Monday, 14 March 2011

Warlock (1989)

Warlock, made by New World Pictures in 1988, is basically a supernatural version of Terminator. An evil warlock and a dogged witch-hunter are both transported from 1690s Boston into the 1980s. The warlock is bent on ultimate evil and the witch-hunter is determined to foil his wicked plans.

The witch (he’s mostly referred to in the film simply as a witch rather than a warlock) had been facing execution but his jump forward three centuries into the future was engineered by the powers of darkness for other purposes than the obvious one of avoiding his date with the executioner. He’s on a mission from Satan to find the scattered pieces of the ultimate grimoire, the Grand Grimoire, a book that can deliver unlimited power and unleash unlimited destruction. Creation itself is threatened.

The witch-hunter, Redferne, finds an unlikely ally in the likeable but slightly ditzy Kassandra. Kassandra doesn’t want any part of this whole battling the ultimate evil business but when she gets in the witch’s way he casts a very nasty spell on her. She will age 20 years each day. Redferne informs her that unless she can retrieve her charm bracelet from the witch (he had to steal a personal item in order to cast the spell) there’s no way of reversing the spell. So Kassandra becomes an initially unenthusiastic recruit in the struggle against evil.

The grimoire has been hidden in three separate places. It’s not difficult to find. THe difficulty is finding it before the witch does.

The movie’s greatest strength (somewhat unusually for a horror flick) is the acting. Lori Singer is good as Kassandra. Julian Sands is both incredibly sexy and incredibly vicious as the witch. He radiates evil charisma and creates a truly memorable villain.

The real star though is Richard E. Grant as the witch-hunter Redferne. His performance manages to be both entertainingly hammy (as you’d expect from Richard E. Grant) and at the same time convincing and moving. He has a very personal score to settle with the witch, a tragedy in his own life that makes him a particularly determined witch-finder. And he has a charisma of his own.

What’s surprising is that the characterisations of both Redferne and Kassandra have a certain degree of subtlety. They have real motivations, real reasons for doing what they do, something you don’t really expect in a low-budget 80s horror movie. Their attitudes towards one another evolve over the course of the film as each of them learns to understand and respect the other.

The special effects are fairly bad but they’re great fun. There’s not a lot of gore but there are a couple of very chilling scenes. This is a convincingly evil witch - he’s utterly ruthless and gratuitously cruel and entirely lacking in any redeeming qualities.

To compensate for the slightly dodgy social effects there are some very nice and quite imaginative touches, such as Redferne’s very cool witch compass gizmo and the use of a weather vane as a deadly anti-witch missile. And the screenwriter obviously put some actual thought into the script, and even appears to have done some actual research into the occult - there are some convincingly authentic witch-hunting details. The nailing of footprints was a particularly cool little detail.

It doesn’t really have the feel of a 1980s horror movie at all. The aim seems to have been to make a movie very much in the tradition of the great gothic horror movies of the 60s and early 70s. And it achieves that aim. Terrific old-fashioned entertainment.


Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

A nostalgic favourite from the days of video rental. I agree about Richard E. Grant, but I can't stand Julian Sands. To be fair he isn't too bad here and manages to exude evil very well. But memories of his performance in Ken Russell's awful GOTHIC haunt me every time I see him in a film.

Stacia said...

We rented this last week and really enjoyed it. Turns out we saw the end of the film when it was on "Monstervision" back in the mid 1990s, but that didn't detract from the enjoyment. It was surprisingly good, easy to follow (lots of B movies from that era are difficult for a variety of reasons), and I kind of liked the special effects with the animated fire on the hands. It was nostalgic, like watching effects from "Forbidden Planet."