Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: Wishmaster (1997)

Robert Kurtzman, a name known to horror fans far and wide. He's one of the best special effects guys in the business whose credits include such classics as Evil Dead 2, Night of the Creeps, Predator, and From Dusk Till Dawn. His impact on the horror genre is definitely felt even today, but he's not just an effects guy, he's also an actor and a director. Now, as an actor his most famous role is playing a zombie in Night of the Creeps, so to say he's not well-known for that is a very accurate assessment. But as a director? That's a bit different, as he actually did give us some movies that have a charm all their own like The Demolitioist and The Rage. But his big shining moment was when he brought a new monster icon to join the hallowed halls of horror. A monster with gnarly horns and the ability to take the souls of others.

Insert a pun about him being rather horny here.

Now, it's not like he created a monster entirely from scratch, but rather he took a very familiar concept that has existed for many years longer than any of us has lived, that of the djinn. Now, if you don't know what that is, let me inform you. Djinns are ancient beings that were supposedly created alongside humans and angels by the flying spaghetti monster. They can be good, evil, or just lazy. So, happily for all you Disney fans, Robin Williams' Genie still has a credible place in this whole concept. Anyway, this djinn is not good, nor is he of the more lethargic sort. No, he's pretty cut and dry evil. He seems to revel in it. So, take it away, Angus Scrimm!

Yes, the Tall Man himself narrates the beginning of this film. I consider this a big plus in the film's favour.
He tells us a paragraph of information about the djinn, how they came to be, and that if you make three wishes with one then the door flies open to Earth and all of them get to come play without having to obey the whole rule about wishes. This leads us to the opening scene set in Persia in the year 1127 where Andrew Divoff as the djinn has run amok, granting wishes in rather sinister ways that end up being nothing like what people actually wanted. Remember, when dealing with any wish granting beings you should always be very specific and literal in what you say to them, as they will take what you say as literally as possible usually in an attempt to screw you over royally. Zoroaster, a historical figure from this period who happens to also be a sorcerer, stops the Emperor from making his third wish and seals the djinn into a gem because lamps are just too practical.

Practicality isn't important when you're dealing with horny men in hoods.

We're then brought to modern times where we see a drunken dock worker who fucks up on the job and kills Ted Raimi while his boss, Raymond Beaumont (Robert Englund's character), looks on in disappointment at the loss of the statue that killed his Raimi gopher. One of the dockworkers finds a jewel in the statue's broken pieces and sells it at a pawn shop, which leads the owner to consult an appraiser, which brings us to our lead, Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren). Her boss orders her to check the jewel out and this ends up waking the djinn inside. Certain she saw something odd inside the opal, she brings it to her best friend, Josh, who she rejected the advances of after playing tennis earlier. While analyzing the gem, it decides to blow up the lab and the djinn tricks him into making a wish that results in him being dead and it being stronger.

Perhaps obviously wishing to be killed wasn't the best idea there, Josh.

This sets up the rest of the film, as it's all about Alex trying desperately to stop the djinn from hurting people while the creature goes about tricking people into making wishes that never work out how they want. And I gotta say, she's not really good at it. Anyway, the deal is that the djinn needs souls because they give him power and when a person makes a wish their soul becomes his plaything. You've really got to read that fine print, folks. To help him along his way, he steals a dead guy's face from the morgue so he'll look human and takes on the identity of Nathaniel Demerest, which he uses to charm people into making wishes. These wishes run a pretty gamut from Robert Picardo dying of cancer to Alex's greedy boss getting millions of dollars (via the death of his mother in a horrible plane crash). Every single time a wish is granted she feels the pain of it too, which isn't doing much for her mental state.

Either that or she has very intense pain orgasms as a result of the movie's editing.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel kills a professor she befriended so he can pretend to be her just so he can get close ot her. He gets her to make two wishes, which highlights that Alex is not as smart as she seemed to portrayed as initially, and he follows her to a huge party at Beaumont's house where her sister is getting sauced. Tony Todd drops in for a short cameo and Nathaniel turns the party into his kind of shindig as he finally forces Alex to make her final wish or else her sister shall die horribly in a fire. So, she wishes the the drunk crane operator that killed Ted Raimi earlier had not been drinking, thus undoing every single thing that's been done since the djinn was freed. Wishes are a rough game there, guy. So, yeah, he's still sealed in the opal inside of the statue and Alex asks her no longer dead best friend out because she realized she regretted not giving him a chance. We close on the djinn looking menacing in his jewel prison, and that's our film.

Not that he really needs help looking menacing. He could be baking brownies & still make you shit.

How did Kurtzman do? Well, I'd say he did pretty nicely. The practical effects are, of course, really well done. This is not surprising because Kurtzman knows his stuff. Divoff is incredibly entertaining as the titular djinn, hovering between being rather menacing and being so smug that he's hilarious. While not as well known as other horror icons, the character of Nathaniel is a rather compelling horror villain who would be right at home hanging out with Freddy. The story is creative enough to not feel like a rehash of others, but still has familiar tropes that many fans love about horror. It has a campy atmosphere that clearly mirrors the best 1980s horror movies, which reminds me that the only other djinn I recall being in a horror film was in an 80s flick called The Outing.

Surprisingly, I don't recall there being any outings in that particular film. Just a very ugly djinn.

As I said, it is a rather campy film, which might not appeal to everyone. There definitely is a segment of the horror community who seem to avoid movies who aren't always serious in their execution, so these people may want to skip this one. But if you have a love of these sorts of movies, give this a view. It's a joy to watch, especially with the various horror celebrities popping up here and there. I would honestly go as far as to say this is honestly a rather loving salute to these icons of horror. I mean, we have Angus Scrimm (Phantasm), Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Tony Todd (Candyman), Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan), Reggie Banister (Phantasm), Joseph Pilatto (Day of the Dead), George "Buck" Flower (Pumpkinhead), and Ricco Ross (Aliens) all appearing in this film. Some are more famous than others, true, but having so many actors from some of the best horror films ever together in one movie is honestly quite cool. And if that wasn't enough, we also get Pazuzu's statue from The Exorcist series.

I personally think the seeds of the horror Expendables film were planted here.

It's a solid little slice of nostalgia that harkens back to everyone's favourite decade. I can't speak for the quality of the sequels, but this first film is aces in my book. So, until I get my wish for a third season of Young Justice granted by Andrew Divoff, I'll be hanging out here trying to kill a relentless fly as it attempts to enter my ear. Later days, bleeders.

Excuse me, Mr. Englund. I heard a young critic is looking to make a wish...

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