We lost Daniel Von Bargen on March 1st. He had dozens of acting credits, Seinfeld’s Kruger arguably the most famous. I write to remember his underappreciated turn as Nix, the black magic cult leader in Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions (1995).
The best horror films, I observed last time, disturb our moral reality. In America’s moral reality remains decidedly Christian. And, as Protestants (culturally, if not by affiliation), we (in the words of Illusions’ hero, Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula)) “[c]an’t have too many saviors.”) We’re always open to new messiahs, either religious (snake handlers, peepstoners, faith healers) or informally so (Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz). Charisma conquers reason, and suddenly we’re in love again. Lord of Illusions examines what happens when we fall for the wrong messiah.
Nix presents as a redeemer. Calling himself “The Puritan[,]” he promises that death is an illusion and that he and his followers will “cleanse the world.” Sound familiar? As often happens with captivating leaders and credulous minions, it all goes to shit. Spurned by his chief disciple, Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor), Nix becomes an anti-Christ who “could eat your fucking soul[.]” He confesses that he “wasn’t born to show people the error of their ways,” but rather “to murder the world.” Von Bargen triumphs by adducing more sympathy for Nix the spurned lover than fear or loathing for Nix the mass murderer. We want to hug our would-be destroyer. For, without love, Nix is “a man who wanted to be a god, then changed his mind.” He discovers that “[t]he grave is lonely,” but, without Swann, “[l]iving is worse.” And he declares, before finally incarnating evil, “I’m going to be rotten shit from now on.” There, there.