A man buys a small, ornate box in a Middle Eastern bazaar. When he manipulates it, the walls of his room open in horizontal slats (echoing the painter’s studio in Welles’ The Trial), and three strange figures rend his flesh to bits with fishhooks.

The house is taken by the man’s former mistress and her husband, his brother, who bleeds on the floor after an accident and thus revives the bare form of the man. This meager being cajoles the woman into supplying him with corpses to eke out his flesh, so she brings men home and kills them. The last touch is to take the husband’s skin and replace him.

The plan is foiled by the husband’s daughter, who gets hold of the box and manipulates it, first producing a strange scorpionlike creature with a second head at its belly, but later summoning the three figures (two of whom are pierced and one fat), who once again tear the fellow up.

The two-headed scorpion appears once again, dispelled finally by the box. The house burns up, and the girl tosses the box into one of the remaining pyres, whence it is snatched by a cricket-eating vagrant and carried off, after he transforms himself into a horned skeleton.

This is pretty solidly in the British school of Roeg and Baker and Hitchcock, who is particularly cited in two gags at the end, from Rich and Strange (a figure of Jesus pops out when the girl opens a door) and Psycho (she is frightened by the sudden appearance of a maggoty corpse), though in general the evocations are more rarefied in themselves and balanced by the carny tricks.

The idea of a strange sadistic parallel or side universe which is easily managed by a girl gives the domain of satire indicated.


Lord of Illusions

Barker is so deep a past master of underground arcana that his name bespeaks the showman’s joy in exhibiting rare and exotic odds and ends from the furthest reaches of the world. His paintings show the working method, they are quite finished cartoons in design and execution replete with hilarity over the many discoveries he has made, and these are the whole point, the discoveries and the hilarity.

Take the levitating Antichrist figure here, who has “the power”, and the private detective’s search for a woman’s missing mate. There is such a patient disemboweling of people seen through the eyes of the Antichrist’s victims, and this is no mere poesy but an account of the mind betrayed by infatuation, an everyday occurrence. And Barker has an endless supply to work from, a gorgeous panoply of human follies he can’t stop for a moment from seizing upon and capturing for his circus of grotesques, whose bizarre delusion is related by the woman: “‘Flesh is a trap,’ he used to say, ‘flesh is a trap, and magic sets us free.’”