Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: Warlock III: The End of Innocence

The third Warlock film damn nearly could not be more different from the first two. Warlock and Warlock: The Armageddon were both rollicking rides through a wacky world of time travel, coin-eating, visits to Amish country, purposeless murders, lamewad druids, mystic tomes, magic stones, and salt assault. The direct-to-video Warlock III: The End of Innocence is by contrast as conventional a horror film as you could hope for, a youths-in-a-creepy-house story we've seen countless times. Yet it's also mildly scary on several occasions, unlike its predecessors.

Bruce Payne replaces Julian Sands as the Warlock, and is not only given a lot more to do, but does it a lot better. Sure, he lacks the impressive hair, but that's nothing compared to his far greater effort in the role and far more naturally scary charisma. He gets a lot of mileage out of the Bruce Payne Smirk—seen in bluer form in the execrable first Dungeons and Dragons film—and it suits this revised characterization of the Warlock. In the first two, he barely deigned to acknowledge the lowly humans before he'd kill them; here, probably for budgetary reasons, he spends most of the movie engaged in devilish psychological manipulation with them. And it's always more fun to watch a monster that plays with his food.

As is often the case, budget constraints help Warlock III a bit more than they hinder it. The irritating secondary characters mostly serve an actual purpose, thanks to the script's structure and pacing. They all die or vanish, of course—I did say it was a conventional horror film—but at least they don't do so in an arbitrary fashion. That the film took the time to show the Warlock's web of deception being woven helps increase audience…well, not investment, but curiosity at least.

Our protagonist is Kris, played by Hellraiser 1 alum Ashley Laurence. Kris and her friends are college students, and she's majoring in art. (In one of the film's least plausible revelations, she's dating a guy who seems to aspire to be the next Donald Trump.) Here, Laurence lives up to the potential she showed in Hellraiser; she's convincing in both the quieter, character-establishy moments and in the obligatory scream queen scenes. Additionally, her character has some agency, which isn't exactly universal in the cheapo horror genre.

So the leads' acting is above-average and the script isn't terrible. But I don't want to give the impression that this is a good movie. It suffers from too many moments of unintentional hilarity and too many common horror failings, e.g.:

  • characters doing deeply stupid things, like putting on clothes they find in the creepy house (though at least Kris tries to flee the house once creepy stuff starts happening, so, points for effort);
  • the most oversexed young secondary characters being subject to the most vicious ironic deaths;
  • bad creature effects disguised (inadequately) by edits and lighting; and
  • the disheveled roadside figure warning against proceeding further, which would make an excellent Halloween costume for those with the guts to stand in traffic.

    But I found it to be a refreshing change from the ludicrousness of its predecessors, and if you've exhausted your supply of the more high-quality, high-profile horror films, this one's not a terrible way to waste an hour-plus.

    Star Score: 2 out of 5

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