Julian Sands - The Warlock
Richard E. Grant - Giles Redferne
Lori Singer - Kassandra
Mary Woronov - Medium
Kevin O'Brien - Chaz
Genre - Horror/Action/Witchcraft
Running Time - 103 Minutes
It's been a while since I discussed a film about the concept of witchcraft. Actually, the last time I did was for THE CRAFT and that was back in September of last year! It's surprising since I really enjoy stories involving witches and magic. But I tend to never spotlight many of these films on my blog.
But that changes with this post, as I finally get to review one of my guilty pleasure films of the 1980s/1990s: WARLOCK. I hadn't watched this film since I was a kid, but watching it years after the fact reminded me why I enjoy this Steve Miner flick so much. Sure it's not perfect and it's pretty hokey at times, but it's solid entertainment from beginning to end.
In a rural village in 1691, we're introduced to a man (Julian Sands) in shackles, kept in a tower prior to his intended execution. The townspeople believe him to be a sinister Warlock, wanting to punish him for his crimes against God. A witch hunter named Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant) is in charge of his sentence, but wonders why the Warlock is so calm. Suddenly a storm hits and Giles sees the Warlock disappearing before his very eyes through a weird portal. Wanting justice, Giles follows suit through the portal.
Both end up landing in modern day America. The Warlock is found first, flying through a window into the home of Kassandra (Lori Singer) and her roommate Chaz (Kevin O'Brien). When Kassandra is at work the next day, the Warlock kills Chaz for his ring. He later finds a medium (Mary Woronov) in order to speak to his father. Even though the medium is pretty much a fake, the spirit eventually possesses her. The Warlock's father tells him to seek out The Grand Grimoire, a book of black magic that's been separated into three parts that contains the true name of God. If uttered, the entire world would be destroyed and the Warlock would become the one begotten son. Murdering the medium, he uses her eyes to locate the book.
Meanwhile, Giles locates Kassandra and both embark on a mission to stop the Warlock from finding the book. Giles has to because it's his job. Kassandra has no choice to help because the Warlock has cast an aging spell on her that will kill her fast.
WARLOCK, even after all these years, is still highly entertaining even if the plot is slightly ridiculous. While it's not scary, the action is fun and some moments are unintentionally hilarious. It may not be the best witch flick out there, but you'll never be bored by this movie.
The screenplay by future THE FUGITIVE, PITCH BLACK, and THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK writer David Twohy is very well-done. The biggest advantage Twohy has with the script is keeping the focus on a small cast, especially since WARLOCK mainly focuses on three characters: The Warlock, Giles Redferne, and Kassandra ("With a K"). While the character development isn't as deep as one would expect with such a small cast of characters, at least we're given enough time with each one to learn their goals, motivations, and their personalities. The Warlock is deviously evil, wanting to gather three parts of a book together so he can learn God's name and use it to destroy the world and become the one begotten son. This monster will do anything to make this happen - make out with men to bite their tongues off just to steal their rings, trick mediums and murder them so he can have the spirit of his father control their eyes as a outdated GPS system, and even murder children who aren't baptized just because he's hungry. We don't need his background to know right away that we should hate this bastard and want him stopped. Giles is the heroic type. He follows the Warlock into the future to stop him. He has devices that help him locate the Warlock by using the villain's blood. He has a foreign accent that makes the ladies swoon. We want him to succeed because he's just as active as the Warlock, instead of letting others do the work for him. Kassandra is a nice addition because she's the modern girl who wants nothing to do with this caper. She's only involved because her roommate was murdered by the Warlock, he took her bracelet and used it to accelerate her aging process, and because she's smitten with Giles and his duty to save the world. All three have a purpose in the film and are all likeable in their own way. Plus Kassandra and Giles both achieve some decent character growth at the end of the film, which is what every story should accomplish. I think it was smart not using a big cast. I'm sure budget constraints had a hand in that, but it was definitely the best move.
I also like how simple and straightforward the actual main arc is. We know exactly why The Warlock wants The Grand Grimoire and why Giles and Kassandra want to stop him from collecting the pieces. There are no twists in the story. There is never a sense where the viewer feels insulted about what a character does and why a certain events happens. The flow and story structure is great and easy to follow. That's all one wants in a horror/action movie hybrid. You're never confused by what's going on and it leads to a satisfying conclusion.
I also enjoyed the things that related to the Warlock's witchcraft effecting the society around him. Fire that burns blue, cream and milk that spoils overnight, sweating horses, and pastry that doesn't rise - the level of attention to his power is great. It really creates a different mood, as we know something isn't quite right and that his presence will do more harm than good. The evil has a presence and the film doesn't attempt to hide it or brush it under the rug.
