13th Mar2018

Vestron Video: ‘Wishmaster’ Blu-ray Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Andrew Divoff, Tammy Lauren, Robert Englund, Ted Raimi, George “Buck” Flower, Reggie Bannister, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Chris Lemmon, Wendy Benson-Landes, Tony Crane, Jenny O’Hara, Ricco Ross, John Byner, Gretchen Palmer, Angus Scrimm | Written by Peter Atkins | Directed by Robert Kurtzman


Special makeup supremo Robert Kurtzman directs this 1997 homage to 1980s horror, and while its gross-out effects are impressive, the plot, characters and script leave much to be desired.

Wishmaster opens in 12th century Persia, and a royal party in chaos: people are mutating, skinning themselves, turning inside out, that sort of thing. It seems the king has made a deal with a Djinn, a mythical demon who will grant three wishes. On the third wish, a portal will open and the Djinn (plural) will be unleashed and take over the world of men. Or something. Thankfully, this Djinn is banished thanks to an opal made of blood.

Jump forward 900 years. The blood opal turns up inside an ancient Islamic statue, and the Djinn (Andrew Divoff) – now calling himself Nathaniel – is released. So he sets about seeking someone greedy and covetous enough to beg for those elusive three wishes and complete the curse.

Why Nathaniel ends up choosing Alexandra (Tammy Lauren) is anyone’s guess. She’s the one person to take the Djinn threat seriously and research its rules; she’s morally incorruptible; she recognises the Djinn for what it is; and she’s actively resistant. You’d think Nathaniel would go for a lower-hanging fruit: a power-hungry politician, perhaps, or an ambitious middle-manager.

The pacing is all over the shop. The script goes to wearying lengths to expound the myth of the Djinn, so for the first hour we get the jarring spectacle of alternating exposition and ultraviolence scenes. Verbosity is a problem throughout, as if this were an unedited first draft. “My God!” one character cries. “Not yet…” Nathaniel replies, smartly. But then he continues: “Soon I will be. Very soon.” And the one-liner is shot down.

Lauren is brilliant in the central, anti-scream-queen role: determined and capable yet believably fraught, even when the script demands her character make some baffling choices. (She knows the game, so why does she choose to play by Nathaniel’s rules?)

Then there’s Nathaniel. Divoff claims he was influenced by the work of silent actors like Bela Lugosi, and he delivers decent menace. However, his character is also meant to be ruthlessly seductive – a tough sell for someone more Robert Davi than George Clooney. When women 15 years his junior are instantly transfixed by his charms, I can’t help wishing for the rapier wit of Amazon’s Lucifer, a similar but far more persuasive creep.

Kurtzman’s ‘80s retro efforts are admirable, and the makeup effects impressively call back to the work overseen by John Carpenter (specifically The Thing), Brian Yuzna (Society) and Stuart Gordon (Re-animator). However, the CG interludes are distractingly poor. And while the Dutch angles and stylised lighting are on point, the production cannot escape the clean, TV soundstage aesthetic evident in so many films of its era.

These issues aside, there is a handful of genuinely enjoyable sequences, including a great scene where a bunch of stone and metal statues come alive in a museum and go on the rampage. Indeed, the killings throughout the film are consistently inventive – spoiler alert: cult horror heroes Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder and Ted Raimi get it worse than anyone.

Wishmaster arrived at a time of soul-searching for the horror genre, soon after Scream (Wes Craven is producer here, by the way) kicked off the cycle of self-reflective meta-movies. Its throwback flourishes have an undeniable charm, but as a standalone film the only really remarkable thing about it is that it managed to spawn three sequels.

As usual, Vestron Video offer bountiful supplements to the main feature. We get a commentary track with Kurtzman and writer Peter Atkins, and a second commentary featuring Kurtzman, Divoff and Lauren. An isolated score includes an audio interview with composer Harry Manfredini.

Ample interviews include Kutzman and producer David Tripet; Peter Atkins; Divoff and Lauren; DOP Jacques Haitkin; as well as Englund, Raimi and Hodder. There are also teaser and theatrical trailers; radio and TV spots; a making of doc, a behind-the-scenes compilation, and a press kit (all vintage); and storyboard and stills galleries.

Wishmaster is out on Vestron Video Blu-ray now.

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