Warlock (1989)

MARCH 7, 2010

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: NETFLIX (INSTANT VIEW)

Why didn’t I watch Warlock when I was 11? At that age, I might have thought it was good, and could count myself among its defenders today. Sadly, it had always passed me by until now, and 30 year old me just couldn’t get into it. The story is painfully generic (it’s basically Highlander and Terminator combined, with some fish out of water stuff thrown in for good measure), the effects are astonishingly bad, and it’s lacking any real action. All things that I wouldn’t have noticed/cared about as a kid, when I didn't expect as much action in a movie; I used to think Fletch was an action movie because of that one car chase.

The biggest problem is that Julian Sands disappears for big chunks of the film. Not that I’m a big fan of the actor, in fact I find him rather dull, but his character never feels like a real threat, because he only pops up intermittently throughout the movie. Plus, as the only character involved with this movie’s incredibly tenuous place in horror (he bites off a guy’s tongue!), the film is simply a routine chase movie whenever he’s not around, and I’ve seen better examples, horror-fied or not.

That leaves us with Richard E. Grant and Lori Singer, spending most of the movie driving around looking to find the pages of this magic book before Sands does. Grant builds a lot of magic doohickeys out of common elements, but they all feel like deus ex machinas and never seem to make much sense. At one point a fellow warlock (non time-traveling type) gets what should be a mortal injury, but Grant makes him a little mobile out of keys and tells him to rotate it clockwise every hour, which will heal him. Now, I must admit I am not a practicing warlock, so for all I know this might be a legit cure for evil warlock-related injuries, but if it is or not, they could at least explain it a bit more, since these sort of things are the closest the movie has to good ideas (again, assuming they are of the screenwriter’s design).

It’s also yet another horror movie set almost entirely during the day. Look, you’re already playing against the odds by doing this, but it’s even more troublesome in a film that has such hideous special effects as this one. Nighttime shots can help hide bad matte outlines, poor compositing, etc., but just about every major effect shot in the film occurs in brightly lit exterior locations, making them look terrible even on a blurry Netflix video. I can’t imagine how bad a Blu-Ray or even a well-mastered DVD would look.

Ultimately, most of my entertainment stemmed from constantly reminding myself that this film played in theaters. In a day when even modestly budgeted horror films with big stars go direct to video (look for Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Possession to hit stores this Tuesday!), it’s somewhat charming to think that just under 20 years ago, a man like myself could be watching Warlock in a first run movie theater along with Silence of the Lambs, Dances With Wolves, and King Ralph (all films that played in February of 1991, when this film was released via Trimark). I may not like the film that much, but I do miss a time when junk like this could be given a chance, as I’m sure the movie would be slightly more entertaining with a crowd. Every now and then Lionsgate or someone will put out a movie that for all intents and purposes SHOULD go direct to video (pretty much any WWE movie), but even though we have more theaters nowadays, the chance for stuff like this to get a reasonable theatrical release (it grossed 9 million! That’s more than the last Punisher film!) is incredibly slim. Ah, the late 80s/early 90s, such an innocent time, when even an Albert Pyun film (Cyborg) could open on a few hundred screens...

I’m sure someone somewhere is trying to get a Warlock remake off the ground, and I don’t blame them. The concept - dueling warlocks traveling thru time and my two favorite places (Boston and LA) - is fine, it’s just the execution that’s lousy. And there are some cool concepts that modern technology could really sell, such as Singer’s curse that causes her to age until she gets her bracelet back from Sands. In the movie, they just slap a gray wig on her for the first stage, and then a frumpier wig and some pancake makeup for the 2nd stage, and that’s about it. Nowadays, good prosthetic work (with, *sigh*, some CG enhancement) could show a genuine fast moving aging process over the course of the film, constantly changing. And by boosting the action and the magic mythology, Warlock could be a film that was not only more exciting, but also more unique - the magic stuff is all that kept it from being a total rip of the aforementioned films (and Starman, now that I think of it), but it’s also the least developed aspect. And hey, the title is cool, which is pretty much all of the thinking that goes into most remakes anyway. Everyone wins!

What say you?


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21 comments:

  1. I was very briefly talking about a remake with a partner who was in communication with the current rights holders. This was about a year ago. It's definitely on the radar.

    I was most intrigued by the notion that Richard Grant's character - the hero - was a heroic witch hunter. His superstitious, homegrown methods work, he's stalwart and fearless...THIS GUY WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR CONDEMNING INNOCENT PEOPLE TO BURNING AT THE STAKE. Didn't we know that in 1989?? Not once does Lori Singer offer this historical tidbit to Grant's character. He just keeps USING WITCHCRAFT (!!) to chase the guy down and stop him. It's fascinating and never addressed.

    I've always loved Jerry Goldsmith's score -- even if he appears to be slumming it for utterly mysterious reasons. The score actually sounds DELIBERATELY cheesy somehow. It adds something to the low budget/reach-exceeding-its-grasp endeavor.

    Wasn't this shelved for a time, Brian? I remember seeing Fangoria and Cinefantastique coverage a year or more before it finally surfaced. I don't even think it got a theatrical in my area.

    And don't forget that it actually became a franchise...

    --Jared R

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  2. Ya it was sold to Trimark by another studio that went under (new World I think?). It was completed in 88 or 89 but not released til 91. And I knew there was a 2nd film but I just discovered that there was a 3rd. Good lord.

