But the film's evil is disappointingly shallow. Nix isn't the devil or the Antichrist. He's just the leader of a cult, and he knows how to levitate. He spouts a lot of nonsense about the supernatural, but he seems mainly motivated to reclaim Swann as his own. Swann's charms are, to say the least, elusive. But maybe the two of them deserve one another.
The pettiness of the evil shrinks the movie. There's no hell, no history (as there was in Bram Stoker's Dracula), no connection to the great undercurrents of the human psyche. There's just blood and shock and hideousness and a pack of chanting kooks in a shack out in the Mojave.
Even the movie's strongest jolts are like sharp shoves from behind; they induce a moment of dizzy disorientation, maybe a twitch of fear, then vanish. They are basically unconnected. The movie lacks the central imaginative mass whose emotional gravity might have pulled these random moments of effectiveness into a larger, more truly frightening shape.
But then it might well be that people don't go to Clive Barker films to be truly terrified. They just want to squeal a little, laugh a little more, and clutch their dates.
Lord of Illusions opens Fri, Aug. 25, at area theaters.