Also the dialogue is quite good, even funny at times both intentionally and unintentionally. Not one characters sounds the same and when they do speak, it's always of importance. Sure there's a bit of exposition and some of the lines don't work as well as they should, but you still have fun with the dialogue because it flows well and it leads to something.
That said, while the story is indeed entertaining and simple to follow, it still could have been more depth to things going on. I think the fact that both The Warlock and Giles being stranded centuries into the future could have been played with more. After all, it's not every day a witch and a witch-hunter take a trip through time to a world they don't really understand. Obviously The Warlock didn't care about where he was as long as he found the book. But Giles had more to play with due to his association with Kassandra. Sure, we get moments where Giles doesn't understand modern technology and inventions, such as cars and his reluctance to travel on an airplane fearing people would think he's also a witch. But there could have been more fun with that angle. A 'fish-out-of-water' story is a great story to tell because there's just so much that could be done with it. I think seeing Giles deal with the fact that he's not in his own time and doesn't understand the modern world would have not only given his character depth, but his relationship with Kassandra as well. In a way, she could have been his hero, helping him guide through this new world while he protects her from his old one. But it never really goes all the way with it, instead teasing us with moments that could have been explored more. By the way, I doubt any airline would allow a passenger to bring a long metal weapon on board their planes. Just sayin'.
Also, the rapidly aging sub-plot didn't last long enough to really matter much. It was a nice concept since it showed what the Warlock was capable of. And how messed up for this witch to curse a woman by having her age quickly? But nothing is really done with it and gets resolved way too fast. Here is a chance to really create some tension and dread for one of the main characters, but it's treated as if it's run-of-the-mill. This should have been explored more, but it's sort of a wasted opportunity that was never capitalized on.
The special effects here are a bit dated and very cheesy, but they kind of raise the fun factor. The Warlock has an assortment of powers, such as casting fire and laser beams out of his hands. They look pretty hokey and drawn in [you can actually see the outline of the flames - ha!], but it was the 1980s! The Warlock flying stuff is obviously green screen and no one will mistake it for anything else. And the aging stuff looks ridiculous at times. I did love the eyes the Warlock would carry to find the book though. The gore was pretty okay too, especially the tongue part and the finger cutting. But the cheesiness of it all is very charming and endearing. Anyway, the SFX are never in your face anyway, so it doesn't hurt the film at all.
The direction by Steve Miner, who directed FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3-D, HALLOWEEN H20, and 1986's HOUSE, is good. The film looks more than decent. The film's pace is very well done, as it feels much quicker than its 103 minutes. There's not much style to the film visually, but there's really no need for it. Miner creates a fun film regardless if it's really a point-and-shoot sort of deal. Miner is not known for his visual style anyway, so the lack of any is no major deal. The film does what it needs to do and Miner should be complimented for a good job.
The acting in WARLOCK is good as well. Julian Sands is perfect as the devious Warlock. He's very charismatic and seems to enjoy being vicious and evil. He's also very charming due to the accent, but Sands does a great job with the role. Richard E. Grant is probably the best actor in the film as Giles. He's very convincing as the heroic witch-hunter, even though his accent changes every now and then and hams it up quite a bit. But I found it all entertaining, so can't complain. Lori Singer is good as Kassandra. She isn't the strongest actress, but she handles her one-liners well and carries an attitude about her that I dig. All the actors seem to be having fun in this film and it shows, making it fun for all of us as well.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE KEEPING THE TRUE NAME OF GOD TO MYSELF
- The Warlock's spell created a tornado in Malibu dubbed "The Devil's Wind". Or in terms one can understand - an Ann Coulter fart.
- The Warlock made out with Chaz and bit his tongue out. He obviously isn't French.
- The Warlock has to put together the three pieces of The Grand Grimoire to gain great power. Link and the land of Hyrule better watch their backs.
- The Warlock aged Kassandra massively with a spell. Maybe this is what happened to Lindsay Lohan instead of the drugs.
- Don't tell a Warlock you're not baptized. Your vital signs will decrease Step By Step.
- Putting pennies in your mouth can ward off evil magic. Judging by how much they're worth these days, no wonder many of us are shit out of luck.
- Nailing a Warlock's footprints in the sand can cause him great pain. I'm sure nailing him somewhere else will have the same effect.
- Giles is scared of airplanes, feeling he'll become a witch if he flies inside of it. He should be more worried about eating the fish and wondering if the pilot has a thing for movies involving gladiators.
THE FINAL HOWL
WARLOCK is a guilty pleasure that one shouldn't feel guilty for liking. It doesn't have the deepest story out there and it won't change any genre it's associated with. But it's entertainment value is extremely high and you can't help but love the campiness and cheesiness of it all. WARLOCK deserves a look if you haven't seen it yet and want to enjoy a fun film without having too think too much. It may cast its spell on you like it does on me.
3.5 Howls Outta 4