sooner or later. I’d often thought they protested too much.

In light of this ruthless, career ending hunt for sexual misconduct both real and alleged, it’s kind of strange to see our socially awkward friends from the Carry On team gracing our screens day after day during the holiday season. How can we explain this contradiction? How is it that a bunch of bawdy farces from the sixties and seventies are still airing as family viewing long after most of their contemporaries have been demoted to obscure footnotes in feminist literature?

The answer is that although we may not watch them, we collectively give the Carry Ons a cultural pardon with a kind of affectionate indulgence not granted to other comedians, movies and franchises hailing from that admittedly controversial era. Somehow the good ship Carry On just carries on, despite the ill winds of revisionism doing their best to blow it off course. The reason for the Carry Ons’ seemingly inexplicable appeal has actually been staring us in the face these many years, with all the subtlety of Barbara Windsor’s bosom.

The truth is that while men may sit on the throne, a woman’s word is law in the kingdom of Carry On.

Sexually, institutionally, socially and even financially, the ladies are nearly always on top. From teenage temptresses, through senior nurses, saucily strict governesses and ending with screeching, hen-pecking harridans; the female of the species is most definitely smarter, more deadly and more astute than her underachieving Carry On competitors.

By contrast, the Carry On men are not quite the collection of unapologetic, misogynist barflys they’ve often been made out to be. They’re much more a bunch of hapless, balding, wannabe lotharios or comically uptight, neurotic misfits. They’re constantly outwitted by the younger women they’ve still not learned to leave well alone, while stumbling from one misadventure to the next. They’re forever looking over their shoulders, always fearful of Matron’s institutional power, or even worse, the wife’s marital and emotional muscle.

This is why the Carry On films have admittedly aged but yet still lasted, while a franchise like On the Buses has faded into almost total oblivion. Whilst it’s tempting to lump them both together, there’s a very good reason why one elicits a wry, grudging affection and the other commands only a kind of cringing and embarrassed contempt.

The Carry On men were most often the helpless victims of a world they only imagined they controlled, while the protagonists of On the Buses were a pair of workshy schemers who constantly badmouthed their wives while chasing ever more deluded dreams of extra marital affairs. While one franchise gave us a cast of outrageously camped-up caricatures, the other left us with only a pair of conniving, lying manipulators for company. Who would you want to hang out with?

History has now delivered its verdict.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the Carry On world lives within us all; finding validation with every fumbled chat up line and every free drink accepted from a stranger. We indulge, if not outright embrace these ageing sexual comedies because we know deep down that they reflect some enduring, unchanging and fundamental truths about our own social and sexual worlds. We recognise these often tongue tied, always awkward men within ourselves and also in others, because we know that a caricature begins its life in reality.

Long may they carry on…and on…and on.

My Top 10 Occult Movies – Full List

Having been pleasantly surprised by the popularity of this short review series, I’ve received several requests for the full list of my favourite occult movies in a single, convenient blog post…so here they are in all their otherworldly glory! Just hit the links below to see each separate review. Maybe you’ll find something new, or maybe you’ll discover a different way of looking at an old favourite. Enjoy the reviews and thank you all for your continued support.

1 – Excalibur (1981) “They made themselves God, and Christ has abandoned us!”

2 – The Mothman Prophecies (2002) “You will see her, in time.”

3 – The Ninth Gate (1999) “Some books are dangerous, not to be opened with impunity.”

4 – The Sin Eater (2003) “The terrible thing about the truth is that sometimes you find it.”

5 – The Medusa Touch (1978) “He sounded quite mad, and yet I believed every word he said.”

6 – Signs (2002) “Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”

7 – The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) “There are no injections against the Devil.”

8 – Lord of Illusions (1995) “I escaped from the grave, so I have to give something to the grave in return.”

9 – The Keep (1983) “You can’t stay here…no-one stays here.”

10 – The Believers (1987) “One life is all we ask.”

My Top 10 Occult Movies – 2

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

“You will see her, in time.”

