Tuesday, October 1, 2019

A Scream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

Year: 1997
Director: Robert Kurtzman
Cast: Tammy Lauren, Andrew Divoff, Robert Englund
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

It's that time of year again, folks! Every October I begin a brand new deep dive into a franchise I've never covered on the blog before. Now, consider this fact: Sergio and I are now doing a lot of franchise marathons on our podcast Scream 101. So when I was picking out what series to do this year, I had to select one that was flat-out vetoed from being on the show, so the quality of these movies (which have in the past included infinite Amityville and Children of the Corn sequels) might be dropping precipitously. Pray for me. 

I hope against hope that I have struck a rich vein this year, because at the very least my favorite director Wes Craven is the producing entity that launched the franchise. I'm not saying I have any faith in the man's producing (he also made Dracula 2000, lest we forget), but at least his work is something I have a vast amount of context for and interest in. So. The Wishmaster quadrilogy. I guess we're doing this.

Here goes nothing!

Wishmaster tells the tale of an immortal djinn, so of course it starts off in a wildly misguided ancient Middle Eastern sequence. Nevertheless we learn that the titular master of wishes (Andrew Divoff) is not the babbling blue Robin Williams you've come to expect from genies in bottles. For one thing he's trapped in a gemstone. For another thing, he is a malevolent force of ancient pure evil, and if he grants three wishes to the person who releases him, he will break the veil between the human world and the djinn world, causing the apocalypse I guess. It's not super clear what the djinn would do to our world, but I'm pretty sure they're not just here for the sightseeing.

Oh, also the djinn is powerless unless somebody makes a wish, which he can then misinterpret to accomplish his desires. Upon which point he also steals their soul, which powers up the gemstone. There sure are a lot of rules for a movie about an evil genie. Anyway, jewel appraiser Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren - who some people thought was too controversial to star in a horror movie about genies) releases the Djinn by... rubbing the gem on her shirt? Had nobody done this in millennia? He bursts from his gemstone prison, in the process killing her best friend/wannabe lover Josh (Tony Crane), then wanders around granting random people's wishes in a bunch of slasher setpieces before setting his sights back on her.

All while being dressed to the nines.

It is perhaps now I should mention that director Robert Kurtzman is much better known as one of the makeup effects gurus behind the KNB EFX group, a special effects company that has dominated the horror world from Elm Street 5 to Scream to The Walking Dead. As with most films directed by a special effects wizard, Wishmaster is packed to the grim with drippy, practical gore gags that still look phenomenal.

The two party scenes that bookend the film, in which all hell breaks loose during the Djinn's final bid for power, are pure, unfiltered movie mayhem. Glass shatters faces, skeletons burst out of their bodies and run around, creatures emerge from people's chests to devour other people, statues come to life and smash ancient weapons into skulls... It's chaotic, but an excellent built-in reel for KNB's next pitch meeting. 

These scenes (as well as most of the slasher setpieces that have no bearing on the actual plot) are going to be pure candy to any gorehound. Ditto the endless slew of cameos from horror icons like Robert Englund (given the meatiest role - thanks, Wes! - as a rich collector who orders the statue containing the Djinn's jewel), Kane Hodder (as a security guard, the role he was apparently born to play when not smothered in latex), Tony Todd (as a doorman, which is insulting), Angus Scrimm (as the narrator, which is perhaps less insulting because at least it's a cool trivia tidbit), Ted Raimi (as, guess what, a weaselly assistant), Reggie Bannister (as a pharmacist who gets "cancer" AKA boils that explode and kill him) and (for true devotees of cult film) George "Buck" Flower (as a bum, which he has extensive experience playing considering he's done it over 25 times since the early 80's).

Do you think he's just mad he's constantly forced to face off against people who played villains more famous than him?

And the detail in the Djinn design is something to behold. He's grotesquely organic, full of squishy parts that wiggle and move of their own accord (my favorite moment is when he's facing away from the camera and you can see a pulsing heartbeat in his back), counteracting the slight stiffness of his latex face with pure, realistic nightmare fuel.

Unfortunately, other than appealing to the basest lizard-brain instincts of the horror fan (the Where's Waldo of Horror game continues with an Easter egg Pazuzu statue in the background, etc. etc.), Wishmaster just doesn't quite have the juice to go anywhere. There's a little bit of fun to be had when the Djinn is in disguise trying and failing to trick Alexandra into making wishes, and Andrew Divoff has a blast chewing the scenery into tiny little splinters ("If you can't beat 'em, burn them... baby"), but their interactions are mostly dull as dishwater. When the film's budget briefly cools its heels late in the second act and they're required to match wits in some anonymous apartment, my interest wanes severely.

You see, there's almost nothing compelling about Alexandra as a protagonist. She's trapped in a bland Friendzone Love Story and does nothing but stumble ass backward into revelations about the Djinn despite having a convenient psychic link to him every time he makes a kill. This element is the most Wes Craven-y of a movie that quite openly suckles at the teat of Craven's filmography, and it is the most poorly handled. When a dude gets his jaw ripped off, I don't want to waste time cutting back to Tammy Lauren bulging her eyes, pursing her lips, and fainting left and right. All the interstitial bits between the horror scenes needed a punch-up or two or three before they hit the silver screen, because connective tissue isn't supposed to be tissue paper.

But there's a scene where a dude gets his jaw ripped all the way the fuck off, so who's complaining, you know?

TL;DR: Wishmaster is fun as far as turn-your-brain-off practical effects movies go, but it doesn't have too much to offer beyond its baseline pleasures.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1131
Reviews In This Series
Wishmaster (Kurtzman, 1997)
Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (Sholder, 1999)
Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell (Angel, 2001)
Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (Angel, 2002)

1 comment:

  1. "But there's a scene where a dude gets his jaw ripped all the way the fuck off, so who's complaining, you know?"

    Sold. I mean, it at least sounds better than the Disney live-action remake.