Running Time: 90 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
“Be careful what you wish for” is the tagline for the Wes Craven endorsed Wishmaster and ironically relevant with the likely catastrophic consequences of the majority of Britain voting for the economy crippling Brexit and our American neighbours electing a malevolent tyrant as their president of choice.
The writer Peter Atkins has clearly picked up a copy of WW Jacob’s terrifying short story, The Monkey’s Paw and re-arranged it into something more mischievous but suitably gruesome for the fan boys and girls of horror flicks from the 1970’s and 80’s. It has so many cameos crammed into its modest 90 minute running time that you might have more fun spotting the next familiar face than trying to decipher what the hell is going on with the disjointed story.
Wishmaster opens in 1127 as a djinn (Andrew Divoff), a wish-granting demon that resides between dimensions, tricks a Persian emperor into unleashing an unholy curse upon the people of his city. Understandably horrified, the emperor pleads with the djinn to return things to normal unbeknownst that his final third wish will unleash an army of the demon’s cohorts into our world to wreak havoc. Before he can act, the residing palace sorcerer traps the pesky demon in a fire opal.
Forward to travel to present day, where millionaire collector, Richard Beaumont (Robert Englund) and his mouthy assistant (Ted Raimi) are unloading a priceless statue at the docks. When a drunken crane operator accidentally drops the container holding the goods, the contents are scattered everywhere. A worker pockets the aforementioned fire opal from the debris and the stone eventually lands into the hands of auctioneer Nick Merritt (Chris Lemmon). Having identified the smell of big bucks from his latest acquisition, gemmologist Alex (Tammy Lauren) is called to examine its value. Unfortunately she unwittingly awakens the djinn from his slumber. When Alex’s co-worker analyses the stone further in the college laboratory, the fire opal explodes releasing the djinn to wreak havoc in the city.
Alex tracks the origins of the stone to Englund’s shady Beaumont and gets a rundown on ‘what the hell’ is going on from eccentric, folklore professor Wendy Darleth (Jenny O’Hara). Meanwhile the djinn, who is now concealed in human form, is getting up to all sorts of mischief. This involves granting wishes to the local residents and twisting their desires into something involving torture or death. Eventually Alex is visited by the immortal beast and demands that she makes her three wishes or suffer the consequences.
Wishmaster will unlikely go down in anyone’s greatest horror movie list due to its disjointed pacing, muddled script and dubious performances. It isn’t particularly scary with Kurtzman focussing more on the laughs and ridiculously gruesome kills. Yet the film marks a sorry farewell to practical special effects and the dawn of the CGI alternative. In the first five minutes we have flesh coated skeletons ripping their way out of the bodies of the living, an unfortunate soul contorting into a serpent-like beast and demons sprouting out of screaming victims.
The protagonist is a wonderful creation. Played with enthusiastic glee by Divoff, the djinn resembles a distant relative of Tim Curry’s demon in Legend but with disturbingly phallic-looking appendages sprouting from his ears. The movie is always at its best when the sneering Divoff is on screen. His victims range from a cranky pharmacist (Phantasm’s Reggie Bannister), a burly doorman (Friday the Thirteenth’s Kane Hodder) and Beaumont’s frustrated security guard (Candyman’s Tony Todd). Some of the deaths are hilarious, especially Alex’s boss wish for a million dollars. This quickly cuts to his wealthy mother’s plane plummeting to the ground and an insurance cheque dropping into his mailbox.
Sadly Lauren’s heroine does not create as much interest as her adversary. Even a tragic back story regarding her parents adds nothing to flesh out this dull character. Similar to the rest of the performances, there seems to be an emphasis to ham things up and overreact to comical levels when something unspeakable happens.
The finale at Beaumont’s party is a splatter-fest delight with the djinn massacring the guests with a little help from the owner’s artefact collection. Put your bets on as to who comes out best in a battle between some heavily armed security guards and a group of ancient sets of Asian armour? Perhaps the resolution is a little on the safe side but it generated enough interest to spawn a further three sequels including Wishmaster 2 : Evil Never Dies (1999), Wishmaster 3 : Beyond the Gates of Hell (2001) and Wishmaster : The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002). Divoff appeared in all sequels apart from Beyond the Gates of Hell in which John Novak took up the wish granting duties.
Wishmaster will appeal to those lovers of the horror movies that lined the blue shelves of your local Blockbuster video store in the 80’s and 90’s. It is fun, daft and gloriously gruesome fun ride with a plethora of your favourite bogeymen taking a bow before the influx of Asian ghosts, torture porn and European gorefests began to takeover our TV screens or crawled out of them.