Director Mark Pellington’s hugely disturbing exploration of prophesy, obsession, grief and loss is one of the subtlest and most unsettling examples of the modern storyteller’s art. Slowly brought to the boil by some excellent cinematography and the expert use of a non-musical sound score, The Mothman Prophecies manages to make the fantastical feel entirely credible.

Loosely based on accounts of the real-life Silver Bridge disaster, The Mothman Prophecies follows the story of a troubled man searching for answers that simply do not exist. Expertly shot in the freezing emptiness of flyover country, the bleak photography and slow-burn storyline somehow produce an ambient grey chill that seeps out of the screen and settles on the necks and spines of an unsuspecting audience.

Richard Gere steps outside his normal typecast boundaries to deliver a good performance as John Klein, a high-flying journalist who is haunted by the sudden death of his wife. That haunting takes a dangerous turn as it begins to manifest outside of Klein’s own imagination, inexplicably drawing him to an obscure town and leaving him with no knowledge of how he arrived there. As he probes deeper into his own experiences, Klein is forced to accept that the course of his life has been influenced by the same psychological contagion that’s consuming this icy backwater Virginian backwater.

The ever reliable Laura Linney plays the Main Street sheriff who’s struggling to come to terms with the strange sightings and bizarre events that are so unsettling her once peaceful community. Her well rounded character brings her own brand of hard-won wisdom to the increasingly sinister events as they unfold. However, the unsung star of this movie is undoubtedly Will Patton. His portrayal of a small town working man is the very antithesis of the learned mystic who seeks out prophetic powers. This makes Patton’s portrayal of Gordon Smallwood all the more compelling as the luckless labourer is driven first out of his mind and then into his grave by the Mothman’s obscure prophecies, predictions and pronouncements.

This is a brilliantly conceived movie that embraces the Mothman symbolism as somehow both cause and warning of impending disaster. The on-screen action constantly recycles and re-imagines that symbolism to form an overarching pattern that can be felt intuitively but never understood rationally. The Mothman is everywhere, and yet nowhere to be found. His eyes shine through the warning lights of our safety-obsessed world, whilst his voice echoes through the static buzz of phone lines and electrical systems, with no point of origin and no observable design.

Perhaps more than anything else, The Mothman Prophecies is an examination of chance and chaos, those universal forces we attempt to extinguish through learning, reason and ever-increasing organisation. Just like the point, the line and the circle, the Mothman’s mark is an integral part the Divine language, meaning that we unwittingly codify him into our collective experience, and sometimes find him waiting in the shadows of the seemingly ordered world we make for ourselves. We will never be free of the Mothman because we carry him with us wherever we go.

The great strength of the Mothman Prophecies is its unwavering commitment to a real and enduring mystery. The otherworldly prognosticator known only as Indrid Cold is never explained or justified, nor can he be. Is he real or imagined, angel or demon, benign or malevolent? The only certainty is that his appearance heralds disaster for both the communities he blights and those unlucky souls who hear his call from beyond the veil. This stubborn but well-judged refusal to allow the viewer any satisfying conclusion infuses the idea of the inexplicable into the viewer’s mind, where it lingers long after the credits have rolled.

Watch the trailer here and enjoy one of the most unremittingly creepy movies of modern times.

My Top 10 Occult Movies – 3

The Ninth Gate (1999)

“Some books are dangerous, not to be opened with impunity.”

Controversial director Roman Polanski manages to pull off the difficult Hitchcock-esque trick of keeping the viewer enthralled by the fairly sedate story of a search for forbidden knowledge hidden among the closely guarded manuscript collections of Europe’s ageing dynasties.

Johnny Depp actually plays a character, rather than a caricature in his portrayal of Dean Corso, a mercenary freelance bibliophile. Concerned only with profit, Corso is employed to authenticate a rare and valuable occult work, which is itself steeped in rumour and folklore. As his investigations continue, a formerly hidden, and yet altogether darker design slowly reveals itself, finally crossing the boundary between historical curiosity and contemporary reality.

