Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: Warlock

Warlock is a cheesy-ass 1989 fantasy/horror flick with a story so dopey that it makes the movie more fun than it has any right to be, largely because you're never sure what's coming next.

To encapsulate the experience: a warlock is about to be executed in Boston in 1691, but while confronting a vengeful witch-hunter, the warlock summons evil powers and (apparently inadvertently) teleports both of them to 1988 Los Angeles. It seems the forces of darkness can be budget-conscious too.

So upon arrival, the warlock is thrown into a house that just happens to contain one of the three pieces of the Grand Grimoire, an evil book with earth-shattering powers. The warlock proceeds to kill the homeowner just for the sake of accessorizing, then acquires the pages and ventures off to complete the book. But the witch-hunter is hot on his trail, thanks to a vaguely Hellraiser-esque warlock-compass contraption.

Along for the ride is the witch-hunter's obligatory Guide to Modern Life, Kassandra, a too-spunky young woman who's always ready with a strained wisecrack and whose personal fashion concept is "The T. J. Maxx Molly Ringwald." Their only other ally is a Mennonite old guy, who I hoped would tag along for the rest of the movie just to add to the weird factor. It would've been like one of those D&D parties with a barbarian, a wizard, a ninja, and a shapechanging kobold demigod.

Regardless, the weirdness continues right up through the finale, and Warlock is memorable mainly for its whatthefuckedness. It's not David Lynch or anything, but it is the sort of movie you can't imagine getting made by an actual studio these days. Luckily, the film winks at itself a few times. (But then, I don't see how it couldn't.)

For the most part, this is what you'd call a game cast. To the extent that the movie succeeds, it's only because the cast is taking the proceedings seriously—no small feat when your villain is literally kiting his opponent, or when the hero carries a broken weathervane through half the movie.

Though the heroine character is generally annoying, actress Lori Singer strikes the right balance of fear, confusion, and pluck. The real weak spot in the cast is Julian Sands as the titular warlock. He has the look, but never seems more than slightly menacing. Maybe, unlike the other actors, Sands felt himself to be above the material. That'd explain the way his delivery ranges from boredom to thinking he's in a Corman movie. All the same, he has a couple of good moments, like the scene with the kid.

One of the stronger points in Warlock was also one of the stronger points in Hudson Hawk: Richard E. Grant, playing the heroic Highlander-esque witch hunter, Giles Redferne. (Your kissing-scene riff: "Well, I guess she just found out where the Redferne grows. IN HIS PANTS.") Grant's character is your typical flinty hero-out-of-time, and the actor's estrogen brigade (which I assume exists) should see this movie; though he's never as gleefully wacked-out as he was in Hudson Hawk, his hair is better.

A promising climactic battle turns cheap and lame when the warlock and Redferne decide to "fight it out like men" rather than employ too many expensive effects, to say nothing of the mechanism by which Kassandra finally defeats the warlock. Without spoiling it, I'll just say it struck me as a sign of writerly desperation—one of those "But if that's all it took, why didn't they…" sort of things. I suppose I ought to mention that (to my surprise) the screenwriter was David Twohy of the Riddick franchise! It seems that introducing your badass killer character while he's chained and glowering is a Twohy Trope.

All told, I expected this to be lamer and less fun than it was. The gore is minimal enough, and fakey enough, that most audiences should find it a wacky diversion, great for a Halloween party (especially if that party also features booze). Watch this space for reviews of its two sequels—Warlock: The Armageddon, in which it is no doubt revealed that the lazy measures Kassandra takes at the end of this movie to conceal the Grand Grimoire were insufficient; and Warlock III: The End of Innocence, in which Sands is replaced by Bruce Payne (Dungeons and Dragons' Damodar, a.k.a. Blue-Lips), who I can imagine being scarier in the role.

Star Score: 2.5 out of 5

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