Friday, October 11, 2019

Halloween Havoc: WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES (1999)

You might be tempted to accuse us of resting on our laurels and give us a hardy ration of crap for talking about something as high-profile and reasonably budgeted as the WISHMASTER series. And you'd be right. I actually feel something resembling Catholic guilt over this. I mean, if I was stuck in a CLOCKWORK ORANGE chair and was being force-fed cinematic drivel, I'd rather it be this than another godfuckingawful non-Krampus Krampus movie. Which, I'm pretty sure is going to happen again this year. Allright? Cut us some slack already!

This entry opens with some of the stupidest art thieves ever to rob a museum, who decide that the best way to get a priceless artifact in a glass display case is to simply smash it with a gun butt. Naturally this causes the security alarm to blare and red lights to flash. Presumably the lights are union mandated to assist the deaf security guards on staff. In the ensuing shootout between the thieves and security guards, a stray bullet manages to break the priceless statue of the evil Ahura Mazda! Umm, except Ahura Mazda was actually the god of wisdom, of which the inexpensive Japanese car was named after. This kind of works out anyway, because the people who invariably break the statue are unilatterally dumbasses desperately in need of some Mazda. This uhhh, malevolent, I guess, statue contains the fire opal that contains our over-annunciating djinn. It's sort of like a not very fun nesting doll of evil. Or rather silliness as it turns out.

One of the thieves, Eric (Chris Weber, not to be confused with Chris Webber), is mortally wounded and Eric's grunge gurlfriend, who is of course named Morgana (Holly Fields), also catches a bullet. Instead of hitting her, the bullet hits the opal in her pocket, causing it to break, which can only mean one thing. Freddy, err, I mean Genie is free again! Fangoria alumni and special effects master Anthony C. Ferrante and the immortal Jack Sholder (who wrote and directed) earn my respect here by going all out here with a VIDEODROME-esque sequence where fleshy tendrils come out of the broken stone, embedding themselves in the wall and creating a pulsating orifice through which the Djinn (Andrew Divoff) can be reborn as a slithering hellspawn. Not to worry, though, respect will be lost later.

And later is here! When fully born the Djinn predictably asks the dying Eric what he would wish for. To which Eric replies "to have a successful heist that doesn't include me bleeding out from multiple gunshot wounds." No, I kid, I kid. He actually says "I wish I'd never been born." Uhhhh, ok dude. Aren't you taking the '90s emo thing a bit too far? Good to his word, Demerest causes Eric to shrivel up backwards through the years of his life and poof out of existence. Ok, I guess. I mean, you have to start out slow, you can't just throw all of the cool stuff at the beginning. This ain't WISHMASTER 1, you know.

The Djinn, heading to the exit to get on with his vaguely ironic, soul-stealing wishfullfilment plan, is stopped by a cop that tells him to "freeze!" Can you see this coming? Yep, lifting a gag straight out of THE MASK (1994), our malevolent prankster freezes him in ice and then when another cop asks him what happened, the Djinn painfully quips "he needed to chill out". Later in the movie, Demerest will repeatedly utter the line "there are rules" and that everyone has to make a wish. Except, apparently, when they don't and he just goes ahead and does shit anyway.

Morgana, being the counter-culture type is smokin' a J in her loft apartment and trashing the place out while crying over Eric... Even though Eric has now never been born, so she should have no memory of him whatsoever. She is also upset that her BFs dumb-ass robbery cost the life of a security guard who was a father to some presumably nice kids. Will this be important later? Be careful what you wish for. Also upsetting Morgana (in case it wasn't obvious, she spends most of the movie being upset), is the fact that Demerest allowed himself to be arrested and claimed responsibility for the attempted robbery and the murders of the thieves and security guards. Most people on the hook for felony theft and homicide would be pretty damn happy about this turn of events, but Morgana is grunge! She's wild! She's... probably not thinking very clearly after toking on that Mary Jane. This is really upsetting.

This of course leads to Demerest not passing, but going directly to prison in what is the shortest turn-around time for a criminal case with the skimpiest amount of evidence since the days of the Spanish Inquisition. This ploy means that Demerest now has an entire prison full of souls that will be turned over for a simple brainless wish. As we learn, the Djinn needs to snatch 1001 souls in order to be free of giving fatal wishes to the ungrateful masses and you know, create Hell on Earth and stuff. They fly in his ointment, other than having Tiny Lister as his prison guard, is that after harvesting 1000 souls he must grant three wishes to the person who freed him from his crystalline cage. So... that would be the security guard who shot the stone when it was in Morgana's pocket, right? Nope. It's Morgana because... uh, she was like closer to it, like, more than anyone else, I guess.