Veteran actor Frank Langella is definitely the unsung hero of The Ninth Gate, and he’s more than a match for Depp on screen. His understated menace as the pathologically cold publishing magnate Boris Balkan completely convinces the viewer that they are in the presence of a man who has already gone to, and will go to any lengths to achieve his dark design. He is the shadowy and obsessive puppet master, controlling events from within his private library or from the end of the phone line, seemingly much closer to the action than he appears to be.

The excellent screenwriting and direction effectively immerses the viewer in Corso’s journey from disinterested sceptic to fervent believer, as he is drawn ever deeper into a hidden world of secret power, and those archetypal ideas from whence that power flows. Every clue followed and revelation discovered is skilfully crafted to convince both character and viewer that there is indeed a vein of fundamental truth running through these esoteric texts that the modern world has deliberately chosen first to ignore and then to forget.

Any casual or serious student of occultism will have a field day with the symbolism so skilfully woven throughout this feast of hidden metaphors and mixed messages. At the same time, the Ninth Gate is also a very playful movie, which somehow manages to exploit endless clichés of the genre while still remaining fresh and entertaining. The homages to both Hammer and Wheatley as the movie builds to its conclusion are some personal favourites.

The Ninth Gate also reminds us of the old adage that the destination is nothing without the journey, as Dean Corso undergoes his own everyday initiation into the black arts, fearing neither noose nor fire, to play the greatest of games and win.

Like all great occult books and movies, The Ninth Gate can be revisited time and time again, always offering something new and fresh as life’s journey changes, shapes and influences the eyes through which we see it. Watch the trailer here, and also a nice clip of Dean Corso and Baroness Kessler and find yourself immersed inside the inescapable riddles of the dark arts before you even know it’s happened.

My Top 10 Occult Movies – 5

The Medusa Touch (1978)

“He sounded quite mad, and yet I believed every word he said.”

The late Richard Burton is in fine form as the tortured and occasionally repentant bringer of death and mayhem to those unfortunates who become entangled with his own dark destiny. It’s often been said that Hollywood’s gain was literature’s loss as Burton decided to follow the call of the stage over the comfort of the study. The Medusa Touch gave him the unique chance to blend both roles as he brilliantly portrays conflicted and misanthropic author, John Morlar.

Bludgeoned beyond hope of recovery in the opening scene, Morlar’s strange and haunted life is retraced through a series of interviews and encounters, doggedly unravelled by world weary French detective Inspector Brunel. Director Jack Gold deftly builds and maintains an omnipresent and growing sense of menace in every mundane scene as Brunel slowly wrings the hidden truth from a reluctant cast of characters including barristers, publishers and neighbours, who are all deathly afraid of the nearly dead man without really knowing why. Lee Remick’s performance as the rational therapist who begins to doubt everything she knows is crucial to drawing both Brunel and the viewer into Morlar’s own inevitable descent into insanity.

When Morlar launches his final catastrophic assault on God from the twilight between life and death, Brunel has no choice but to act. Knowing that Morlar’s crimes are beyond any corporal authority, the protector of justice is forced to forsake that which he has sworn to defend by committing murder.

The Medusa Touch’s great strength flows from its sheer ordinariness in the face of the inexplicable, as the characters who cross Morlar’s path are at once relieved and yet hesitant to speak of the supernatural force they somehow sense has touched their ordered, rational lives. Michael J. Lewis’ quirky but will crafted soundtrack brilliantly supports a series of compelling cameos by Derek Jacobi,
Jeremy Brett and Michael Hordern as Morlar’s chill shadow darkens their lives.

Watch the trailer here and enjoy a brilliantly crafted, scripted and sadly underrated film.

My Top 10 Occult Movies – 6

Signs (2002)

“Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”

Perhaps not a movie that readily springs to mind when considering the subject of occultism, but nonetheless M. Night Shyamalan’s tale of mystic revelation is just filled with archetypal drama. The power of things unseen is experienced through the losses and struggles of very ordinary people with very ordinary lives. It’s just a case of digging below the surface and looking beyond the rural farming community in which this fantastical yet very human story is told.

