BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Robert Kurtzman
Starring: Tammy Lauren, Andrew Divoff, Robert Englund, Ted Raimi, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Angus Scrimm, Joe Pilato, Reggie Bannister
Somewhere between the franchise heavy days of the 1980s and the more recent remake frenzy of said franchises there was a decade known as the 1990s, where, in the world of horror movies, not a lot happened. Freddy and Jason said their (temporary) goodbyes, Michael Myers limped on to a climatic showdown with Buster Rhymes after a brief glimmer of hope with Halloween: H20, Leatherface became a limp-wristed cross-dresser and Pinhead became… well, not quite sure what he became but he wasn’t as good as he used to be. That’s the big boys done, leaving a few second-tier film series floating around in straight-to-video (and then DVD) limbo, with only Tony Todd’s Candyman reaching anywhere near iconic status (oh alright, Ghostface from Scream if you like).
So in a rather contrived attempt to make a new horror icon somebody gave us Wishmaster, or to give it its full title Wes Craven’s Wishmaster. Note the use of the word ‘somebody’, as Craven’s involvement is pretty questionable; he is credited as a producer, which tells us very little, and his name was removed from the title after the sequels started to appear. Anyway, for this first instalment we have Craven’s name and a few other genre stalwarts to add a bit of gravitas, more of which later. As the movie opens we are introduced to the Djinn (Andrew Divoff – Toy Soldiers), a dark genie who will grant three wishes to the person who awakens him. Upon the granting of the third wish the gateway to their world will open and the rest of the Djinn will be unleashed upon our world to wreak havoc.
After being trapped in a jewel stone by a sorcerer 12th century Persia, the Djinn is awoken in 20th century America by Alexandra (Tammy Lauren – Mad City) and, after taking on human form by stealing a face from a corpse, proceeds to grant wishes to everyone he comes across in his attempts to reach his waker. Of course, the wishes he grants come with a twist and always end in the wisher’s death, thus providing the Djinn with souls to feed his netherworldly brethren. Having removed all the obstacles around Alexandra, the Djinn catches up with her to grant her the three wishes that he needs, but will she be able to come up with the perfect wish to banish the evil demon back to where he came from?
Overall, Wishmaster is a strange one. It tries to combine intelligent mythology, state-of-the-art (at the time) special effects and a nod towards its horror history that predates the modern trend of being ironic by a good 15 years, and to a certain extent pulls it off. But, and there is a but, there is a slight feeling of contrivance about the whole thing – after all, the 1990s didn’t really have an established Freddy or Jason franchise to call its own, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad movie.
Just like Adam Green’s Hatchet series, this movie is really made for genre fans and, like Hatchet, features appearances by modern horror’s big three; Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees) and Tony Todd (Candyman) all show up, along with other genre favourites such as Ted ‘brother of Sam’ Raimi, Phantasm’s Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister, and Day of the Dead‘s Joe Pilato, all adding a sense of fun to proceedings. Andrew Divoff creates a suitably mischievous persona for the Djinn and ensures his human characteristics add enough of a sinister edge whenever he appears.
The special effects – courtesy of, amongst others, Greg Nicotero (Day of the Dead, Re-Animator 2, From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, etc.) – really are top notch, and mix practical with visual very well, especially considering that CGI was in its infancy and most visual effects at the time looked like bad video game graphics; check out the opening scene where a skeleton rips its way out of a body and continues to cause chaos.
As mentioned before, the whole thing does feel a bit contrived. The script is awkward as the Djinn tries to manipulate his victims into saying “I wish…” before the next carefully constructed death scene plays out in accordance to the demon’s games, and there are some pretty close comparisons to Hellraiser that maybe didn’t help. The acting in the most part is good, but – Divoff’s sly smile and monotone phrasing aside – there really isn’t anything outstanding here that sets it apart from any other horror movie of the era, or even the decade.
But is it entertaining? Yes. Does it tick the boxes when it comes to what you want from a decent horror movie? Yes. Does it warrant a thorough examination of its mythology and symbolism, and to be treated as part of the horror movie hierarchy, mentioned in the same breath as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th or even Candyman? Hmmm…
Special Features: Audio commentary by director Robert Kurtzman, second unit director Greg Nicotero and writer Tom Rainone, Making Of documentary, cast biographies/Filmograhies, TV spots, teaser trailer, theatrical trailer.
UK Release Date: 30th July 2000