Meanwhile Morgana slowly starts doing some research, using that fancy new "internet" thing, and starts to figure out that Demerest is actually a Djinn. I make a crack about using a search engine to pull up a website devoted to djinn legends, but, yeah I can see that. Actually, more plausible would be finding a Japanese website devoted to djinn legends and showing people having sex with them.

After visiting Demerest in prison, Morgana decides that not only is he a demon, because she is having psychic flashes of him without his Demerest face, but also that she needs to recruit a vaguely Catholic-ish priest Gregory (Paul Johansson) who was, wait for it... her former lover. Girl, if your love drove this man into the ascetic life of the cloth, you are clearly doing something seriously wrong. Of course this puts us squarely in the "Christianity fixes everything" subgenre, but I'm really not sure what sect of Christianity this is supposed to be. As we discover, only a "pure" soul can destroy a djinn, and since Morgana looks like she stepped out of a Soundgarden video, we know she ain't pure. This is only a minor problem that is easily overcome with a quick make-over that includes a French curl hair-do, a bright summer dress and cutting off her finger with a kitchen knife. That is not a joke. Seriously, which offshoot of Christianity is this? The Branch Davidians?

Also confusingly, Father Greg goes to visit Demerest in prison to see this guy that his ex is fixated on. When he realizes that she's right and this dude is not just talking that way for the fun of it, he exclaims "God will stop you!" Uhhh, so an Assyrian demon can be defeated by a Jewish deity? Sure, what the hell. Also, now that Morgana is "pure", she uses this opportunity to seduce Gregory. The priest. Out of wedlock. Carnal sin. Hello? Anyone? This is like Catholicism as related to a friend by street-corner preacher who was high on peyote.

Eventually Demerest walks out of the prison (wearing Lister's face), steals souls from some Russian mobsters and heads out to an unnamed Sin City where he can get his last 800 souls in a single casino. A very well lit, disco-ball festooned casino cleverly called... "Casino".

Like many '80s/'90s sequels, this entry is happy to simply let the titular over-acting villain run around causing creative demises. This is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you've ever sat through what passes for horror movies these days, but instead of allowing Ferrante a free hand to rain in blood, the production saves plenty of sheckles and goes with effects-free comic demises for nearly all of the Djinn's victims. While running amok in the casino, he rolls some dice and tells a woman "you crapped out", she swells up and literally shits slot machine tokens. At this point I realized that this is less the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) wannabe and was and more of a LEPRECHAUN (1993) outing. Probably the most egregiously bad wish granting is when an inmate Gries (Robert LaSardo) says that he wants his lawyer Fox (Scott Klace) to fuck himself. Get Mr. Palm ready to meet Mr. Face. As Fox starts to talk about how he is getting Gries released because of new evidence, Fox's body (hidden behind a table) contorts and pumps while we get sounds of rhythmic flesh-slapping and Klace desperately trying to act like he is in uncomfortable coitus. I'm pretty sure the thought process went something like this: "well, I could take this job and hope nobody sees it, or I could have sardines on toast for dinner tonight. Again."

As disappointing as most of the fates of the Djinn's victims are, Ferrante is allowed a few very cool effects. One of them has Demerest grant a jail tough his wish to "walk out of here" by squeezing him through the bars of the cell causing his flesh to crumple and squish through the bars. In the ending casino sequence, the manager (Bokeem Woodbine) says "What next? Frogs and locusts?" Of course, since there are no rules, in spite of what Demerest constantly says, this brings a hail of frogs and a plague of fuzzy black dots. Are they flies? Bees? No, apparently they are cockroaches, which are definitely not locusts, but do allow Ferrante to do a gory reworking of the roach-ridden finale of CREEPSHOW (1982) segment "They're Creeping Up On You". Or possibly a hommage to THE NEST (1988).

Back in the day I didn't think much of the WISHMASTER series and I can see why, but as annoyed as I am with some of the movie's comic choices, Jack Sholder is no piker. He is also joined by one of my favorite wingnuts, producer Pierre David - responsible for SCANNERS (1981) and its sequels, including the gloriously misconceived SCANNERS III (1991). With a paltry budget of 2.5 million (exactly half of the budget for the first film), Sholder and David clearly have to make sacrifices, but to their credit manage to put a lot of the cash on the screen with plenty of locations and some great practical effects (Ferrante's Djinn suit actually looks significantly better than the KNB original). Together they deliver a tightly paced, professional looking film. A film that is reasonably entertaining, if for no other reason than the Xtreme '90s/'00s ness of the thing and the genuinely head-scratching religious angle. I was going to say "I wish part 2 was better" but I know the curse of the djinn has already "gotched" me into reviewing part 4, which I'm pretty sure will make me say "part 2 was better".

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