Indeed, it is to Shyamalan’s credit that he chose a community tied to the earth within which to base his story of extra-terrestrial aggression. Indeed it is the very isolation of the Hess family which makes their story all the more compelling, as it gives a refreshing perspective on the whole alien invasion drama, as the central characters are both far removed from and yet at the very epicentre of the action.

A pre-meltdown Mel Gibson puts in a very believable performance as the embittered Graham Hess, a lapsed preacher who’s come to believe there is little more to this world than what our own senses can reveal. Having lost his wife in a tragic accident, he can no longer accept the idea that there could possibly be a beneficent presence in the world which transcends our rational understanding. God is a ghost to him now. In philosophical terms, Hess has been forced to face the problem of suffering, and he cannot reconcile his own personal pain with the idea that redemption can be found even in the darkness.

The ever reliable Joaquin Phoenix puts in a wisely understated role as Merrill Hess, who can’t stand to see his older brother abandoning the spiritual centre around which his entire existence had previously revolved.

The seemingly routine story of loss leads to an unexpected turn of events as the Hess family find themselves barricaded inside their isolated farm while alien raiders descend upon the globe. With no real training or weapons, they are forced to rely upon their wits and each other to survive, and it slowly begins to dawn on Graham Hess that they might not be completely alone in their struggle after all. They won’t be rescued by any avenging angel, but the signs were always there.

Atmospherically shot and expertly scored, this film’s philosophical strength lies in its ability to bestow profundity upon the mundane, and to remind the viewer that all action and reaction has meaning, suggesting a higher if obscure purpose for all things. This revelation unfolds as Graham Hess finally begins to understand that he, Merrill and even the children have been subtly guided to a time and place where they can at last read the signs and save the day.

Shyamalan expertly exploits the crop circle craze of the nineties and noughties to tap into the timeless idea of an alien invasion. This psychological sleight of hand fools the viewer into thinking he’s watching a monster movie, when the real story is that much quieter and more subtle; as easy to miss as the signs themselves unless you’re really paying attention.

Although not really intended as an occult movie, the perennial message of the wondrous hiding in plain sight is extremely satisfying. It also serves as an important reminder that archetypal influences are often so subtle that it’s very hard to distinguish them from the simple activity of life itself.

Above all, this is a film that teases the viewer with the possibility that life’s coincidences are part of a larger, more complex design we are seldom able to discern. However, every now and then the veil may part, showing us a glimpse of those forces we often dismiss as mere chance or blind luck.

Watch the trailer here and enjoy Signs, the most subtle of occult movies.

My Top 10 Occult Movies – 7

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

“There are no injections against the Devil”

Possession or Psychosis? Free will or doctor’s orders? Prayer or pills?

Director Scott Derrickson expertly walks the tightrope between supernatural scares and insightful drama to craft a movie that both frightens and thinks in equal measure. No mean feat in such a genre, but solid performances from Tom Wilkinson as Father Richard Moore and Laura Linney as his reluctant yet ambitious attorney add a layer of gravitas to what might otherwise have become a run-of-the-mill supernatural shocker. Jennifer Carpenter deserves a special mention for her brilliant performance in the title role. Her stomach-churning contortions and screeching profanities are a compelling contrast to the demure and modest family girl who makes her first pious appearance on screen. A challenging and far from glamourous role for an aspiring actress, and she rises to the occasion brilliantly.

Although probably a turnoff for hardcore horror fans, the sparing yet expertly imagined special effects produce their fair share of popcorn spilling shocks. This movie is a great reminder to Hollywood that sometimes less is more. Perhaps it’s the incongruous courtroom atmosphere that enables these supernatural scares to punch well above their weight as the story of Emily’s descent into darkness and death is retold through anecdote and testimony, both inside and outside the courtroom.

The storyline is further strengthened as Father Moore slowly becomes counsel to his own lawyer, warning that the darkness is already working hard to discredit both himself and the church. While initially sceptical, all her old certainties are overshadowed by doubt as she is increasingly haunted by terrifying visions herself. Although faith is still wanting, she is gradually overcome by a genuine desire to learn the truth, and to defend a man whose greatest sin was to respect the wish of a soul in his care.

