"There are two worlds of magic. One is the glittering domain of the illusionist. The other is a secret place where Magic is a terrifying reality. Here men have the power of demons. And death itself is an illusion."
So, powerful men may cheat death.
In the Mohave Desert in 1982, a diabolical religious cult leader who levitates and juggles flame balls rules a seedy compound of slovenly fanatics in a deteriorated building. This practitioner of black magic, Nix (Daniel von Bargen), has kidnapped young Dorothea (Ashley Lyn Cafagna) in order to entice a former disciple, Philip Swann (Kevin J. O'Conner) to come back after Swann had turned against Nix and left the compound. When Swann does return with several adherents, though, it is to dispatch Nix and rescue Dorothea. Swann is successful.
The movie then cuts briefly to the present day in New York City of 1995, where intense and ultra-masculine detective Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula), who has just dealt with an exorcism case, is given an assignment to follow Talpert (Johnny Venocur), who was involved in insurance fraud. While on this routine case in LA, the grown up and very attractive Dorothea (Famke Janssen), now the wife of the platonic Swann, approaches him. She is concerned about the safety of her husband. Cult members – ruthless, demonic, fiendish brutes – are murdering anyone who had been involved in the death of Nix. Now the investigator is drawn into the realm of professional theater magicians and the dark forces they operate in. On the night of the grand illusionist show, everything goes wrong for Swann, who is impaled and killed by a series of suspended and revolving swords as he is tied down on a revolving wheel. Harry decides to stick around.
His trail leads to the Magic Castle, where behind a securely locked door lies a repository of every magic secret known to mankind. Harry gets involved in a round table, a magic circle discussion with conjurers. It is obvious that they, including Vinovich (Vincent Schiavelli), did not take kindly to Swann. They think he was tainted. But one of them, Billy Who (Lorin Stewart), gives Harry a tip. Later when Dorothea calls Harry, he asks her if she ever heard of Nix. "No, I don't know the name," she lies. After, Valentin (Joel Swetow), Swann's assistant, offers Harry $30,000 to return home to NY, but Harry refuses.
At St. Ignatius sanitarium, Harry meets the fearful patient Jennifer Desiderio (Sheila Tousey), who was with Swann's group when Nix was eradicated. She says Swann was a liar, because he promised that no harm would happen to the hit men. When Jennifer spots a ditch being dug, she gets panicky and says Nix is coming for her. She throws herself in front of a moving car and gets killed. As Harry wants to break into the Magic Castle repository, he enlists the aid of Billy. Avoiding booby traps and strange images, he locates magicians' files, from which he gathers information about Swann.
When Harry later confronts Dorothea, he tells her straightforwardly that Swann was doing magic, not performing illusions. Dorothea finally tells Harry about the events of 13 years' earlier when Nix abducted her to get to Swann. Can Nix still be alive? Swann still is, as he has somehow faked his own death. This action was probably done to get the Nix goons off his trail. Black artist Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman), a disciple of Nix, kidnaps and tortures Valentin to make him locate Nix's burial site. Harry follows with Swann and finds Valentin mortally wounded. Butterfield has taken Dorothea and Nix's body to a cult compound and eventually resurrects the vengeful and egocentric Nix. The denouement will not be disclosed. Suffice it to say that most of the characters will not be alive at movie's end.
This occult horror film sometimes loses its focus, and scenes sometimes have no resolution, as when Harry beaks into the repository without any apparent consequences. There are flashes of gore. Then again, the creepy atmosphere factor is high enough. The visual effects impress, along with the cinematography. So it's a mixed bag that fans of director/writer Clive Barker may like.