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  3. I perfectly understand your objections, bad spfx, etc, but I respectfully disagree. Maybe it's because I'm a writer and I loved the screenplay, and didn't notice the other flaws. There were so many neat and engaging scenes. The hero sees a freshly painted hex sign on a barn, walks up to the farmer and says, "Menonite?" And, separated by more than 200 years, they start chattering in witchbuster jargon, they understand each other perfectly! The hero comes to our time expecting people to dress and behave differently, a little skin is no big deal, think about it, the way they used to swim naked, etc, he doesn't care that the heroine shows some lovely leg, but it bugs him to no end that she paints--her--face. Makeup to him is a reversion to Babylon. I sympathize with your objection to the magic routines, but the ones I recognized were solid, real witchcraft legend stuff, like the sorcerer flying with a salve made from the rendered fat of an unbaptized child. And at the end, the hero is looking for the Magic MacGuffin and has to take it from.... no, not going to spoil that one. Or the heroine's hiding place for it. And I liked the cast, especially Lori Singer, we don't see enough of her anymore. If they stay close to the original, I'd love to see a remake that addresses your objections.

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  4. I haven't seen it in years, but I caught it in theaters...not the greatest movie of all time, but fun and gets the point across without being pretentious or overbearing.
    I still hope for a remastered special edition with the alternate Mary Woronov scene (where the Warlock uses a different method to get the magic eyes from her...)

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  5. anyone with a love for horror movies really shouldn't put any stock into this blog's opinions. this guy hates classic true horror movies and thinks garbage like "armageddon" is pure genius.

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  6. OK, I assume that you don't consider Warlock to be a "classic true horror movie", but either way, can you name 5, or even 3, "classic true horror movies" that I hate?

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  7. p.s. if you took the time to read my Armageddon review, you'd know that I like it specifically because it's the polar OPPOSITE of genius, but that's neither here nor there.

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  8. I saw Warlock again about two years ago and I still dug it.

    I have to respectfully disagree that liking a film like this can be chalked entirely up to nostalgia (example: I recently watched The Unnamable again and was appalled). I do think it's different enough to warrant a look, regardless of bad FX work.

    And stop giving douchebag studios ideas for remakes! You don't need a crystal ball to know how a remake would turn out: Screen Gems would buy it and cast Paul Bettany in the Richard E. Grant role.

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  9. This is one of the better pages I have seen, up until now I had to suffer with C.H.U.D. ... which is an "artiste's" page. While I actually enjoyed Warlock (sigh, more for the idea than the actual execution ... but it didn't offend me either), I can see your point. Also ... I actually DID see here in Virginia at a Theater, so it must have gotten a decent release too!

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  10. i think that hater may actually be a kid named kevin. i read that comment in his voice. ANON ARE YOU NAMED KEVIN??

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  11. also, why do snarks always hide behind the anon thing? when i make fun of BC i do it to his face! grow some balls.

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  12. Completely agree here BC, I put it off for so many years after wanting to see it so badly when it first came out on VHS. The FX are so pathetically dated now, but definitely check out part 2 for a huge improvement overall

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  13. Talking of nostalgia, I watched this when I was 11 (32 now) and *loved* it. I'm a bit scared to revisit it if only because every non "Withnail" film starring Richard E Grant, tends to suck balls; as, for the record, does the shite blossem who accused BC of not liking classic horror. But that's just like, you know, my opinon man.

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  14. The reason I love WARLOCK - superstitions go from being useless fearful behaviors worthy of ridicule to becoming the only badass way to stop the Warlock. "Screw guns! Eat salt, mo****f*****!"

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  15. Loved this movie when I was young, one of those I'd be scared to watch again now for fear that its actually really bad and not the classic I remember.

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  16. I guess I'm partial since this is one of my favorite movies, but I dont mind the dated FX or certain aspects of the script.
    Most of the FX work was practical, while the few scenes that involved more extensive post production turned out somewhat off. What is shooting fire supposed to look like anyways? In the script, it is ectoplasm.
    Those shots look fine in HD though, as far as I could tell when I saw it on HD Net.
    Anyway, this did sit on the shelf after New World went bankrupt. This was likely due to Steve miner cutting what the writer called the most memorable scene in the entire film.
    That is the "Breaking Woman' sequence. By the time it was redone, New World was dead and this was viewed as a valuable asset, so it was kept in the can.
    I do hope someone gets a remake off the ground at some point though.

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  17. i LOVED this movie when i was about 10 years old. lol

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  18. I was lucky enough to see this movie in a theatre (albiet at the age of 13 so yes I lapped it up) but I think you are being way to harsh yes the effects are grossly outdated but what I always loved about this film was it's dialogue and the over the top way it's delivered. Not all horror has to be machettes in the gut and knives for fingers

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  19. I saw this at a bargain theater during its original run (or the end of its run), then went to see it a week later at a different bargain theater where they had stereo sound. The Mary Waronov scene had voices swirling all around the theater, IIRC. The 80s horror sequels had long since worn out their welcomes so I thought it was a fun change of pace.

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  20. I thought this film was great and still do,it's nowhere near generic and has a lot of interesting old worldly tricks and snippets of historical witch hunting of which none i had ever heard being used before.It could be remade and would probably benefit with new effects.As for the Paul Bettany role i don't see that working well at all i could see Jude Law playing the warlock well though with his english accent and maybe Brian Cox (troy) as the farmer with the hex on the barn,goodness knows who could play the witch hunter role Richard.E.Grant played though.

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  21. It's an excellent choice material for a remake,jude law would play the warlock well i imagine but who plays the hunter maybe hugh lorrie possibly would be fitting with the humor and the excentric behaviour would work well?

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