Based loosely on the true and harrowing story of Annelies Michel,
The Exorcism of Emily Rose expertly drags questions of faith, free will and self-sacrifice away from the abstract orbit of the bar discussion and makes them the central pivot around which the lives and deaths of the characters revolve. This very real examination of faith and freedom is excellently expressed in the relationships between Emily and those around her. The script wisely abandons the yawningly stereotypical fundamentalist father in favour of some far more believable family and friends. Emily’s folks may have lived by the Good Book, but the scriptwriters have resisted the urge to sneer at them for it. In turn the finished movie has rewarded their self-control with a solidity which is often absent in similar works.

This is most definitely a film which captures the vexed and dishonest spirit of our age. We entrust ourselves wholly to medical science, professing blind faith in that which can possess no wisdom. We exult the sovereignty of the self, yet turn viciously on heretics when that sovereign self dissents from secular dogma. In a world where priestly robes are transformed into white coats, a man might still risk all if he crosses the Establishment. It may yet cost him his reputation, his liberty and even his life!

My Top 10 Occult Movies – 8

Lord of Illusions (1995)

“I escaped from the grave, so I have to give something to the grave in return.”

A pre Star Trek Scott Bakula stars as Harry D’Amour, Clive Barker’s occult gumshoe who’s often up to his neck in dark and dirty deeds, whether he likes it or not. When the glamorous wife of a world-class illusionist asks for his help, D’Amour finds himself pitted against the entertainment establishment, moneyed interests and a conspiracy of silence surrounding the life and death of a mysterious man known only as Nix. D’Amour is forced to conclude that he has landed in the middle of something a lot more sinister than a few artistic types playing adult Illuminati games.

As seems to be common with many such movies, Barker’s sunbleached story of the life, death and rebirth of Nix’s nihilistic cult received mixed reviews upon its release, but has quietly gained a sizeable following over the ensuing decades. Here we have another example of great work largely ignored by the entertainment establishment, only to be supported by a growing and appreciative audience. Politically speaking, films like Lord of Illusions confirm that the democratisation of opinion is alive and well.

As is so often the case with Clive Barker’s work, this movie’s greatest strength flows from its cast of well-formed and decidedly dark characters. In this world there are no good guys, and the only force which can challenge the psychotic Nix is erstwhile acolyte and confirmed anti-hero Philip Swann, the only living man to have learned at least some of his secrets. These two adepts are supported and opposed by the world-weary D’Amour, the sadistic Butterfield and the elegant yet mendacious Valentin.

Not always easy on the conscience, Lord of Illusions is a dark parody of the archetypal resurrection, of journeying beyond the veil, to return as something more than merely human. However, it also makes plain that there is no supreme arbiter of good and evil. There is only free will, and the very human failings that are exposed and multiplied once unbridled power is granted or stolen.

Visually, Lord of Illusions is a great piece of work, and the opening shots of Nix’s dusty domain wonderfully set the scene for the seemingly straightforward yet deeply profound events that follow. There are admittedly some experimental CGI shots that have not aged well, but these are more than compensated for by Barker’s skill in bringing the lawless badlands of the Mojave desert to life. A useful reminder that even the sunshine can be creepy as hell.

The cinema trailer is notable for its Dead Can Dance soundtrack, although it’s given greater prominence in the LaserDisc teaser. It’s also interesting to note that the current standard rental release has been cut, omitting original and some might say unacceptable scenes of familial murder by Nix’s acolytes as they return to the dark church to witness their insane master’s ultimate escape act.

Although not as visceral as Barker’s wildly successful Hellraiser or Candyman series, there is still enough of his trademark toe-curling body terrorism to keep the splatter gang entertained. However, his use of occult symbolism in the right places, coupled with his successful manipulation of archetypal themes mark this movie out as a cut above your average teen slasher or inverted cross shocker. Above all, this is a tale of what happens when seemingly limitless power ends up in the hands of very, very limited people.