Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wishmaster (USA, 1997)

As a makeup and special effects man, director Robert Kurtzman has solid roots that were nurtured by dozens of genre films, including such fine stuff (to list only those that have been reviewed here at A Wasted Life and came out before Wishmaster) as Night of the Creeps (1986), Army of Darkness (1992) and Tremors (1990). Wishmaster was his second directorial job, a straight horror film after his more traditional genre B-film directorial debut, the Robo-Cop (1987 / trailer) with mamilla riff The Demolitionist (1995 / trailer), which was populated by a cast of breasts (Nicole Eggert [of Decoys (2004)]), forgottens (Bruce Abbott [of Re-Animator (1985)], Susan Tyrrell, Sarah Douglas [of The People That Time Forgot (1977 / trailer) and Strippers vs Werewolves (2012 / trailer)], Heather Langenkamp (of A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984 / trailer], Richard Grieco (of Webs [2003] and Raiders of the Damned [2005], Jack Nance [of Eraserhead (1977 / trailer) and The Blob (1988)] and unknowns (almost everyone else). The Demolitionist offers nothing new or innovative, but it is a fun and at times almost campy film that goes well with a six-pack, chips and a joint — which is more or less what you can also say about Wishmaster: as a horror film it offers little new or innovative, but it is a fun and at times almost campy film that goes well with, well, a six-pack, chips and a joint (which is actually what we consumed it with).
OK, to be honest, Wishmaster does offer one semi-new concept: the genie as an evil entity. As the tertiary character Wendy Derleth (Jenny O'Hara of The Sacred [2012 / trailer] and Devil [2010 / trailer]) says at one point, "Forget what our culture has made of the djinn. Forget Barbara Eden.* Forget Robin Williams. To the people of ancient Arabia, the djinn was neither cute not funny. It was something else entirely. It was the face of fear itself." And that is exactly what the screenwriter Peter Atkins did: he jettisoned the young and delectable Barbara Eden's navel to go back to (and alter as needed) the concept of the djinn as found in Islamic theology and the Koran, in which the djinn are one of the three "sapient" and free-willed creatures created by God (the other two being humans and angels). In the film, as in Islamic theology, the djinn inhabit another dimension other than ours, but unlike the theological version, in Wishmaster not only are all djinns evil, they also want to break through the dimensions and takeover our world. And how can this be done? By letting one of them grant you three wishes. At that point, the dimensions become permeable and the earth will become hell on earth...
And what this might look like is seen in the prologue sequence of Wishmaster where, in ancient Arabia, the Wishmaster (Andrew Divoff of Faust [2000 / trailer], Graveyard Shift [1990 / trailer] and Neon Maniacs [1986 / trailer]) twists the second wish of the Caliph (Richard Assad) and hell breaks loose in good ol' rubber-and-prosthetic excess... luckily for the Caliph, he also has a sorcerer (Ari Barak) on hand that manages to trap the Wishmaster in a jewel and thus save the world as they know it. Then the film jumps forward a couple of thousand years to contemporary La La Land and the real story of the movie...
Like The Demolitionist, Wishmaster is populated by a cast of unknowns and familiar faces, but in this case here the familiar faces are less "forgotten" than cult — in fact, one or two names are arguably better known as names than as faces, Kane Hodder being the best example. To tell the truth, the familiar faces are almost a detriment: whenever someone like Tony Todd (Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh [1995]) or Ted Raimi (The Midnight Meat Train [2008 / trailer] and Crimewave [1985 / trailer]) — and to a lesser extent, Reggie Bannister (Phantasm [1979 / trailer]) or George 'Buck' Flower (Satans Lust [1971 / full NSFW film], Suckula [1973 / whole NSFW movie in 8.5 minutes], Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS [1975 / trailer], Escape from New York [1981 / trailer] and dozens of other noteworthy flicks, as well as some less noteworthy ones such as Village of the Damned [1995]) — suddenly appear in a miniscule part that could really be played by anyone, the flow and imposed sense of reality of the movie is jarringly destroyed by facial recognition. But, hell, this is a horror flick, so the "imposed sense of reality" is relative in any event...
The familiar face with the biggest part is of course Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street II: Freddy's Revenge [1985] and Zombie Strippers [2008]), who plays the tertiary character Raymond Beaumont, the slightly sleazy art collector who is unintentionally responsible for bringing the djinn to the US: a collector of rare religious statues, he purchases a rare statue of Ahura Mazda which is accidently destroyed when a drunken crane operator drops it on top of Beaumont's assistant Ed Finney (Raimi). Another dockworker finds the magic gem hidden in the wreckage and promptly pockets it and through some logical contrivances it finds its way into the hands of the attractive appraiser Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren of Radioland Murders [1994 / trailer]), who unwittingly unleashes the djinn... who in turn initially reinvigorates himself by tricking people into making wishes and then, both in djinn and human form, goes after Alexandra as the person who freed him, to get her to make three wishes and thus destroy the wall between the dimensions.
If you haven't figured it out yet, making a wish is not a good thing in the company of the djinn: he twists whatever you say in such a way that the granting of the wish is your demise — and takes your soul in exchange for the wish. Sometimes his interpretations of a wish are mighty broad — in the case of doorman Johnny Valentine (Tony Todd), it is so broad as to be annoying — but they are always detrimental for the person who made them.
In all truth, Wishmaster has a variety of narrative flaws that almost sink the film, but it is saved by the for the most part great and/or gory special effects, the occasionally witty dialogue, the solid performances of the two main actors characters, Andrew Divoff (as the Wishmaster and his suavely evil human alter ego Nathaniel Demerest) and Tammy Lauren (as the innocent suddenly confronted with an all-powerful evil), and the director's relatively staid but never boring direction. The film succeeds in presenting the Wishmaster as an evil creature to be if not feared than definitely not underestimated, and even if the movie is perhaps not the scariest of films one might see, it does keep you interested until the end and manages to jolt you on many an occasion with some nasty visuals and good gore as well as an occasionally wickedly interpreted wish that is so drenched black humor that you have to laugh.
Final verdict: Nothing groundbreaking or new, Wishmaster does get minus points for not having any gratuitous nudity and one sloppy CGI scene, but aside from that it nevertheless delivers the goods and makes for a quick and entertaining evening's viewing.
Wishmaster went on to spawn three sequels, all of which were direct-to-video: Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999 / trailer), Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell (2001 / trailer) and  Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002 / trailer).
*Considering how botched her last couple of plastic surgeries were, she could now well play an evil genie without the use of makeup.

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