Friday, October 4, 2019

Halloween Havoc: WISHMASTER (1997)

Damn, who let this place get all dusty? Sorry for nearly a year absence in reviews. We’d like to say it was because we were really busy and that would be true if busy was a synonym for lazy. But we figured before we dive into our annual “December to Dismember” reviews (Tom is currently hunting all new Krampus titles), we should get a warm up to flex those bad movie review muscles that have atrophied. And what better way to commit physical media physical therapy than to tackle a horror film series leading up to Halloween?

As a bonafide Video Junkie, one particular addiction is pounding out the various long-running series that flood the horror genre. Sure, anyone can say they have seen all the FRIDAY THE 13TH or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films. But can you say that about the WITCHCRAFT, CHILDREN OF THE CORN, HELLRAISER, or WRONG TURN series? No? Well, that makes you smart and make me dumb. The completist urge is strong in me and when looking for a series to watch in October I opted to go with the WISHMASTER tetralogy (thank you, Google!). I actually saw the first WISHMASTER theatrically, but somehow never got around to the three subsequent direct-to-video sequels. Like any good Video Junkie, when I mentioned my senseless mission to Tom he didn’t scoff. Instead, like Jesus on the beach, he decided to be by my side the entire time and also endure the pain. So your wishes have been granted and we are bringing forth four fantastic reviews this month. Enjoy?

WISHMASTER opens with one of the most terrifying moments that will send chills down any veteran horror movie fan’s spine. Am I talking about the blood-soaked opening where a skeleton rips itself out of a man’s skin? No, this is something far scarier - the opening credit stating “Wes Craven Presents” is the first thing the viewer sees. I can hear your screams from here. If you can’t fathom how ominous this is, I’ve done a visual mock-up of what exactly “Wes Craven Presents” truly means...


The film proper opens with a narration (done by Angus Scrimm) that warns of the djinn, wish-granting monsters “condemned to live in the void between the worlds.” So they live in Hollywood? If a person happens to release one, they are granted three wishes before the legion of djinn are unleashed upon earth. Does this mean I get three wishes for opening the blu-ray case? Let's see what happens during this review. Anyway, to show the power of the Djinn we begin in Persia circa 1127 A.D. with a king saying “astonish me djinn, show me wonders.” Apparently the wonders are KNB latex effects as we see total chaos in the castle. Hey, you can’t accuse FX-artist-turned-director Robert Kurtzman of betraying his roots as he includes a million make up gags in this opening five minutes (including the aforementioned skeleton). Alas, the djinn (Andrew Divoff) is captured in a fire opal by a sorcerer and things are djinn-free for 870 years.

Cut to the present day and antique collector Raymond Beaumont (Robert Englund) and his assistant (Ted Raimi) are at a dock to collect his latest purchase, Ahura Mazda. Damn, I never heard of that model of Mazda. It is actually a statue of a deity and the gem is hidden inside. Bad news because the crane operator (Joe Pilato) has been drinking on the job and accidentally drops the crate, smashing both the statue and Raimi into a million little pieces. It is here I learned two things. One: The appropriate on site response to a gory accidental death is to just turn your head in disgust. Two: You can’t trust dock workers as within the span of a minute we find out one is a drunk and one is a thief as he spots the opal and promptly puts it in his pocket. Freakin’ stevedores (thanks again, Google).

The gemstone eventually makes its way to the auction house Regal Auctioneers via the pawnbroker it was sold to (insert mental image of PAWN STAR host Rick Harrison saying, “Eh, it’s going to take up space and take me some time to sell it. I’ll give you fifty bucks.”). The auction house owner (Chris Lemmon, looking too much like his dad) has Alex Amberson (Tammy Lauren) appraise it and, after she huffs on it and rubs it on her ‘90s sweater, we are back in the evil genie business. Of course, the djinn is one for dramatic entrances and he doesn’t show up until Alex’s perpetually friendzoned pal Josh (Tony Crane) does a computer spectral analysis on it and it blows up the lab. This leads to one of my favorite lines as Alex shows up to the crime scene and one cop is heard muttering, “Computer malfunction? Must have been one helluva computer.”

This sets off two major events - Alex begins to investigate where this gem came from and the djinn is out and about on the town. He starts granting wishes faster than Donald Trump flaunts the law. In quick order, the djinn captures souls over the next 45 minutes including a morgue worker who wishes he’d never seen the djinn stealing a human face (his eyes get sealed shut); a cop who wishes to catch a slippery suspect (the suspect shoots several cops in the station); a sales associate who wishes to be beautiful forever (she is turned into a mannequin); a security guard (Kane Hodder) who wishes the djinn would try to come through him (he is turned into a door!); and a bum (George “Buck” Flower) who wishes a pushy pharmacist (Reggie Bannister) would get cancer and die (poor Reg gets cancer - which apparently makes your skin bubble - and dies). That last bit offers the film’s highlight with the following dialogue as Bannister tries to shoo Flower off his sidewalk.

Bannister: “Look, how many times I gotta tell you…”
Flower: “Hey, you left customers in there. That’s not a good way to run a business.”
Bannister: “Don’t tell me how to run my fuckin’ business. You’re a fuckin’ bum.”
Flower: “Well, you don’t tell me how to run my life. You’re a fuckin’ prick. I’ll talk to anybody I want to. You don’t own this fuckin’ sidewalk.”
Bannister: “You want to know something? I do own this fuckin’ sidewalk. You want to know why? Because I pay fuckin’ taxes.”
Flower: “Fuck you!”
Bannister: “No, fuck you!”
Flower: “I hope you die, you sack of shit. I hope you die and I hope you float down the gutter so I can fuckin’ piss on ya! Bald-headed baboon! Discomplected afterbirth of a Chinese gang banger! Educated idiot!”

Now it appears GOOD WILL HUNTING won the Academy Award for “Best Original Screenplay” for 1997 and that is some bullshit. “How you like them apples” is no “bald-head baboon!” I demand a recount. At the very least, I wish Flower had gotten an Academy Award for his performance. Oh shit, there goes my first wish and I'll be damned...



While the djinn is out collecting souls, Alex visits Beaumont and he sends her to Wendy Derleth (Jenny O’Hara), who is using her expertise to...help stage a college play? Derleth knows her djinn history and tells Alex how it will offer her three wishes but is evvvvvvil (“Forget Barbara Eden. Forget Robin Williams.”). Despite bogging herself down in history, stress smoking, and occasionally experiencing psychic flashes, Alex still makes time for her biggest passion - coaching basketball for teenage girls! This leads to two bits that had me equally befuddled and amused. The first is the villain has relentlessly been trying to find Alex and he locates her here, but opts to do nothing but sneer and then disappear. The second bit is Alex leaving to take care of a problem on the court and when we cut to it, she is tying a girl’s shoe. Yes, teenagers still struggling with the big problems. Anyway, the djinn decides his best course of action is to impersonate Derleth and try to trick Alex by offering her a drink. Shockingly, he doesn’t offer her a djinn and tonic. Oh man, I wish I hadn’t made that terrible joke. Dammit, there goes my second wish! Anyway, the djinn unmasks himself and anachronistically says, “The shit just hit the fan.” Uh, okay? Let’s speed this up. Alex blows through her first two wishes rather quickly (just like I did!). This all builds toward a party at Beaumont’s where a buncha guests get killed by the djinn (and horrible CGI) and Alex finally figures out a way to stop the djinn.

Whew! As I mentioned before, I did indeed see WISHMASTER in the theater and thought it was so-so. Twenty-two years removed, it might be the most ‘90s horror film I can think of and it has not aged well. From the fashions to the computer effects to the obligatory rawk!!! music, it encapsulates the decade. How bad is it? There is a terrible Motorhead song called “Listen to the Heart” over the end credits. (Disclaimer: I’m not a metal fan, but Tom gave me the go-ahead that this is indeed a terrible Motorhead song.) This was Kurtzman’s second feature as a director as he made his debut with THE DEMOLITIONIST (1995), perhaps the only film to age worse than WISHMASTER. That said, he was under a super-tight schedule (according to the blu-ray, they had six months from shooting to theater) and you can at least appreciate how he threw tons of FX gags into the film and fills the cast with lots of familiar horror faces. One the downside, he looooooves to do terrible jump scares that involve people not seeing something six inches from their face. BOO! (insert piano sting) Of course, the main star is the djinn and I think the costume is a pretty cool design. As the titular creature, Divoff is alternately both good and bad. Sometimes I liked his sneering, but other times he sounded like your friend in high school doing a really bad Candyman impersonation (“Lisssssten to their screamsssss, chiiiiiild, listen to the music of their ahhh-gon-yyyyyy!”). The wonkiest part of the film is the screenplay by Peter Atkins. A veteran (survivor?) of the HELLRAISER franchise, Atkins offers lots of head scratching moments. For example, why is djinn expert Derleth a college drama teacher? Why not make her, oh I don’t know, a history professor or archaeologist? By far the script’s greatest offense is how Alex gets rid of the djinn. In the end, she wishes the dock worker wasn’t drinking that day. Yes, really! It is a bit so goofy that I remember dying laughing in the theater. I’m sure Alcoholics Anonymous must have cheered at this insane resolution though as it eliminated 11 steps. Not surprising, this was Atkins’ last produced screenplay.

WISHMASTER is kind of an oddity when it comes to the late ‘90s. It went into production right when presenter Wes Craven’s SCREAM (1996) was building up its momentum to become a box office hit. So the market was soon flooded with self-aware teen slashers and, in that regard, the djinn stuck out like a sore thumb. Regardless, when the film opened in September 1997 it did a decent amount at the box office, earning over $15.7 million in the United States. It also most likely sunk Live Film & Mediaworks Inc., the short-lived theatrical distribution outfit for Live Entertainment. Either way, the film must have done gangbusters on home video as three sequels hit shelves over the next six years. It’s that damn Craven endorsement, I tell ya! Either way, I know the sequels will soon be crossing my eyes soon. Now for my third and final wish, I wish Tom will review WISHMASTER 2 (1999) and that it has a guy fucking himself in it. Let’s see if these wishes really do come true.

Moments of Clarity:

2 Reactions:

  1. Welcome back! Always a nice surprise when a new review pops up.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Strongly disagree with your assessment.

    ReplyDelete